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Deep Diving Adi’s Transfer Demand: Why and What’s Next?

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Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It came as a bit of a surprise on Monday when Fanendo Adi retweeted (twice) a report from Goal Nigeria in which one of his agents indicated Adi had asked the Portland Timbers to accept a transfer offer from Tigres UANL in Liga MX and to send the big number nine down to Mexico this summer. Although transfer rumors had been swirling around Adi for the last couple months, none rose above the predictable "so-and-so is interested in behemoth striker Fanendo Adi" whispers.

For his part, Adi’s signature on a three-year contract extension with the Timbers is barely dry, having committed to the Timbers in March of this year through the 2018 MLS season.

Very often when these sorts of things happen there’s something going on behind the scenes that isn’t out in the public sphere. In this instance, however, the circumstances surrounding Adi’s demand tell us quite a bit about what’s going on here. So let’s break it down with six questions we’ve been asking ourselves about Adi’s transfer demand.

Why, Adi, why?

Well, even if the way he’s going about things is a bit strange, he has good reasons for thinking he needs to get elsewhere in the relatively near future.

The default explanation for a transfer demand is that there is an opportunity to make more money elsewhere. And the reason that’s the default explanation is a good one: It’s usually true. Accordingly, it would be foolish to say it certainly does not factor in this case. But remember Adi just agreed to a longterm deal with the Timbers that certainly gave him a sizable pay bump and could very well make Adi a designated player in the near future, so the money in Portland can’t be all that bad.

But the Goal Nigeria report specifically cited another reason: Adi wants to get into the Nigerian National Team setup on a consistent basis, and will stand a better chance of doing so if he moves on to more competitive pastures. This explanation also makes sense from the what-happened-since-March perspective, as shortly before his extension was announced, Adi was called into the Super Eagles for two AFCON qualifiers but failed to see any time with Nigeria. It’s wholly possible that after his cup of coffee with Nigeria, Adi was told he needed to be competing at a higher level in order to become a Super Eagles regular. This, it would seem, is likely the primary reason why Adi wants to blaze a trail out of Portland.

The only potential factor that seems farfetched is personal. Simply put, perhaps until very recently Adi has not appeared to have reason to be upset with the Timbers, who have helped him get his career back on track and have given him not one, but two healthy contracts. To paraphrase Michael Corleone, then, it appears Adi’s beef with the Timbers is not personal, it’s strictly business.

Whatever mix of these reasons underlie Adi’s transfer demand (request?), he has good reasons to be thinking about his life after the Timbers, whenever that may be.

Okay, so that covers Adi. Given that he has a reasonable justification for wanting to make his next move, why won’t the Timbers consider his request and take offers seriously this summer?

Well, basically for the reasons we discussed back in January. Except now we have a clearer picture of the MLS rules landscape (and I say that without any hint of facetiousness).

The TL;DR version is the Timbers don’t want to deal Adi right now because Adi does not currently occupy a DP spot and the Timbers don’t otherwise have one available. Thus, if the Timbers dealt Adi right now they would have limited resources to expend to replace Adi midseason, putting 2016 and beyond in serious peril. Those resources in terms of cap space would amount to whatever Adi occupies on the salary cap, the targeted allocation money savings from Adi’s departure, and whatever allocation money the transfer yielded the Timbers (if any). All told, the most the Timbers would have to immediately replace Adi is somewhere in the general ballpark of $1 million to cover a transfer fee and a half-season salary.

If that sounds like a lot, take my word for it: It’s not. Although the transfer would yield a considerable amount of cash, a great deal of that could not be immediately reinvested in the team due to salary-cap limitations.

But here’s the catch: If the Timbers transfer Adi in the winter when they will have a DP spot available as a result of Liam Ridgewell’s contract expiring, this calculus changes considerably. For cap purposes, the Timbers could absorb the new number nine’s salary and transfer free under the DP rule (paid for in part by the cash recouped in the transfer), and then have the allocation-money proceeds of the transfer to invest down the roster.

As for those allocation-money proceeds, here’s what we know about them: From the transfer fee, the Timbers must deduct the amount that they paid for Adi’s incoming transfer fee, and any amount of his salary paid above the designated-player threshold before they can convert any amount to allocation money (for example, if Adi’s salary was $957,500, the Timbers would have to recoup the $500,000 they paid Adi above the $457,500 maximum budget charge before any of the fee could be converted into allocation money). The Timbers, then, could keep two-thirds of the remainder for themselves (with the other third going to MLS), and could convert up to $650,000 of that amount into allocation money.

Clear, right? Okay no. Here’s an example with made-up numbers.

Assume the Timbers transferred Adi in exchange for a $5 million transfer fee, and originally bought his rights for $2 million. Further assume that the Timbers paid Adi $1 million in salary over the DP threshold during the time that he was a DP. The Timbers would first have to deduct their original $2 million investment from the $5 million transfer fee. Then they would have to deduct the $1 million paid to Adi as a DP over the DP threshold. That leaves $2 million. The Timbers would keep two-thirds of that $2 million ($1.33 million), of which the Timbers could convert $650,000 (the maximum amount permitted) into general allocation money.

Which is to say, if the Timbers wait until winter (at the earliest) to transfer Adi, they’d have a DP spot to work with, a good chunk of cash with which to help pay any transfer fee for Adi’s replacement, and, depending on the amount of the transfer fee, could have another $650,000 in allocation money to bolster the rest of the roster.

Now that’s significant. As for how large a transfer fee it would take to maximize the Timbers’ allocation money proceeds, my highly unscientific, back-of-the-napkin guesstimation is that it would take a fee somewhere around $4 million, plus or minus $1 million. That’s not nothing, but it’s also an amount that is well within the reasonable range of what the Timbers may fetch for Adi.

In fact, it’s perfectly conceivable that the Timbers are receiving offers in that ballpark right now. But, as explained, it’s the timing, not the amount of the offer, that makes the Timbers unlikely to move Adi right now. Simply put, whereas a $5 million offer could easily be a winning bid in December, it would almost certainly be a nonstarter right now.

Okay, so the Timbers don’t want to move Adi right now. But will they have to?

No. This is where that contract extension comes in.

Before the season, the Timbers had Adi under contract through 2016, but no further. A primary reason that the Timbers likely wanted to extend Adi was a contract extension would have made it so the club would not face the dilemma this summer of either selling Adi or risking his departure for nothing when his contract expired in the winter. And because Adi is now under contract through 2018, the Timbers really have no obligation to move Adi now or at any time in the next 2+ years.

Keep in mind what Adi did here: He made a public plea for the Timbers to transfer him. Neither Adi's Twitter followers nor Goal Nigeria's readers (among whom we can now count ourselves), however, have the power to effectuate a transfer. Simply put, if Adi had stronger cards, he’d be playing those ones instead of trying to poison the well through the media and on Twitter.

But if the Timbers don’t succumb to Adi’s demands, isn’t there a risk he’ll start moping, holding out, or otherwise playing poorly?

That is a risk, but probably not a huge one.

Remember that a big part of Adi’s objective here is to get into the Nigerian National Team, and, to that end, in the shorter term go to a bigger league. Whether that happens this summer or in the winter, making that move and staying on the Super Eagles’ radar is of paramount importance.

Tanking, therefore, is contrary to Adi’s interests, especially considering he’ll want to maintain good form to try to get into World Cup qualifiers that are to take place over the course of the next year for Nigeria. And considering Adi’s motivations here are very likely to be strictly business, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d cut off his own nose to spite the Timbers. The more likely response is that he wants to put himself in the shop window by doing exactly what the Timbers want him to do - score goals.

But what about his agent’s statement that the Timbers promised to move him this summer? Aren’t the Timbers kind of jerks for going back on that promise?

LOL, basically.

That’s almost certainly agent-speak. Am I using "agent-speak" as a euphemism for "a lie"? Maybe.

As noted, the Timbers’ primary motivation in giving Adi a pay raise in his contract extension was precisely so they wouldn’t have to move him this summer, when it is heavily disadvantageous for the Timbers to do so. The notion that the Timbers would, therefore, promise to do the exact thing they were seeking to avoid is more than a bit farfetched.

Moreover, if the Timbers planned to move Adi this summer, they probably could have saved salary-cap space by not entering into the contract extension. Because Adi was under contract through the end of the year, the Timbers still could have transferred Adi this summer at close to the same transfer price in light of the active outside market for his services.

So the idea that the Timbers promised Adi they’d move him this summer really doesn’t make any sense.

What’s the endgame here?

Sometimes this isn’t all that hard to figure out. Adi clearly wants to take the next step in his career sooner rather than later. And although the Timbers are in a spot right now in which facilitating that next step doesn’t make sense for them, it will be as good a time as ever to do so this winter.

So the offramp here seems to be for the Timbers and Adi to sit down and to agree that they’ll seriously entertain reasonable offers for his services this winter. Although the Timbers certainly want to reduce the temperature surrounding the Adi situation in the short term, the ultimate endgame appears relatively straightforward.

In fact, probably the most rational explanation of Adi’s conduct this week is that this winter move is what he’s really after. Adi and his agency know the Timbers have a significant disincentive to transfer Adi right now, and are under no obligation and, really, little pressure to do so. Simply put, if the Timbers wanted to do so they could keep Adi until late 2018 even against his wishes.

But Adi and his camp probably also want to set the table for a move this winter when the transfer is not quite so anathema to the Timbers and, perhaps, to create a little bit of friction between Adi and the front office to make an eventual parting of ways even likelier. Although hardly an expression of gratitude for the Timbers’ role in advancing Adi’s career, such an approach isn’t irrational and would explain the intentionally public nature of the big man’s protest.

So, no, Adi almost certainly won’t get what he "wants" in a summer transfer. But it seems likely -- as it has to some extent since last winter -- that Adi's desired transfer will be forthcoming in the winter. And that, in the end, may be what he’s really after.