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Al-Taawoun announces Kaku deal, forcing Red Bulls hand with season approaching

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Long-simmering transfer disagreement finally boils over with power play in Saudi Arabia

New England Revolution v New York Red Bulls Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Whatever ends up happening, don’t be expecting Kaku to get a “thank you” tweet from the club account.

In a move teased by Instagram photos showing his presence in the Middle East, at least one shoe finally dropped on Monday afternoon as Saudi Premier League club Al-Taawoun announced the signing of Alejandro “Kaku” Gamarra from the New York Red Bulls with a snazzy video posted on social media accounts.

The release was a competently-produced number that used stylish B-roll of the sights and sounds in the club’s home city of Buraidah while Spanish narration noted the parallels between the football passion of Saudi Arabia and Kaku’s native country of Argentina. Like much signing introduction content, it includes the requisite highlight clips, promises of success to come, and even our plucky old friend Andreas Ivan makes a cameo.

Now I’m not exactly Armond White, but if there’s one aspect of the production worth quibbling with...it’s probably the fact that the New York Red Bulls have not acknowledged the transfer in any form. Indeed, the specters of the Cyle Larin and Camilo Sanvezzo cases have been raised as the Red Bulls and Major League Soccer are likely preparing for the legal battle threatened in recent weeks by the Paraguay international and his representatives.

Kaku and his agents Scott Pearson and Gustavo Casasola have maintained through various channels that the Red Bulls did not formally notify him when they chose to exercise his final year contract option. By violating these terms, Team Kaku says, the contract became void and the Paraguay international became a no-strings-attached free agent. Some of these early reports had implied that Kaku would have the support of the MLS Players Association in a potential legal battle to escape his contract in New York, but silence on this front in the weeks since has lessened the likelihood of such a messy battle being wrapped up ahead of the season. Indeed, even the sagas of Larin and Camilo ended with their respective MLS clubs receiving settlement transfer fees.

This surrender is further backed up by reports that Kaku has settled on Al-Taawoun (after unsuccessful discussions with Club Tijuana and reportedly some MLS teams) because of their willingness to pay the transfer fee that New York appears to be standing their ground on receiving. While the lure of Buraidah’s dates market - the world’s largest - is surely an attraction for Kaku, the reasoning for most foreign professionals to move to leagues in the Gulf states is the ample financial compensation they can offer. Kristian Dyer reports that the Al-Taawoun deal includes a $1 million signing bonus as well as a doubling of his MLS salary (listed as $800k in the most recent public figures) making it reasonable to assume the ability to pay a fee to New York is also part of the financial package offered.

Knowing the playmaker formerly known as R. Gamarra and his strong personality on and off the pitch, it would be only fitting for his exit to be as drawn-out and messy as his entry was. Kaku and his representatives have gone to unusual lengths in the hopes of securing what could be the final big contract of his prime, and a sojourn to the Middle East is the latest change of course taken by the player whose last near-transfer to Mexico was at least partially motivated by a desire to be closer to family. Perhaps the MLSPA threats of recent weeks were legitimate, and the player and club are destined for time in court somewhere soon.

But this burgeoning crisis could also be anti-climatically wrapped in a matter of days with a straightforward two-to-three million dollar fee. While this would be nowhere near the handsome profit ostensibly eyeballed upon Kaku’s signing three years ago, it would offer the Red Bulls some salary cap flexibility as well as the confidence to pursue a replacement attacker before the currently-projected opening of the season in April.

This is a club making assured moves in recent weeks in hopes of providing new manager Gerhard Struber with the type of squad he needs to return to the league’s elite. The other piece of business for the Red Bulls on Monday was turning down a series of European offers that had come in for central defender Aaron Long, with the need to have the team stabilized ahead of a crucial 2021 season as the main motivation cited behind the rejections. Finding a swift resolution to another long-simmering transfer conundrum with Kaku this week would be a legacy-building moment for sporting chief Kevin Thelwell and the new Red Bulls operation he has put in place, and a clean break into a new era for the team on the pitch.