TRANSFER TRACKER STATUS: Transfer
“Each player has a different path in their development, but George is a shining example of one of those pathways that our club can offer,” vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement.
“He joined our original Academy program in 2016 and soon signed as a homegrown at just 15 years old. He then made his mark at USL level, went on to debut with our first team and ultimately played his way onto the US men’s national team. For George, his desire was to move to Europe for an opportunity to continue his development and we wish him continued success with Bielefeld.”
Bello, 20, is the second MLS left back this January window who's been transferred to Germany's top-flight. D.C. United previously sold homegrown defender Kevin Paredes to VfL Wolfsburg in a club-record move.
Bello is Atlanta's first homegrown export to join a top-five league in Europe.
Dirty South Soccer's Joe Patrick first reported the deal was complete on Saturday evening, then Fabrizio Romano added Atlanta would net a $2 million transfer fee (plus sell-on percentage) upon his departure.
The 20-year-old US men’s national team left back reportedly wasn't enamored by interest from Belgian Pro League side Cercle Brugge, instead preferring to join the wave of MLS exports in Germany's top-flight.
Emerging from the winter international window, Arminia Bielefeld sit 14th in the Bundesliga standings and are firmly in a relegation battle.
The move, which Romano notes would prompt a $3.75 million fee plus add-ons, would constitute Atlanta’s first overseas transfer of an academy-developed player. But the deal doesn't appear 100% over the line, with personal terms a sticking point before it reaches completion.
And, as US-based reporter Grant Wahl highlights, Bello would prefer a move to Bundesliga side Arminia Bielefeld, joining a wave of MLS-developed players in Germany's top-flight. He could also sign a pre-contract this summer if his ATLUTD deal expires, possibly leaving for free, presenting another wrinkle in the situation.
Bello, 20, joined Atlanta as a homegrown player for the 2018 season. He’s logged three goals and four assists across 52 games (47 starts), seizing the Five Stripes’ starting left-back role in 2020.
Bello’s also a rising US men’s national team player, earning six caps since debuting last year. He’s featured in two Concacaf World Cup qualifiers this cycle, plus started the USMNT’s Gold Cup final win over Mexico last summer.
Should Bello depart, Atlanta would have a built-in replacement in Andrew Gutman. The 25-year-old spent last year on loan at New York Red Bulls, while Mikey Ambrose is another left back on ATLUTD’s roster.
Atlanta are entering their first full season under head coach Gonzalo Pineda and start their 2022 campaign Feb. 27 when hosting Sporting Kansas City.
Belgium or Germany?
Cercle Brugge are currently seventh in the Belgian Pro League standings, putting them in contention for a Europa League spot. Arminia Bielefeld are 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga, two points above the relegation playoff place.
There’s a growing trend of MLS-developed players heading to Belgium. This winter, Canadian international winger Tajon Buchanan (from New England Revolution) joined Club Brugge on a $7 million transfer and fullback Kyle Duncan joined Oostende on a free move after four seasons with RBNY.
Others include USMNT defenders Sam Vines and Mark McKenzie, respective homegrowns from the Colorado Rapids and Philadelphia Union. Vines joined Royal Antwerp via transfer last summer, while McKenzie went to KRC Genk via transfer in January 2021.
As for Germany, just during this winter transfer window, USMNT striker Ricardo Pepi joined FC Augsburg in a club-record move from FC Dallas. D.C. United also completed a club-record transfer of defender Kevin Paredes to VfL Wolfsburg. They join NYCFC academy products Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), among others.
The most prominent MLS-developed player in the Bundesliga might be New York Red Bulls product and USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig. FCD product and USMNT defender Chris Richards is on loan at Hoffenheim (from Bayern Munich), the same club Justin Che recently joined on loan from FCD.