It is a historic deal on many levels. On Friday, Red Bull Salzburg made official what was first reported by Transfermarkt on Sep. 11, the Austrian Bundesliga side announced the signing of US mega-talent Brenden Aaronson. The 19-year-old midfielder, who has been favorably compared to German national team player Kai Havertz will join the club in the 2021 January transfer window.
“This is an important next step for both Brenden, the organization, and United States soccer,” said Philadelphia Union’s German sporting director Ernst Tanner in a club statement. “This has always been the goal of the club. We want to establish a unique identity of developing young players through our academy with an end goal of cultivating and developing their talent to the level that allows them to compete against the very best in the world. We are incredibly proud that Brenden is leading the way as the first Philadelphia Union homegrown player to test himself against top European competition.”
Tanner, who had previously worked in Germany for 1860 Munich and Hoffenheim but was also involved in the Red Bull system at one point, knows how to negotiate with big clubs in Europe. In this case, he has been able to put together a landmark deal for Major League Soccer standards.
As the very reliable Jonathan Tannenwald from The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the fee amounts to $6 million, with up to a further $3 million added through easily achievable performance-based add-ons. Even without the performance-based add-on fees, the transfer constitutes the highest fee ever paid for an American product from an MLS academy—he is the second most expensive outgoing MLS academy player after Canadian star Alphonso Davies. Philadelphia also secured a sell-on clause, which is understood to range from 10-20%. “We are very proud of Brenden and what he has accomplished in such a short amount of time,” Philadelphia Union principal owner Jay Sugarman said.
Salzburg was also excited about the new signing. “Brenden Aaronson is regarded as one of the biggest talents in MLS, with an extraordinary dynamism and presence on the pitch for a 19-year-old,” sporting director Christoph Freud said in a club statement. “Despite his young age, he has an incredible ability to make the right decisions on the pitch.“
But what can Aaronson expect in Salzburg? The list of players developed in Salzburg for bigger clubs is long and becomes more illustrate every season. Last January, the club moved Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund and Takumi Minamino to Liverpool. Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané were developed at the club and now play in Liverpool as well. Then there is a strong connection to RB Leipzig. The likes of Marcel Sabitzer, Hee-chan Hwang, Dayot Upamecano, Amadou Haidara, and Konrad Laimer were developed in Salzburg and are now stars in the German Bundesliga—in all 17 players have moved from Salzburg to Leipzig, and it would not be surprising if Aaronson is soon going to join that list of players.
“I am looking forward to starting the next chapter of my career,” Aaronson said in an RB Salzburg club statement on Friday. “As a young player, I focus on growing my ability, and I have seen how Salzburg has developed so many incredible talents. The way they play football really suits my own style.”
At RB Salzburg, Aaronson is seen as a typical number 10. The sort of player that US coach Jesse Marsch has currently available in Hungarian Dominik Szoboszlai but also in young German super talent Karim Adeyemi. But Salzburg always plans long-term; every player is essentially being developed for another club, be it for Leipzig or one of Europe’s other big clubs. It is, in fact, part of the club’s philosophy and slogan, printed in the press room at the club’s stadium in Walz-Siezenheim; the club wants to produce for the very best while also being successful.
As a result, Aaronson will be expected to fill the void left by Szoboszlai—he decided to stay for one more year but has offers from Italy and the Bundesliga. As pointed out by Canadian journalist Peter Galindo, the two are not comparable as of yet. Still, anyone who has seen Aaronson play over the last few months knows: the sky is the limit for the US national team player.
Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth