After two years and zero goals with the first-team, Mathias Jørgensen joined Danish club Aarhus Gymnastikforening on a six-month loan deal “with a built-in purchase clause.” The move is common of organizational turnover, equal parts meek acknowledgment of bad judgment of past leaders and a quiet, desperate desire to glean some return to help build toward a hopeful tomorrow. A striker who should have been on a structured long-term development plan was acquired by a team in need of immediate production that trumpeted the acquisition as a “dynamic option.” Instead of living up to the hype and promise, he was instead mired in USL fixtures, lapped by unheralded SuperDraft picks, and kept out of the starting lineup by out-of-position midfielders.
Frequent transfers are expected for young players, moving from club to club and sometimes country to country in hopes of finding the situation providing the most mutually beneficial cross-section of on-field success and financial reward. Jørgensen made a bold move to MLS and it didn’t work out. As he tells AGF’s official website, “I traveled as a boy and come home a man.” His career isn’t over, far from it. There’s talent there, but New York does not appear to be the proper environment for its nurturing.
This breezy soccer cycle of existence can be acceptable in hindsight. The primary example will always be a player such as Mike Grella, who did not find success with the Red Bulls until first experiencing a general series of trial-and-error at various English, Danish, and North Carolinian clubs. The sporting world does not allow for perspective and operates in the here and now. From the second Jørgensen signed his name on the contract, there were two millstones around his neck: one involving the strict standards and insecurities from a league crawling toward relevance and a second, more burdensome weight birthed from a storm that’s been brewing long before his arrival.
The narratives swirling around the greater MLS discourse can be funny about transfers. In many countries, a $2.5 million transfer fee is a pittance, a perfunctory sum to free a player from their contract and avoid the wait for free agency and the legal headache of youth compensation payments. In America, the mere act of putting forth this money elevates expectations, affixing a scarlet letter than can only be washed off with outsized performances that had better cause tectonic shifts to a team’s fortunes lest the label of bust be affixed. The limiting nature of roster building throws fuel on the fire, punishing teams for a single misstep and forcing a wallowing atonement until an offloading or walk away is possible.
That’s how it is. Hardly a fair deal and many players buckle under the pressure or fail to perform immediately after stepping off the plane. If you don’t like it, leave and many do, enjoying varying levels of subsequent career successes and failures. Perhaps at the end of the day, the real overseas success is the friends we make and the expat children we sit along the way.