He sprinkled in an “allegedly” and just enough other qualifiers to give himself a plausible out.
But Jim Curtin nonetheless all but confirmed Brenden Aaronson’s big-money transfer from RB Salzburg to Leeds United – developments broken by MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert – after his Philadelphia Union defeated the Portland Timbers on Sunday night, extolling the 21-year-old Philly homegrown product’s meteoric rise in the European firmament.
“It's a wild ride, if you really look back how quickly Brenden has risen, on the field most importantly,” said Curtin of the Medford, New Jersey native, who was also the subject of multiple failed bids from Leeds in the winter window. “The dollars are the dollars and certainly that's great and that's part of our model and it certainly helps the league, it helps ownership and helps everything.
“It's really good, the money side of things, but to watch the kid now go in the last 18 months from great MLS player to a great national team player to a great player in Europe, and now going to the Premier League.”
Aaronson’s move from the reigning Austrian champions to the English Premier League was smoothed by Leeds’ dramatic last-day dodge of relegation on Sunday, an escape overseen by former New York Red Bulls and Montréal Impact (now CF Montréal) head coach Jesse Marsch, a friend and former teammate of Curtin’s, who believes the West Yorkshire side is a fitting destination for the high-energy US international.
“Obviously congrats to Leeds and Jesse [Marsch], dealing with pressure that none of us will ever, probably, feel in our lives. What he handled with poise and character was really amazing. I'm proud of him,” said Curtin.
“And then now Brenden will join that group and look, Jesse will get the most out of Brenden, no question about it. I don't know, nothing's done yet, so I don't want to get caught getting ahead of myself. But that's a good partnership for sure. And it's a great place for him to be – if it does get finalized – that is great.”
The Union already reaped combined fees in the high seven figures from Aaronson’s move to Salzburg and with a hefty sell-on clause baked into that deal, will now also reportedly receive between $3 and 6 million from the Leeds transaction, which is said to pipe nearly $30 million into the Austrian club’s coffers.
Many managers in Curtin’s position would already be lobbying to pour a chunk of those profits towards their first-team squad. That’s not quite the modus operandi in Philly, though, and their coach says he’s just fine with that as the academy-centered development model crafted by minority owner Richie Graham and the rest of the Union leadership continues to hum.
“Winning is still the priority number one and that draws the attention here. But within that, we want to win games and we want to also sell top players to Europe, and with that young players are going to look at us and say ‘we want to come there, we want to be developed, we want to move on when the time is right, play for the national team,’” said Curtin. “These are all good things and I think it paints our club in a positive way. So however we spend the money, I'm cool with it.”
As if to prove that point, a matter of hours after Aaronson’s impending EPL move crystallized, Curtin gave his younger brother Paxten, a playmaker some insiders think has an even higher upside than Brenden, his longest MLS run out of the season (38 minutes) off the bench in Portland.
Philadelphia have gradually cranked up their roster spending lately – Sunday’s match-winner, Hungarian international Daniel Gazdag, reportedly cost nearly $2 million – albeit in a sustainable, self-funding way that underlines the long-range vision at play. Curtin spoke revealingly of his embrace of that approach and his role in it.
“One thing I've learned over the years, and I hope people don't take this the wrong way, but the job of the head coach more than anything is actually to grow the value of the team,” said Curtin. “Winning is literally the number-one thing that grows value. So I say that that is the number-one most important thing. But along with that now, I think that when teams in our league and teams in the world now look to our club as a team that can develop players and sell players, that grows the value of the club.
“I think you're starting to see some of the plan that I give her ownership credit for sticking with through some tough times as well. You're starting to see some of the rewards from us sticking to the plan and maybe going a different way than other teams did,” he added. “When other teams bought big-name superstars, we believed in a youth academy and building that way, it was our unique way. And it's starting to really show that it can be profitable, number one, and you can win first and foremost.”