The second-longest soap opera in MLS -- behind only a franchise possibly starting in Miami -- may finally be coming to a close.
According to various reports in South America, Atlanta United and Independiente have agreed to a transfer of Ezequiel Barco, an 18-year-old midfielder who is considered one of the world’s top young talents. The agreement, if done, ends a courtship that has been ongoing for months.
The reports have Atlanta United breaking an MLS record by purchasing Barco for $15 million, with the Argentinian club receiving 30 percent of the proceeds should the Five Stripes sell the player by 2019, and 10 percent should he be sold in 2020. Atlanta United’s purchase of Miguel Almiron for $9.2 million from Lanus was the previous league record for a player purchase.
Atlanta United has declined to comment, per team policy on not commenting on players who aren’t under contract. Independiente tweeted a thank you to Barco on Friday afternoon for his service.
Barco can play either as an attacking midfielder or on the left wing and will join an attacking that scored the second-most goals (70) in the league last season. He has more than 50 appearances for Independiente, including scoring a goal to beat Flamengo in last month’s Copa Sudamericana final.
The move would continue a busy offseason for the club, which will play its second season. In addition to retaining Almiron, Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez, the team signed fullback Greg Garza on a permanent transfer and kept Jeff Larentowicz. Additionally, it has added midfielder Darlington Nagbe, fullbacks Franco Escobar and Jose Hernandez and goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt.
Barco likely will play left midfielder in the position capably played by Yamil Asad, who was on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina last season.
After weeks of wrangling between Atlanta United and Independiente, Barco reportedly had enough and declined to train with the club, which likely expedited the discussions.
Atlanta United securing his services is important for several reasons.
First, players of Barco’s caliber typically don’t come to MLS at this stage in their career. As well as 23-year-old Miguel Almiron and 23-year-old Hector Villalba performed for the Five Stripes last season, neither were rated as highly as Barco during their club careers in Argentina with Lanus and San Lorenzo.
That Barco agreed to join MLS again shows the influence of manager Gerardo Martino, who is highly respected in his native Argentina for his success as a player and manager, and what building a world-class training facility and stadium as team owner Arthur Blank has done can mean for recruiting talent.
Second, if Barco flourishes in MLS as expected, he likely will be pursued by the bigger clubs in Europe and can then be sold for what should be a very high price. The league has had very little success selling young non-American stars to the higher-paying European clubs.
Third, it best exemplifies the business model that Atlanta United President Darren Eales promised of buying or developing young players, selling them at a profit, and then investing some of the profit in buying and/or developing more young players domestically from the team’s academy or by buying players from other countries.