The first wisps of smoke floated up on Tuesday afternoon with reports that Darlington Nagbe was spending the day at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland to meet with Celtic FC and take in the Hoops’ Champions League matchup with Barcelona.
Those wisps turned to a plume by Tuesday evening when the Daily Mail and the Scottish Sun reported Celtic were, in fact, in pursuit of Nagbe’s services. According to the Daily Mail, Nagbe is among a handful of options Celtic is considering in central midfield, and that the Scottish side values Nagbe at around £1.5 million, or just shy of $2 million.
At first blush an offer near $2 million for Nagbe, a positionally ambiguous midfielder who is neither a potent goalscorer, prolific chance-creator, nor aggressive ball-winner seems like an intriguing bid.
As fans in the Rose City know well, however, Nagbe provides much more than goals, assists, and tackles won. Although it’s a role that is typically far from glamorous, Nagbe is an elite shuttler who facilitates the Timbers’ transition and possession play in often spectacular fashion.
Even if an offer in the neighborhood of $2 million for Nagbe isn’t out of the realm of reasonable, though, it probably isn’t enough to pry him from the Timbers.
The first thing to remember in this circumstance is that the Timbers hold the cards. As a result of the contract extension inked this spring, Nagbe is under club control for another three years through 2019. If Nagbe leaves this winter, therefore, it will be on the Timbers’ terms as there is little forcing their hand.
And, longstanding frustration with his lack of production notwithstanding, Nagbe is still immensely valuable to the Timbers. Especially with Lucas Melano almost certainly leaving town, Nagbe — whether lined up as an inverted winger or as a central midfielder —- is still the Timbers’ primary defensive release point and midfield momentum generator.
Moreover, Nagbe shows up near the top of the Timbers’ depth chart at three different positions; winger, ten, and eight. As a result, if Nagbe leaves Portland, the Timbers would suddenly have new spots on the depth chart to fill across the midfield in an offseason in which the roster is already undergoing a significant overhaul.
And while significant turnover on the wings and at least one new face in the defensive midfield positions are already expected, should Nagbe leave the Timbers would likely have to add yet another player to the rotation as a backup ten, something that would likely be expensive in light of the fact that the Timbers would not have any creative force behind Diego Valeri.
For his faults, therefore, Nagbe remains very much an important part of the Timbers’ core.
Doing all of that — replacing Nagbe’s work in transition, picking up a new backup ten, and filling out the depth chart on the wing and at the eight — on the Timbers’ share of $2 million in cash (approximately $1.33 million) including the $650,000 in allocation money that the Timbers would likely receive as a result of the transfer as currently reported would be difficult, and would add another major level of uncertainty in an offseason that is already rife with questions. Nagbe’s shuttling prowess, in particular, is a skill set unusual enough that replacing it would cost considerable money.
Now, this isn’t to say the Timbers don’t have their number at which a move for Nagbe would make sense. They probably do. And if Celtic is initially valuing Nagbe at $2 million, it’s likely that Gavin Wilkinson and company are treating that offer as a starting point for negotiations rather than a laugh line.
The Timbers’ number, however, is almost certainly north of the $2 million that Celtic is reported to assess Nagbe at, and may be significantly so. To another team, however, and, in particular, a team looking at a variety of options for which Nagbe seemingly presents the value signing, there is reason to doubt whether a transfer fee significantly above $2 million would be appealing given the limited scope of Nagbe’s difference-making contributions.
There is a considerable chance, then, that Nagbe is simply worth more to the Timbers than he is to potential buyers. And given Nagbe’s longterm contract (and famously close relationship with Caleb Porter), that could very well be enough to keep Nagbe in Timbers green for at least a while longer.
So on Tuesday we learned that Nagbe leaving Portland this offseason is possible. Whether such a move is likely, however, seems considerably more doubtful.
But it’s November. Which means there remains plenty of time for a more enticing offer to present itself.