CLEARWATER, Fla. — Following the failure of D.C. United and Paris Saint-Germain to reach a deal on the proposed transfer of MLS star Luciano Acosta, United Coach Ben Olsen spoke on the phone to his Argentine playmaker.
Olsen knew Acosta would be emotionally gutted by the outcome, which came after the 24-year-old midfielder had left training camp on short notice to fly to Paris. Negotiations fizzled amid financial differences between the sides and differences of opinion about him within the PSG organization.
In an interview Friday morning, Olsen said he told Acosta, “Lucho, go and take a couple days.”
Acosta’s response, according to Olsen, was, “No, I want to come to Florida."
And so after a dream opportunity vanished — for now, at least — Acosta is scheduled to rejoin United sometime Friday and perhaps play in Saturday’s preseason opener against second-division Bethlehem (Pa.) Steel.
“I will sit down with him, have a chat, see where his head is,” Olsen said, “and we’ll go from there.”
Captain Wayne Rooney said he too planned to meet with Acosta, his attacking partner during last year’s sensational stretch.
“He needs to keep motivated,” Rooney said. “He’s a professional player; I’m sure he will. He now knows what kind of teams are interested in him. If he continues performing up to his ability, he will get there. He’s young and he’s talented — one of the best I’ve played with.”
Olsen said the team will welcome him back with comforting arms.
“First and foremost, I am disappointed for him,” the ninth-year coach said. “As much as world soccer is about money, it’s still a human business. The kid was extremely excited when he left, but he is also a smart kid. He will readjust as we all do with disappointment and get back to his job with D.C. United. He knows he has a family here waiting for him.”
With the passing of the transfer deadline in much of Europe, Acosta will not have another opportunity to move abroad until this summer. Aside from PSG, whose roster features Brazilian superstar Neymar, Acosta drew interest from two Premier League clubs and Saudi leader Al-Hilal, whose $7.5 million offer was rejected by United.
United was under the impression PSG would pay $10 million. It turned out, people close to the situation said, the figure started at about $7 million and did not rise above $8 million. That still would have easily smashed United’s previous transfer record but was not enough to close the deal.
Additionally, several reports in France said PSG Coach Thomas Tuchel was not as high on Acosta as others in the organization.
Rooney recounted deadline drama in 2004 when his move to Manchester United from Everton was not completed until the 11th hour. “It’s a stressful time,” he said.
Although the PSG saga is over, United’s stress level will remain elevated. Acosta is in the final year of his contract, and if the sides do not strike a deal, United could lose him without collecting a multimillion-dollar transfer fee.
United executives have been negotiating with Acosta’s agent, Matias Sabbag, for several weeks. Sabbag was in Washington recently for face-to-face talks. The club is aiming to sign Acosta to a four-year guaranteed contract that, with bonuses, would yield at least $10 million, probably making him among the league’s 12 highest-paid players.
Within six months of a deal expiring, however, players are allowed to sign pre-contracts with a new team. If that were to happen, Acosta would remain with United until the season ends in the fall, then move on.
Re-signing with United would not prevent Acosta from ending up overseas; it would simply ensure a better salary in MLS and allow United to collect a transfer fee, if a future offer makes sense for all parties involved.
Asked whether he is worried the ongoing contract talks — coupled with the PSG disappointment — will impact Acosta’s performance, Olsen said: “He has been able to separate it. He’s been playing at a high level [in camp] while negotiations have been going on.
“As much as a disappointment as [PSG] is for him, he loves the game of soccer. He is going to have to readjust. How long that takes? It shouldn’t take that long. Again, the kid loves to play this game. I think he will be okay. He has got a long career ahead of him and he will get to where he wants — and needs — if he continues on this progression.”