It’s no secret that the Union’s standout left-back Kai Wagner wants to move to a European club this month. On Monday, USA Today’s Kristian Dyer reported that Wagner was gaining interest from the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Super Lig (the top Turkish league.) Could it be that the Union is about to lose one of their most promising starters ahead of their 2022 season?
Kai Wagner transfer saga
Wagner has been vocal about wanting to leave Philadelphia since the end of the 2020 season. After he helped the Union win their first-ever trophy, he was ready to make a move to one of Europe’s top leagues. When that didn’t happen, he came back to Philly and continued to play lights out. His 2021 form was good enough to get him to the 2021 All-Star game and helped the Union make their deepest playoff run in franchise history.
His ability to play good defense and his skill going forward and crossing the ball makes him a great player who could contribute to a top-tier European club. With clubs like the Premier League’s Watford, and La Liga’s Espanyol interested in Wagner, it’s only a matter of time before formal offers come across Ernst Tanner’s desk. The question is, can these clubs meet the Union’s asking price for Wagner, and would losing Kai present an even bigger problem for Tanner?
Can these teams meet the Union’s price?
Ernst Tanner said it himself, the European market is “dead” right now. What he means by this is that the market isn’t as good for players coming into Europe. The pandemic hit teams hard, and aside from some of the biggest clubs in the world, paying for incoming transfers is more difficult than it used to be. Because of this, could it be that Wagner doesn’t get his European move because the Union would demand a return that these clubs can’t afford? Right now, Transfermrkt has Wagner’s value listed at $3.30 million; however, the last update on that valuation was before the end of the 2021 season.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Wagner’s value is into the $4 million dollar range. Could it be that Tanner and the Union would be looking for anything between $4-5 million for the transfer of a key player to Philadelphia? That price tag might be too much for the clubs that are interested in Wagner, but if someone were to pay that much, the Union would hardly refuse. With only seven weeks until the start of the 2022 season, and some MLS teams starting preseason this week, could it be that losing Wagner would be too much to overcome?
If Kai leaves, what’s Ernst’s next move?
If that scenario happens, and Wagner does leave for Europe, then the Union will only have seven weeks to find a replacement for the best left-back in team history. Right now, there isn’t much depth at left-back for Philly. Matt Real has a bona fide offer to return to the Union but has not signed it. Other than Real, the only other outside backs returning from the 2021 team are Mbaizo and Harriel. Mbaizo will be the starter on the right, but could Harriel switch sides and be the starting left-back? Union II player Sorrenson has been rumored to be getting a first team contract from the Union, and is an out-and-out left-back, could the position be his? Would the Union even experiment with Flach at left-back; He has played there before and could play there in a pinch? With limited options, Tanner might need to find a starting-caliber replacement to bring in and quick.
Tanner should still receive all the trust in the world from fans, regardless of if Wagner leaves this month or not. He has shown time, and time again, the ability to evaluate the talent on this roster, and go out and get players that will compliment it. If he has to do that to find a left-back in a hurry, then he’ll do it; if he wants to role with who the Union currently has then he’ll do that.
Whatever happens with this Kai Wagner transfer saga, the Union should still be a top team in MLS’ eastern conference. Philly will just have to continue to do things their way, which is a lot with limited resources.
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Mandatory Credit: PHILADELPHIA UNION, ANDREW ZWARYCH