Saturday 31 May 2014

Potential Christie MLS move begs serious agent questions

The news that Coventry City full-back Cyrus Christie may be on the move to a Major League Soccer (MLS) team in North America has raised a few eyebrows, not least amongst the Sky Blue fans and the team manager, Steven Pressley.

When the news broke a couple of weeks ago that the States could be a potential destination for the Coventry Academy graduate, it seemed a tad far-fetched and a perfect example of the rumours that can arise during the 'silly-season' of the summer transfer window. But with the names of three clubs that are supposedly interested in Christie being revealed in the Coventry Telegraph yesterday - Toronto FC, DC United, and New York Red Bulls - it seems that this is one bit of hearsay that may have its beginnings in truth rather than guesswork.

Everyone connected with Coventry and Christie was well aware as far back as September that this would be the defender's last year at the club, barring a quite sensational change of heart. Out of contract this summer, and in the form of his life up until Christmas, it was widely accepted that Christie would be off to ply his trade in pastures new come the start of the 2014/2015 season. But from slightly over-hyped speculation that Spurs were monitoring him, to Huddersfield and Bolton emerging as interested parties in the early part of the year, this fairly solid link between the player and the MLS is a slightly bizarre twist in an otherwise familiar and well-trodden path for Coventry.

The club's financial situation means that we can rarely, if ever, be in a position where we can keep players who hit form or who have the potential to thrive at a higher level. We expect every player who impresses and gains column inches in the national press to be prised from our tired and weary fingers, often for less than we expected, and sometimes for free. The result is that we are always either replacing from within our own academy, an institution which is thankfully turning out some very adept youngsters, or taking a chance on out-of-contract journeymen.

Yet, the most problematic aspect of  the Christie conundrum is not to do with the player himself, or the club, but rather an element of football which is oft criticised: the agent. It seems that Christie's agent has been the orchestrator of a standoff where neither party looks, for the moment at least, to come out of this any better off.

It is not a massive stretch of the imagination to conclude that Christie's agent probably advised him that running down his contract was the best course of action for his career. With no transfer fee to be paid and only the small matter of compensation to be awarded to Coventry for investing so much in his footballing education, the idea must have been that higher-placed clubs would be clambering over themselves to sign him. So far this has not happened, and the only words we hear through the footballing grapevine are the whispers that he may be off to try his luck in the United States.

Christie is a young man, and a talented footballer as well. He has put in a decent amount of service with the club, and not many fans would begrudge him the chance to go and further his career elsewhere. As it happens though, the MLS doesn't really represent a forward move for a young footballer trying to further his career; if anything, it's a sideways/backwards one. Sure, the individual quality may be higher than League One thanks to your Thierry Henrys and your Robbie Keanes lighting up the place in the twilight of their careers, but as a place to enhance your reputation, it just does not cut the mustard.

The thought still remains that if Christie was to have signed a new contract this year, like mercurial teammate Callum Wilson, he would not be in this position. If no bids came in from outside parties, he would still be able to ply his trade with his boyhood club at a respectable level, whereas if interest was high, the club would have been able to recoup a substantial fee for him and the defender could make the step-up that he desires.

Alas, as with so many young, talented players these days it seems the murmurings of his agent and promises of grandeur have forced him into a corner where the MLS is the most promising option that remains to him, at least from the outside looking in. However, at the time of writing, the transfer window is still a month away from opening, and speculation is sure to increase with regards to where Christie will be playing next season.

The hope is that this gutsy play by his agent won't prove to be a mistake. It would be a tremendous shame should the club and Christie come out of this worse off. For Coventry, that would mean losing a prodigious academy talent for significantly less compensation than they were expecting if he moved to the MLS, whereas for Christie, it would be moving to a league and country where the chances for career betterment would be severely limited.

Manager Steven Pressley probably put it best in his interview with the Coventry Telegraph: "I think his current agent has got a number of things he needs to answer to. Over the course of the last year I think Cyrus has been badly advised and if he’s faced with this type of scenario then I feel its been down to bad advice, I really do." 

As mentioned before it is still early days, but if this scenario ends with Christie in America, then Pressley is right: his agent has a lot to answer for.

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