MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Taty Castellanos to Girona explained: 6 key questions as NYCFC's star departs

After 18 months of speculation, starting with rejected bids in the spring of 2021, Taty Castellanos’ future is finally sorted. Well, for now.

Castellanos was sent on loan to LaLiga side Girona, a move officially announced Monday after assisting for New York City FC in a 2-0 win over Inter Miami CF on Saturday. Girona are also under the City Football Group umbrella. The loan is through next summer (June 2023) and it doesn’t include a purchase option for Girona.

It’s perhaps not what some envisioned for the league’s reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and an MLS Cup champion, who continued his stellar form in 2022. It raised some questions, too. I’ll take the questions from my Twitter mentions and sort through them here, hopefully providing some context.

1. Wait. Why a loan?

In short: It’s a bet that Castellanos’ value will rise after a season in Europe as well as there being more options for the forward once clubs see him in LaLiga. Instead of NYCFC accepting an offer of lesser value, or head back to South America instead of Europe, the 23-year-old is loaned to fellow CFG club Girona after they gained promotion from Spain’s second division via the country’s playoff format.

A bit longer: A deal simply had to get done this summer so NYCFC could make good on a promise.

When NYCFC rejected a bid of around $4 million from Brazil’s Palmeiras ahead of the 2021 MLS season, the club laid out a plan for why Castellanos should stay.

The Argentine striker was interested in the proposal and wanted to go. NYCFC reasoned with Castellanos, saying this is your year. We have big plans for you. Stick around for another season, have a breakout and then we’ll sanction a move to Europe. Oh and we’ll give you a new contract, too.

That bet worked out.

Castellanos led MLS in scoring (19g/8a) during a career year, then won MLS Cup thanks to a penalty shootout win over the Portland Timbers. His value was much bigger than the $4 million Palmeiras bid, and Castellanos could depart MLS a champion. Offers were expected in the winter.

But offers didn’t really come.

Palmeiras came back with a bigger bid this winter, but not one that met NYCFC’s $15 million valuation. Argentina’s River Plate were interested as well but weren’t going to pay that figure. Surprisingly, the European market was quiet. Since-relegated Premier League side Burnley were interested but opted to sign Dutch international Wout Weghorst. Leeds United and other clubs didn’t push forward to make bids.

So, once more, it made sense for Castellanos to stick around a little longer. NYCFC were in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League, which would wrap up before the Secondary Transfer Window opened July 7. He’ll have a chance for continental glory and then a reasonable bid will come from Europe.

But offers of their $15 million valuation didn’t come… again.

So, to make good on their promise to move Castellanos to Europe and to bet on his value raising, Castellanos is sent on loan to Girona.

2. Why now?

Castellanos has been a consummate professional despite a move taking a bit longer to materialize than expected. He didn’t drop his form, nor outwardly show frustration.

He was ready to go. He wanted to go. Castellanos told TUDN’s Michele Giannone as much a few weeks ago.

“I’m enjoying the day to day here... but, you asked before about motivations and growth and I think about doing that somewhere else, because the motivation of winning MLS Cup? Already did. Golden boot? Already did. Of course I would like to win everything all the time here, but I also want to play somewhere else for me, for my growth, and test my limits and see how much better I can be. It’s time to test if I’m ready to be successful in Europe or not.”

Castellanos said as much via the club’s official release that announced the transfer on Monday.

“I came to New York City four years ago and this experience has been everything I could have wanted,” Castellanos said. “... I strongly believe that this is the right time for me to move to Europe which has always been a dream of mine. I feel confident and ready for a new challenge."

It had to be this summer.

3. Does NYCFC benefit from it being a loan rather than City Football Group purchasing the contract first?

Early reporting around Castellanos’ potential move to Girona indicated it would come as part of a transfer for City Football Group (Manchester City, I guess) to purchase Castellanos and then loan him to Girona.

Monday, the deal was announced as a loan from NYCFC.

It doesn’t matter a ton in the grand scheme of things – an eventual transfer from NYCFC or CFG is all the same with common ownership – but it allows NYCFC to (likely) be the club that makes the transfer next summer if all goes according to plan.

In the nitty-gritty MLS roster rules/cap situation: It means NYCFC won’t get extra General Allocation Money (GAM) from this transfer until next year then, rather than the club agreeing on a “fee” with CFG that would allow them to convert some to GAM, like the New York Red Bulls did with Tyler Adams’ transfer to RB Leipzig back in 2019.

NYCFC will be able to convert up to $1,102,500 of the transfer fee to GAM. If you want to dive through the roster rules, knock yourself out here; it’s under the “transfer and loan fees” section.

In terms of the narrative (shoutout fanfiction MLS scriptwriter Andrew Wiebe), it’ll be cool for an eventual deal to (likely) be from NYCFC. Castellanos will (rightly) have his place somewhere favorably on the list of all-time most expensive outbound transfers in MLS history.

If NYCFC are to get their $15 million asking price next summer, Castellanos would be the fifth-most expensive transfer from an MLS club.

4. Is there any precedent to this kind of move?

Why yes, there is.

City Football Group “acquired” Jack Harrison from NYCFC in 2018 to immediately loan him out to Middlesbrough in the Championship. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft later joined Leeds United on a permanent deal.

This summer, Arsenal “acquired” Auston Trusty from the Colorado Rapids (same ownership group) to loan him out in Europe. He just joined Birmingham City on loan from Arsenal, another move to England’s second division.

Tangentially related: CF Montréal have sent players (Luis Binks, Matteo Schiavoni) to sister club Bologna, and have also received a number of players on loan (Lassi Lappalainen, Orji Okwonkwo, etc) from the Italian Serie A club.

5. Now what for NYCFC?

NYCFC have a huge hole now but have internal options to replace their star man.

Heber – who was the starting center forward ahead of Castellanos a couple of years ago – is looking much more like the player from his debut season (15g/4a in less than 1,600 minutes in 2019) than the guy who scored one goal over the next two years, thanks to a long-term ACL injury.

Talles Magno will also have a chance to play through the center, thanks to their vast options of wingers. Magno has 5g/8a in 21 apps (1,613 minutes) this season, predominantly with the Brazilian Young DP playing as a left winger.

Castellanos will also open a senior roster spot and some salary cap flexibility to try and bring in an option externally. NYCFC can also buy down Maxi Moralez’s DP deal and open a DP spot, should they opt for that route.

The MLS Secondary Transfer window ends Aug. 4 and the Roster Freeze Date is Sept. 2.

6. What is Taty Castellanos walking into at Girona?

Girona have predominantly been a second-tier club in Spain – more likely to be found in the third or fourth tier than LaLiga until the late 2000s – and got promoted to the top tier via the playoffs last year. Girona only made the playoffs thanks to a tiebreaker, finishing sixth in the second tier and advancing through the playoffs to the top flight.

Castellanos is their biggest profile addition so far this summer. Girona also added Yan Couto on loan from Manchester City this summer, after having a trio of Man City players on loan last year.

He is likely to partner up top with former Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani, who has been at the club since 2017.

Girona finished mid-table in LaLiga during Stuani’s first season, before being relegated after 2018-19. Those are the only two top-flight seasons in the club’s recent history. Castellanos will be crucial to their relegation fight.