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Montenegro playmaker Hakšabanović linked to “club in Red Bull group”

Level and need seem to point to New York as club in question

England v Montenegro - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier Photo by Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

On occasion, the transfer market requires a decoder ring to decipher the hidden message. The passage of time allows for a move to become more obvious in hindsight, with a chain of events able to be constructed through interviews and building reports. What of the rumors that begin in a vague state, submerged under the murky depths of generalities and innuendo? The situation calls for pushing together a mish-mash puzzle pieces in the tenuous hope they fit together, forming a greater, cohesive picture.

Reports out of Sweden reveal that “one of the clubs in the Red Bull Group” has made several offers for attacking midfielder/winger/forward Sead Hakšabanović. The 21-year-old currently plays for IFK Norrköping in the Swedish Allsvenskan. The club, known locally as Beijing, remains tight-lipped and refuses to comment, according to Expressen.

While there is no direct link to New York, there are several context clues indicating Hakšabanović may be a target of the MLS club. The Red Bulls should be in the market for a goal-scoring playmaker, particularly with Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra linked to a move away from the club. The position is of a particular tactical need under new manager Gerhard Struber, with his advanced midfielder frequently finishing off attacks, as was the case at Barnsley.

There’s also Hakšabanović’s prior history with West Ham. Both through signings and unconfirmed reports, New York has shown a preference for players (and a manager) from England. It’s an expected knowledge base for the club’s head of sport and head of scouting who spent the majority of their careers poring over players from the Premier and Football Leagues.

The playmaker began his career at Halmstad in 2015, becoming the second youngest player to debut in the top division. As expected for a Scandinavian-based talent, he attracted attention from some of England’s biggest names, trialing with Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Liverpool. The Hyltebruk native wound up signing a five-year contract with West Ham United in August of 2017, but failed to make an impact in East London. An underwhelming half-season loan to Málaga followed, before returning to Sweden with Norrköping in a move that was eventually made permanent last summer.

West Ham United Under v Tottenham Hotspur - U23 Premier League 2 Division 1
Hakšabanović playing in a reserve game for West Ham in 2018
Photo by Kieran Galvin/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hakšabanović has thrived in his homecoming. In 2019, he overcame a slow start by contributing six goals and eight assists in 29 appearances. Deployed mostly as a left winger last season, the Swedish youth international racked up ten goals and 12 assists in 36 league, cup, and continental matches. His success led to interest from a who’s who of European clubs, with Fotbollskanalen reporting last winter that scouts from clubs such as Rangers, Ajax, Arsenal, and Milan were observing. The dual-national has become a regular for the Montenegro national team, described as a “creative force” during the UEFA Nations League.

Already a veteran of the global game at such a young age, the opportunity to make another move abroad has made its siren call. However, his contract with Norrköping lasts through June of 2024, with a desired transfer fee likely surpassing what is rumored to be a club record sum of slightly under $3 million paid to West Ham. The unnamed Red Bull outlet and Beijing are engaged in discussion, but there has not been an agreement.

Hakšabanović desires to move forward and seek out a new club. “IFK Norrköping knows where I stand and that I want to try new challenges,” he said recently. “It would be challenging and lead my career in the right direction. We will see what happens in the next few days. I know that there is great interest in me abroad and it goes hand in hand with the sporting goals I set myself. I also know that concrete offers have come in from abroad that are on the table. Now it’s up to the club to have their say and try to negotiate a deal.”

The wording of the report is curious, indicating a Red Bull club is interested but failing to specify which one. Salzburg and Leipzig are big enough names to attract individual mention, discussed independently of each other and rarely in pursuit of the same prospects. However, the vague verbiage is reminiscent of last summer’s transfer rumor involving then-Peterborough, now-star Brentford striker Ivan Toney, in which the MLS team was casually referred to as “a club that owned NY and German club” [sic] by Posh official Darragh MacAnthony.

Hakšabanović would be an intriguing signing, something of a rebuilding project who has already completed the first few steps. The one-time highly rated prospect failed to make an impact in the Premier League and La Liga at an age when most players sign their first contract, but already proven his inherent ability and got his groove back in Sweden. This move would be less of a gamble and more of a calculated risk on an experienced 21-year-old engaged in an upward trajectory.

That is if New York is the party interested in securing his services. Perhaps Salzburg or Leipzig is the club that has tabled multiple offers. While not quite at the level or in possession of the general makeup of their signings, Hakšabanović is still young enough to limbo under the loosely adjudicated 23-or-is-it-24-and-under requirement. Maybe it’s Bragantino, desperate to add some European flair into the Brazilian Série A.

Though it sure seems like New York.