There were more than a few similarities between Minnesota United's prolonged, and public, pursuit of Rennes forward Adrien Hunou and last year's acquisition of Emanuel Reynoso from Boca Juniors.
Hunou was a long-term target for Minnesota, an in-prime attacker playing at a high level. There were plenty of reports of offers, advanced negotiations and deals being close, but a few months went by before an official announcement. Both players privately expressed a desire to depart for Minnesota and MLS as negotiations dragged on.
Most importantly, of course, both pursuits ended with the players posing with Minnesota United kits. Hunou was officially announced as Minnesota's newest player Monday and, like Reynoso, joined the club as a Designated Player.
“This has probably been the worst-kept secret in MLS that we got him, because this went back five or six months like Reynoso," Minnesota head coach Adrian Heath told media on a virtual press conference Friday. "We never wavered. He’s been on our discovery list for over a year, we feel as if he’ll be a good fit for MLS.”
Hunou is a product of Rennes' youth academy and spent his entire career with the club, outside of an 18-month loan stint with Clermont Foot. He scored 38 goals in seven seasons with Rennes while accumulating Europa League and Champions League experience, though he fell out of favor in 2020, coinciding with reports breaking of Minnesota United's interest and initial offer.
He played a grand total of 133 minutes across the club's 16 matches after January 1.
“When you’re a local kid playing for the local team, to go in and tell the club that you want to leave and go to Minnesota, like he did four months ago, that’s never easy," Heath said. "The fact he went in and said he had his mind set on playing for Minnesota meant meant he didn’t play. We thought we were going to have to wait until the end of the season, but they decided it’s best for everybody to do it now.”
With all the paperwork filed, the club expects Hunou to arrive in around two weeks as he awaits his visa, though travel is difficult to predict during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hunou has played comfortably on either wing and as a No. 10 throughout his career, positions that Heath believes he can excel at in MLS as well. That flexibility is important given the club recently acquired Ramon Abila from Boca Juniors, more of a classic No. 9, and that Heath has mostly played a one-striker system during his time in Minnesota.
Heath did note that while Hunou is capable of playing elsewhere in the main 4-2-3-1 system, there's potential for Minnesota to try out two-striker formations as well.
“We have a lot of flexibility within the roster to play different systems," Heath said. We spoke about a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. We feel as though we have enough players with enough versatility. … We’ve got some really tough decisions to make. If we add another to this group, which we hope to in the next week, there will be a lot of competition in forward areas.”
The other player Heath was referring to is Argentine winger Franco Fragapane.
Fragapane, a 27-year-old Argentine currently playing for CD Talleres, has been linked with Minnesota for several weeks by many outlets, including MLSsoccer.com, but a deal is yet to get over the line. He even started (and scored) in the club's Copa Sudamericana match on Thursday. Later that evening, a report out of South America linked the player to FC Cincinnati, rather than Minnesota, casting his potential move to the Loons in doubt.
A source, though, expressed confidence that Minnesota's deal will get over the line, while Heath expressed similar belief on Friday.
“We’re very close," Heath said. "I’d be stupid to say we haven’t been in contact with Talleres. We’re very close but at this moment it’s not a done deal. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get it over the line in the next 48 hours or so. He’s a guy we’ve had on our discovery list for quite some time, if we can get it sorted and get him here, that’ll be great for everybody.”