That was the case on Tuesday as Harrison’s seven-figure transfer to Man City was finalized after weeks of reports linking the 21-year-old to Stoke City and Middlesbrough. The midfielder will immediately go out on loan to the latter for the next six months.
What should you make of the move? Well, that depends on your perspective. Here’s why the four parties involved pulled the trigger…
Money and opportunity. It doesn’t take a Machiavellian mind to figure this one out.
For Harrison, there was no better time than the present to make the move back to England. He’d put his time in with New York City FC, earning a starting spot and becoming a difference maker during two seasons in the Bronx. Those performances earned him an England Under-21 call-up last year – pretty much the ultimate shop window for English clubs who are always hungry for domestic talent – and once Stoke City came in with a bid during the winter window Harrison made it known that he was ready to head back across the Atlantic, both publicly and privately.
After shining with NYCFC, Harrison has a chance to do the same at Middlesbrough. | USA Today Images
So why not Stoke City? Simply put, Manchester City is a softer landing spot, both financially and from a sporting perspective. Instead of walking into a relegation battle and fighting for minutes with a Premier League squad (Stoke City), Harrison heads to an ambitious but offensively deprived club fighting for promotion in the Championship (Middlesbrough) where he checks not just the "talent" box, but the "need" one as well. He ought to be valued given they were rumored to be in the running for his permanent signature.
If he performs well, the six-month loan could turn into a permanent transfer (more on that later) and maybe even a place in the Premier League should Middlesbrough get promoted. Or those performances could earn him a better opportunity elsewhere, all the while making a case to be more involved with the England U-21 setup. Either way, he’s on the fast track.
If it doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, Harrison won’t be stuck. He can tap into the City Football Group network and find another opportunity, on loan or perhaps a full transfer, without worrying about his financial security. No matter what, his future looks bright.
New York City FC
NYCFC have spent most of Tuesday celebrating Harrison’s move to Man City on social media. Yes, part of that is because he is staying within the CFG family (more on that later, as well), but it’s also because this is an objectively good deal for the club and one they were prepared to make.
NYCFC had no interest in holding Harrison against his wishes, just as long as their valuation was met. After some back and forth, Stoke City did just that, only Man City decided they were willing to match the offer, according to a club source. That was fine by the blue side of New York. They got their allocation haul, money to invest in a future Designated Player or club infrastructure, per MLS roster rules, and may even get more down the line via bumps based on performance and sell-on.
It was also a move they could afford to make. Patrick Vieira knows his shot at MLS Cup isn’t irrevocably damaged by the sale of one of his best young players, as it might have been in part iterations of MLS. NYCFC did good business in the winter window, picking up Young DP Jesus Medina, Ismael Tajouri and Norwegian international Jo Inge Berget. They now have more minutes to give Jonathan Lewis, who may just be the next Harrison. They’ll be fine – better than 2017 even.
As for those tweets? The club is sending a message, to their fans but also to other young players: “Come to NYCFC. We want to win. We’ll develop you and give you a platform to shine, then sell you down the line when the time is right.” Players and agents will tell you that means an awful lot when it comes to recruitment.
First things first, Google "Aaron Mooy, Huddersfield." Once you do, this will start to make a lot of sense.
For the blue side of Manchester, Harrison is an asset, one they already know well, clearly value, and, most importantly, expect to appreciate. As Stoke City’s interest proved, there is a market for his services, and City are betting that market will get even more competitive and lucrative with more exposure closer to home.
Take the example of Jacob Murphy, a 22-year-old England U-21 winger who moved from Norwich City to Newcastle United in July. Murphy parlayed successful seasons in League One (on loan with Coventry City) and the Championship (Norwich), as well as a standout U-21 Euro performance, into a move reported to be worth £10 million with the potential to rise to £12.5 million with add-ons. If you need help with conversion, that’s in the neighborhood of $15 million.
Harrison's time with England's U-21s has gained him wider exposure. | Action Images / Reuters
Why couldn’t Harrison, given six months to prove himself in the Championship and with more England U-21 appearances under his belt thanks to Euro qualification, garner significantly more than his current asking price in the summer, when he’ll still be just 21? For Man City, why not match Stoke’s offer, give a trusted member of the CFG family a platform to grow and perhaps double their investment down the line while also giving NYCFC a win?
They did just that, and the deal became a no-brainer for all involved, including Major League Soccer.
Major League Soccer
Aside from the league's portion of the transfer fee – the most tangible win here – Harrison’s sale continues to integrate the league into the international market, where only a chosen few get to do business in one direction. In the past week, MLS has sold players to two of the world’s biggest clubs in Harrison and Ballou Tabla (Barcelona). That’s a financial windfall for club and league, but it’s also a public relations victory. Look, both moves say, MLS has talent that the world’s best are willing to pay handsomely to acquire and the league is willing the sell if the price is right.
Those transfers come on the heels of a handful of seven-figure (and one eight!) buys this winter – think Ezequiel Barco (ATL), Diego Rossi (LAFC), Josue Colman (ORL) and Medina (NYC) in the mold of Miguel Almiron and others before them – that are just as much a signal to clubs, players and agents as Harrison and Tabla. Look, those moves say, MLS clubs are willing to invest in the future stars of the sport and those players view MLS as a place to advance their careers.
For fans, it means one thing: get used to both buying and selling. It’s the future of the league, and, like in Harrison's case, everyone will be better for it in the long run.