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Kaku saga nears end as transfer paperwork granted to Al-Taawoun

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Saudi Arabian club receives provisional clearance from FIFA and USSF to register midfielder for league match Thursday

MLS: MLS Cup Playoffs-Round One-New York Red Bulls at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend news outlet Al-Riyadh reported that Al-Taawoun FC of the Saudi Professional League had cleared the final significant hurdle in their quest to finalize the signing of attacking midfielder Alejandro Gamarra, better known as Kaku.

The report claimed they now possessed the “international card” for Kaku, likely referring to the International Transfer Certificate required by FIFA regulations for a player to enter competition in a new country. The Argentine-born attacker with six caps for the Paraguay national team began training with the Saudi Professional League club last week and should be available for selection in today’s match against Al-Ittihad.

However, a continuing problem with this otherwise harmonious situation is that the New York Red Bulls, who loyal readers of this website might remember purchased Kaku from CA Huracán in early 2018 for a near-$7 million transfer fee, released an official statement Wednesday night claiming to still hold his contract rights.

The dispute lies in a legal technicality over the exercising of the final-year option on Kaku’s contract with the Red Bulls. Long disgruntled in New York since the departure of his initial manager Jesse Marsch in mid-2018 and a failed move to Mexican giants Club América the following transfer window, Kaku and his agents claimed in December to be free from the contract because the Red Bulls did not formally notify them of their decision to exercise the option and add an extra year to his contract in New York.

A sourced report last week by Jeff Carlisle of ESPN revealed some truth to the allegations from Team Kaku while stating that the club and Major League Soccer were “pursuing all legal remedies” to challenge the transfer. The MLSPA players union has backed Kaku through the ordeal and has provided evidence that an email from Red Bulls first team sporting director Denis Hamlett last February notifying Kaku of the option decision was indeed not sent to either the player or a designated agent on his contract, but rather only to Scott Pearson, an informal business manager and spokesman of Kaku’s.

Following flirtations with Mexican clubs in December as the Red Bulls pursued some reported last-ditch MLS trade interest, Kaku arrived in the Middle East in late January amid rumors of an offer from a club in the region. When a contract with Al-Taawoun was announced on February 1st with a flashy social media presentation, the Red Bulls released a statement asserting their continued ownership of his contractual rights.

Meant to prevent rogue leagues from poaching players from clubs unable to enforce contracts in different legal jurisdictions, the International Transfer Certificate (ITC) must be granted by the former national association of a player signing with a club in a new country. Though fit and clear of quarantine protocols, Kaku did not appear in last Saturday’s match against Al-Qadisiyah, implying Al-Taawoun and the Saudi Football Federation did not yet have the required ITC from the United States Soccer Federation. But New York’s statements on Wednesday night on the heels of the Al-Riyadh report acknowledged the granting of a ITC while also stating that Kaku’s contract rights are still legally held by New York and Major League Soccer.

It is likely that the backing from the players union forced the USSF’s hand in granting at least a provisional ITC to Al-Taawoun and the Saudi federation. The Red Bulls and MLS still have access to various legal remedies, including a possible arbitrated transfer fee as implied by the club’s Wednesday night statement. But such a compensation would likely not come close to recouping the cost of Kaku’s initial transfer, the $12 million fee reportedly sought from Club América in 2019, or the spiritual bruising of seeing yet another one-time club hero exit in acrimony and discord on and off the field.

Much has been made in fan circles of the mirror between the current transfer drama and the complicated nature of Kaku’s arrival to New York in 2018 - a month-long saga that eventually closed with fans successfully identifying a flight from Buenos Aires to JFK. The arrival of a sheet of paper doesn’t quite match the gravitas of an airport gate crash, but it would mark the effective end of the last Great Kaku Watch if, as expected, he hits the field for Al-Taawoun on Thursday.