Jan 5, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
Eight million dollars is a lot of money, but it’s not that much when you’re talking about a 23-year-old averaging nearly two goals every three games in the Dutch first division. That, however, is the price that’s being mentioned in rumors connecting the Premier League’s Stoke City with a move for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, who is coming up on his one-year anniversary with AZ Alkmaar. In the same transfer window in which he moved last season, the Alabama-born, Iceland-raised forward could be ready to take another step up, this time to one of the best leagues in the world.
Since moving to Holland from Danish club Aarhus last January, Jóhannsson has scored 14 times in 23 league appearances, 11 of those goals coming this season. Purchased for $2.58 million 12 months ago, Johannsson’s quick sale would allow last season’s Dutch Cup winners to turn quick profit. If the move happens early in the window, they could be able to take a fraction of the profits and procure a new striker.
In what’s become a seller’s league, the question is less ‘can we afford to lose Jóhannsson’ than ‘could we get more later’? Sitting 13 points back after 18 (of 34) rounds, AZ have European but not title ambitions, something which may not prevent them from cashing in.
But we’re not here to discuss the AZ angle, as interesting as that is. If Jóhannsson wasn’t a U.S. international, this rumor wouldn’t warrant enough attention to make our daily rumor roundup. All the intrigue in this market behind a potential move is Jóhansson’s already much-discussed Americanness. And in that regard, Stoke couldn’t be a more controversial destination.
The Potters are the biggest Amerophiles in Europe, holding three U.S. internationals under contract and launching a failed move for a fourth this fall. But while Geoff Cameron has seen success, Brek Shea and Maurice Edu can’t get any time with Stoke (Juan Agudelo’s move fizzled after failing to gain a United Kingdom work permit). Six months ahead of the World Cup, how does it help the U.S. if Jóhannsson becomes a third player to see Stoke’s U.S. fetish compromise a regular place in the national team?
Even Cameron’s success is tinged with one forgotten asterisk. A center back and central midfielder upon arriving at the Britannia, the former Houston Dynamo has been used at right back by both Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. Yes, that move has earned him a regular spot with a decent Premier League team (never something to sneeze at), but it’s also cast Cameron as a type of utility man for the national team, with ‘utility man’ often the nicest way of saying somebody isn’t a starter. While the move has been a success for Cameron’s club career, it hasn’t helped him nail down the starting position he was competing for before moving to England.
After Edu’s disappearance and Shea’s loan to Barnsley, you can’t blame U.S. fans for wondering if a future at Stoke holds something for different for Jóhannsson. Yet whereas concerns about previous moves were tinged with trepidation about playing under Pulis’s atypical approach, now worries take a more traditional tact. Will Jóhansson actually play? Because whereas that was also problematic under Pulis, regular time under Mark Hughes would certainly further Jóhansson’s career.
To get that, he’d have to beat out Peter Crouch, the former England international who’s started 14 games for Hughes this season. Kenwyne Jones is also in the picture, with Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic also capable of playing up top. But on talent alone, there’s no reason why Jóhannsson can’t eventually win significant time at Stoke.
But eventually is not now, and in a World Cup year — with a player who is right on that borderline to make the Brazil 2014 squad — it’s a chance not worth taking. As Jozy Altidore is discovering, transferring success from the goal-friendly Eredivisie to the Premier League is far from given. Not everybody can be Luis Suárez, and given Johannsson’s only make 23 career league appearances above the Danish league, there’s reason to think adjustment period might be particularly pronounced for the 23-year-old.
More than his Americanness, that’s what should concern U.S. Men’s National Team fans. It’s not that Jóhannsson lacks the talent (he doesn’t) or his status as a U.S. international makes him more likely to fail at Stoke (it doesn’t). The concern is the timeline before Brazil.
We’re six months out from the next World Cup, and players in frame for Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad need to be playing. Making a move from a sure-fire, you’re going to start every game environment to a new league, new club, and new depth chart could put Jóhannsson’s World Cup dreams in doubt.
Besides, if Stoke are interested now, they’ll still be interested in six months. Saying ‘no’ in January doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on England. It just means you’re setting your sights on Brazil.
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