After a couple of quiet runouts in the Galaxy’s first two matches of the year, the 28-year-old Designated Player, who completed a transfer to LA from French club Marseille in January, has come on strong in his last three contests, recording three goals and two assists to lead LA to a 2-1-0 record in that stretch.
He’s given the Galaxy an elite presence on the wing, quickly integrating into the team to help the club through a tough patch that’s seen Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget, Robbie Rogers and Ashley Cole all miss multiple games due to injury.
On Saturday, he’ll take the biggest stage of his young MLS career when LA play a high-profile contest at Orlando City SC (2:30 pm ET; FOX in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada). It’s these sorts of matches – the nationally-televised, all-eyes-on-us contests the Galaxy so often find themselves in – that motivated LA to put almost 12 months of work into landing Alessandrini.
According to Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski, who ran point on both the Alessandrini recruitment and the club’s two-year courtship of dos Santos, LA began scouting Alessandrini early in 2016 as one of a number of wide players the team identified through their scouting network as a potential DP for 2017.
After watching him on tape and getting some secondhand reports about his personality, LA quickly upped their interest. They liked Alessandrini’s game, and they sensed that they’d have a good chance to pry him away from Marseille, where he was in the midst of enduring a turbulent two-and-a-half-year run.
A hometown kid, Alessandrini has deep ties to Marseille, but his stint with the club’s first-team was checkered. After washing out of their academy in 2008 and working his way through the French lower divisions, the winger made a triumphant return to l’OM in the summer of 2014 from Rennes for a reported transfer fee of $5.3 million.
His comeback didn’t quite go as planned. He started just 13 of 38 Ligue 1 matches in his first year with Marseille, then ran afoul of the club’s fans after he criticized popular ex-manager Marcelo Bielsa following the famously mercurial Argentine’s sudden resignation in August 2015. He fared slightly better under new manager Michel, but injuries limited him to just four starts between Dec. 3, 2015 and the end of the Ligue 1 season the following May.
“He didn’t quite live up to expectations at Marseille,” Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com “And if you know Marseille, it’s a crazy place. I mean the fans are really on it, they’re intense and they expect a lot and he just didn’t live up to it, he didn’t fulfill the expectations he was supposed to there. So it didn’t work out but… the timing was right for us to come in and get him.”
It was during Alessandrini’s long stretch on the sidelines that LA made their initial approach. Kirovski traveled to Marseille in April for the first of what would end up being four visits to the city. There, after receiving permission to contact Alessandrini from Marseille, he met with the player and his agent. Kirovski got more of a feel for his personality and motivations, and opened the floor for Alessandrini to ask about LA’s playing style, roster and MLS at large.
Kirovski also began making the Galaxy’s pitch. He talked about the allure of Southern California, of course, but focused more on educating Alessandrini about the team and the league – how he’d fit the Galaxy’s plans, what kind of players he’d be playing with and some of the nuances of MLS. He found a willing listener, with Alessandrini focused mainly on the sporting side of the move, with the Frenchman even asking Kirovski for game tape so he could see LA in action.
“He was very much about the team side,” Kirovski said. “Off the field he had a few questions, but he was more focused on the soccer. I think that’s the most important thing – he’s here not to enjoy life, he’s here to perform and succeed.”
A follow-up visit came in November, after Alessandrini had recovered from an ankle injury that kept him out of the first three months of the Ligue 1 season. Kirovski saw him play in Marseille’s loss at Monaco and in their scoreless draw against St. Etienne, again meeting with player and agent.
Interest was high on both ends, but LA had a few things to sort out before making a move. Bruce Arena’s decision to leave the Galaxy to take over the US men’s national team in November had the potential to throw a wrench in the pursuit. If LA replaced Arena with a coach and GM from outside the organization, there was no guarantee that the new hires would want Alessandrini, or that he would’ve even been a good fit in their preferred system.
The Galaxy, of course, ended up staying in house, promoting Peter Vagenas to GM and bumping Curt Onalfo from Galaxy II to first-team head coach. The move saved Kirovski a ton of legwork. Vagenas was already on board with Alessandrini and Onalfo liked him, too. Shortly after the new head coach was hired on Dec. 13, the club decided to move forward with an offer.
So, for the third time in eight months, Kirovski hopped a flight to France. There would be no more feeling out on this trip. It was time to start negotiating a transfer with Marseille, and to convince Alessandrini to come to LA.
The Galaxy had plenty of competition. Kirovski said that St. Etienne, English Premier League club Hull City, Italian side Genoa and several Chinese clubs were interested, but the Galaxy’s doggedness and repeated trans-Atlantic trips impressed Alessandrini. He liked how the team played, liked the vision Kirovski described and, after the framework of a potential contract was agreed upon, was sold on the move.
The Galaxy had cleared one major hurdle, but another – agreeing to a transfer fee with Marseille – remained. The club had paid over $5 million for Alessandrini in the summer of 2015 and, understandably, wanted to get as much of that back as they could in return.
LA started negotiating in earnest with Marseille on that December trip. After a month’s worth of phone calls, a lot of back-and-forth and a few moments of doubt, they finally got things to a place at the end of January where a deal was in sight.
Kirovski jumped on a final flight to Marseille, this time joined by Vagenas. Their stay on the Mediterranean would be short. LA and l’OM hammered out a deal in just a day and a half, eventually agreeing to a transfer fee of $1.75 million. A few days later, on Jan. 31, the Galaxy announced their newest DP.
A few weeks later, in mid-February, Alessandrini began training with LA. Despite having a truncated preseason, he’s fit in well with the Galaxy, registering three goals and two assists in five starts.
Significantly, his presence allows Onalfo to pair Zardes and dos Santos up top, keeping two of LA’s most lethal attackers in their preferred forward positions. They’re still in the early stages of that setup (dos Santos and Zardes started together for the first time in 2017 in last Friday’s win against Montreal), but if things go according to plan, Alessandrini, fellow winger Emmanuel Boateng and that potent forward duo should create plenty of fireworks this year, perhaps on Saturday at Orlando.
“He’s integrated quite well,” Kirovski said. “It always takes time to adapt when you’re going to a different country, I dealt with it as a player myself. A new language, a new style of play, a new culture, it all takes some time, but he’s adapted quite well. He’s a very strong character, and on the field, he’s a very intelligent player. He’s what we expected. Can he deliver more? We hope so. It’s just a start, there’s a lot more to come, but he’s had a good beginning.”