While the New York Red Bulls have been arguably the busiest club in Major League Soccer this offseason, a sense of frustration has still crept in. Sporting chief Kevin Thelwell and head coach Gerhard Struber have been busy overhauling the team they took over last year, adding a plethora of young reinforcements throughout the lineup that still scrambled its way into last year’s playoffs. But the trade of building block defender Tim Parker and the (yes, still unresolved) messy exit of Kaku to the Middle East have combined with a series of declined transfers for established overseas talents to raise question as to whether this is the strong recruitment support many expected when Red Bull installed such experienced European hands in the New York management roles.
However it appears the most deflating of those transfer sagas might not be done just yet. Recent events in Sweden indicate that talks widely reported in January for the Red Bulls to sign Sead Hakšabanović may have been re-opened. While the Red Bulls reportedly ended pursuit of the Swedish-Montenegrin attacker over a fee disagreement, a leadership change at IFK Norrköping may create an opportunity. Writer Daniel Kristoffersson of Expressen dropped a tease in his weekly rumor column.
“Got some information that makes me think it’s not impossible that Sead Hakšabanović goes to the New York Red Bulls,” he shared in the Thoughts and Facts section (roughly translated through Google). “It should be connected with the fact that [Norrköping chairman] Peter Hunt has now resigned and that the board may look at the recruitment differently… I learned there could be a reason to come back to this story this week.”
On January 15th, New York beat reporter Kristian Dyer reported that the Red Bulls and Norrköping were in “final negotiations” over a transfer for the attacking midfielder, who has bounced back from a difficult stint with Premier League club West Ham United to establish himself as one of the top players in Scandinavia and a regular for the Montenegro national team. However, a few days later, Dyer revealed the deal was off, with New York offering $4 million and the Swedish club desiring “over $5 million.”
The negotiation period in January was punctuated by the abrasive antics of the Norrköping executive Hunt, who called Hakšabanović a “loser” for his desire to seek opportunities elsewhere before ending negotiations with New York. But in the meantime, Hunt has finally surrendered to a longstanding revolt from the rest of the club’s board after complaints from other directors about his unprofessional attitude as well as growing concerns about a ballooning squad payroll and unwillingness to consider offloading expensive contracts.
It is these concerns (common not just in a salary-capped league like MLS but in most clubs throughout Europe and the global game) about maintaining a balance between on-field competitiveness and opportunities for financial windfall that could bring Norrköping back to the negotiating table with New York and Hakšabanović. The reported $4 million offered by New York may not be the blockbuster deal that a bold chairman like Hunt would hope for such a prized asset, but would still be a significant sum to keep the club’s books balanced as it seeks to weather pandemic difficulties and maintain presence in the Swedish top flight.
Hakšabanović played on Sunday in Norrköping’s 4-1 victory over Sandviken in the Swedish Cup. He gave an interview to Vijesti on Wednesday morning stating that he is happy and settled in Sweden but also excited for what might lie ahead for him and his agents “in the summer” with Hunt’s meddling now out of the picture.
Should the move end up moving over the finish line, it would shift into a pleasant surprise. It would be an emphatic comeback for both the transfer itself and for this Red Bulls offseason marked by simmering frustration. With well over a month before MLS matches are played again, continue to keep an eye on the man who would have the longest last name in club history, we assume.