It was going to take more than a conference call.
The back and forth via phone can at times get more irritating than helpful.
Video conferencing was out – schedules conflict, and there was simply no time for that.
If the Union were going to seal the deal to bring in its newest midfielder in Maurice Edu to the fray, it was going to take a transatlantic jaunt to England and a sit down with multiple parties.
Nick Sakiewicz knew that.
It’s why his flight was already booked and found the Union’s CEO and managing partner waiting to depart Philadelphia International Airport last Wednesday. And even before the news leaked via Twitter around noon that Sakiewicz was on his way to the city of Stoke-on-Trent, he was already airborne, ready to do his part to secure a key piece of his club’s chess board in 2014.
“Knowing the way the European [clubs] like to do business, face to face is always better than over the phone or via email,” Sakiewicz said. “Without going too much into the terms of the agreement, I can tell you it was a very complicated deal because there were about three or four moving pieces that had two or three specific deal points. Getting through that stuff via email or over the phone is difficult. So in cooperation with the league and with [MLS executive vice president of player relations] Todd Durbin, [Edu’s agent] Lyle Yorks and with [Edu’s former EPL club] Stoke City we did a fantastic job thinking creatively on all these points and making sure it was a win-win…actually, call it a win, win, win, win because of all the parties involved here.”
It would take hours off the life of the individual that decides to decipher and archive all the speculation and rumor that swirled during what amounted to over a month of negotiations. The biggest rumor which alleged an impasse between the league and club to secure Edu and have MLS foot a large percentage of the bill was deemed “false on all counts” by Sakiewicz, who said instead coming together on a deal “that all parties felt comfortable with” took up the true length of time. It’s a deal announced as a one-year loan with an option to purchase Edu’s full contract at the end of the season that was deemed a smart buy for all involved.
“At the end of the day it really is a win, win, win,” Yorks told philadelphiaunion.com. “Fortunately, [Nick Sakiewicz] also has a relationship with Tony Scholes who is a chief executive at Stoke, as do I so that helped through the whole process. Also, with [Stoke City] being in Philadelphia last summer that certainly helped. We did hit a bit of a roadblock right around [MLS SuperDraft] which was disappointing because we weren’t sure if it was going to get over the line, but you have to credit to the ownership group here [at the Union] and to be honest you have to give [Union technical director] Rob Vartughian a lot of credit, as Rob was very influential in finding solutions to get this over the line.”
Many contracts given to designated players can be considered “full tort.” But the terms of this deal with Edu hinge closer to “limited liability” for the Union – one however with tremendous upside.
“We see him playing as a center midfielder, a box-to-box guy,” said Union manager John Hackworth. “And that’s truly why he’s here. We think he’s a guy that can do all the work behind the boxes, but can also put the ball in the back of the net…that’s the kind of role we see him playing here this year and for many years beyond, hopefully.”
That notion works out just fine for Edu.
“That’s where I feel most comfortable,” Edu told philadelphiaunion.com. “That’s where I started when I first signed in MLS with Toronto [in 2007]. It’s a pretty easy rotation especially when you are playing in what I assume will be a three-man midfield. I feel comfortable and I like to get on the ball whether it’s deeper or break forward and jump on the end of a play at the top of the box. I have always said that I’d like to add more goals to my game and I am fortunate that I’ll be able to do that.”
Playing with a smile
Look at his resume. Maurice Edu, 27, has accomplished more in his professional playing career than most ever will. He played for three teams in Europe having the most success in the Scottish Premiership playing for league powerhouse Rangers FC. He was a catalyst in Rangers SPL title in 2010, scoring in stoppage time over rivals Celtic FC for a 1-0 win. He has played in the UEFA Champions League and even scored a Champions League goal against Spanish League side Valencia. Before battling for supremacy at Stoke, Edu has 96 appearances with Rangers and arguably might still be there if financial difficulties didn’t plague the storied club.
But it was trying to stand out at Stoke that forced Edu to make some serious decisions with where his career was headed. When Stoke played the Union at PPL Park during its U.S. tour last summer, Edu did in fact stand out from the crowd, but only because he sported a coif of blonde hair.
“As a player when you don’t play you have to be mentally tough, because a soccer player’s career is full of ups and downs,” said Edu. “One day you can be on a high and the next you can be in the worst spot possible, so for me it was all about trying to maintain a level head and not getting too down.”
On Monday evening, Edu returned Stateside, landing in Philadelphia in a return to MLS, the same league where he was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft thanks to Toronto FC and found Edu repaying that distinction at season’s end when he won Rookie of the Year honors.
Monday began the start of Edu’s redemption tour, as he dined with Union brass, technical staff and his agent. Tuesday found him meet his teammates for the first time during the first session of preseason training at YSC Sports in Wayne and later with the media that will assuredly follow his every move during a formal press conference. Wednesday, an open training session will unveil him to fans attending the club’s Open Training session.
Each of these moments has made Edu feel more comfortable in his new surroundings and more confident that he can get back to “having fun” with the game he grew up playing as a youngster in California.
“I feel like a little kid again…I feel like it’s the first day and you’re just back playing with your friends,” said Edu. “I am not concerned about anything else besides just having fun, enjoying myself, working hard and being part of a new team. It’s a fresh start and I just want to get back to enjoying my game; the past couple of years there were a lot of ups and downs and your focus can waiver, but I want to get back to enjoying the game again…I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should have been, but for me it’s all about playing with a smile on my face again.”
A statement that was music to the ears of his new manager.
“I love what Mo just said about playing with a smile on his face,” said Hackworth. “That’s something I believe very strongly in and when you come to our training sessions you’ll see players having that smile when they walk on and off the training pitch – because that’s when you get the most out of a player.”
What do you think about the arrival of Edu? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org