Duane Rollins is at it again.
The relatively well-known and tweet-happy (although he’s got nothing on Larson) Manchester City fan has again dropped a bit of a bombshell on Toronto FC supporters.
It wasn’t that long ago that Rollins tweeted about Doneil Henry being sold to Europe. In a confusing revelation that reinforced management’s incompetence, Duane was proven correct in his foretelling, and Doneil Henry is now on the fast track to European stardom at Apollon Limassol.
Rollins also tweeted that Gilberto has been sold, which further shook the TFC supporter community. We have yet to discover whether or not that proclamation was indeed true- with confusing signals coming from both Gilberto’s camp (with his "where I end up is not in my hands" media gem) as well as Toronto FC themselves- who keep referring to the promise shown by the young Brazilian, possibly indicating they are NOT looking to off-load him just yet. Let’s stay tuned.
So what’s Rollins’ latest Twittearthquake?
Now let’s get real here- targeting, as Rollins says himself, is significantly different from "signing". Some of us may recall the Toronto Star article about the dog and pony show that Leiweke had to put on just to get Defoe to even consider coming to Toronto FC- and look how successful that was. With Defoe sprinting toward the exit- or more likely, jogging slowly so that his mother can keep up with him, how likely are other European players (who, quite frankly, are higher profile than Jermain was) to drop everything and come play in a lower level league for an historically topsy-turvy club that nobody can (or is given the opportunity to) commit to? While the prospect of suiting up for legendary coach Greg Vanney is sure to make even the most European of superstars tremble with excitement, you can’t criticize my personal hesitation to get all pumped up about luring one of the aforementioned stars to Toronto.
Alas, I didn’t just post this to be all skeptical and realistic. Let’s imagine, dream, even… allow for the possibility of Gerrard or Sneijder coming across the Atlantic to play for Toronto FC. Would they be a good fit? What would we be investing in? Why do we keep going for a big name instead of finding another promising young player (a la Laba)? Haven’t we learned our lesson?
Let’s start with Steven Gerrard, the captain of his club and formerly his country. Gerrard is a Champions League, UEFA Cup, FA Cup, and League Cup winner, and arguably the best EPL midfielder to never win the Premiership. Gerrard is 34 years old, and with rumors circulating that Liverpool may NOT re-sign him at the end of the season, he has come out publicly and announced that he would be willing to sign with another club in the summer if no offer is extended. That being said, Brendan Rodgers continues to indicate that he’d like to keep him at Anfield, and Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has said he would consider making a move for Gerrard if the Reds don’t attempt to re-sign their captain. Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher couldn’t resist giving his take on the story as well, insisting that Gerrard would NOT move to another English club if Liverpool is done with him- "He's a local lad and, if he moved on, I think it would be abroad -- maybe to the States or Europe."
Gerrard is a world-class midfielder. He’s typically seen slotting in at central midfielder, in very much a box-to-box type role. Funny, I thought Toronto FC already had someone who fit that role… nah, musta been mistaken. The good thing about Gerrard is that he’s quite versatile. He’s been used as a holding midfielder, in the #10 role, and even out on the right wing. He’s also a free-kick specialist, and TFC’s record on set plays could definitely use some improvement (if Gilberto is willing to play nice and share). Is Gerrard still young and fit enough to be a dominant force in the MLS? Absolutely. Will he be for long? The optimist would point to his relatively injury-free career and say "at least for a couple years". Gerrard did have a groin injury sideline him for a few months three seasons ago, and was also treated for an infection in his ankle- but otherwise, his fitness record is admirable, having played 30 or more games in ten of his last 12 seasons. It’s always risky picking up a player nearing their mid-thirties, but I doubt that many TFC fans would be up in arms if we saw him walk out of a plane at Pearson. Gerrard is a great player and fantastic leader (Chelsea slip aside), and I’d be thrilled to see him come to TFC- but any player that can still garner interest from a club like Manchester City may be more interested in playing for higher-profile teams while they still can.
Wesley Sneijder, on the other hand, is "only" 30 years old, and more of an attacking midfielder- or that #10 Toronto FC is on the hunt for. Like Gerrard, Sneijder has captained his international side (Netherlands), but his captaincy lasted less than a year. Sneijder’s career includes stints with Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and current club Galatasaray (which he captains). As a midfielder, Sneijder’s scoring record is quite impressive, having tallied 18 goals in 48 matches to date with Galatasaray (and 100+ goals over the course of his career). Sneijder is a bona fide free kick specialist- in fact, according to our friend Wikipedia, "In October 2008, Dutch magazine Voetbal International conducted a poll to decide who was the best Dutch free kick taker. Sneijder received an overwhelming 70% of the votes". He is also known for his passing ability as he can use both feet very effectively- he’s no John Bostock. At 5’7, Sneijder isn’t much of an aerial threat- but again I think TFC fans would be willing to overlook that shortcoming if management is successful in wooing him to "the 6". Like Gerrard, Sneijder’s trophy case also includes a Champions League title, but he adds to that a Serie A title, La Liga title, FIFA Club World Cup, the Turkish Super Cup, and the Super Lig.
Sneijder is another player who would likely do extremely well in MLS. He’s also younger than Gerrard, and fits the #10 bill very nicely. However with rumors of both Manchester United (Van Gaal connection) and Monaco being interested in him, it seems like Toronto FC might again be in over their heads. Sneijder left Inter over a contract dispute, and the current rumors of him leaving Galatasaray are also wage-based (as in, apparently they’re not actually paying him). That brings two thoughts to mind- 1) he may be a player who’s all about the money (and less about loyalty/commitment), and 2) that may actually give MLSE a bit of an advantage, if they get what they’re likely asking for in a Defoe sale. Inter acquired Sneijder for a transfer fee of 15 million euros. More recently, Galatasaray only had to pay 7.5 million. That’s only 10.6 million dollars Canadian, and if past rumors are true at all- TFC is likely asking for upward of 12 million for Defoe. How much of that comes back to MLSE is a big question mark, but it’s not unreasonable to fathom that they could afford Sneijder. Whether he would want to come, or supporters would even be in favor of another player with potential ‘commitment issues’, are whole other questions altogether.
We don’t know what the future holds. If Duane Rollins is half-right (as he has been so far in the Henry/Gilberto tweet), Toronto FC are targeting one of Gerrard or Sneijder. I know many supporters will be upset that we’re again looking to overpay for a big-name European, but my thinking is that either of these players would be an impressive addition, if only for a short period. To find a player like Laba who WON’T be a bust in MLS is tricky- but these two are proven commodities (who are also a sure bet to sell more jerseys). Personally, I’m absolutely okay with TFC targeting both of these stars, so long as they’re also not ignoring the team’s other needs- CBs, better players on the wing, and added depth. So here we are again, watching the TFC brass rush over to Europe in an attempt to pick up world-class players while they still have at least a season or two of gas left in the tank.