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Stejskal: Why LAFC felt comfortable selling captain Laurent Ciman

Whenever a team receives a transfer offer for one of their players, they launch a quick calculus. They consider the economic benefit of the bid, the competitive impact of shipping the player out and the player’s desires, then throw the entire mix into the broader context of their season.

If it all adds up, the team sells — even when the player is as important as Laurent Ciman was to LAFC.

LAFC sold the Belgian defender to French Ligue 1 club Dijon last week for a reported transfer fee around $500,000. His departure will leave a significant gap. Ciman was the first captain in LAFC history, scored the first goal at Banc of California Stadium and was one of the leading voices and most important players for the expansion club, who are currently in second in the Western Conference.

Despite his importance, a few factors pushed the transfer through. According to LAFC EVP and GM John Thorrington, Ciman’s contract status was perhaps the biggest. The 33-year-old’s deal was set to expire at the end of the season, meaning he could’ve left LA for free in January or signed a pre-contract with a foreign club this summer. Ciman wanted multiple years guaranteed for his next contract and, though he held discussions with LAFC, the sides couldn’t agree to a new deal.

That opened a window for Dijon, who stepped in with a reported two-year offer with a club option for the 2020-2021 season just after LAFC acquired center back Danilo Silva on loan on Aug. 3. Ciman liked the offer and, after LAFC didn’t match, the sides moved to finalize the sale.

“I think Laurent looked at it in terms of I think [length] more than anything. He saw that as a more favorable situation and with his family, they prioritized that stability. I think from what I gather, that was a top priority for them,” Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “Where we were in terms of our season… we were certainly not in the position to match the term of that offer. So, all of those things were thrown into our calculus… and we felt like these were the right decisions for the club and the player. In my short time in this role but in my longer time just being around the game, I am very pleased that we ended up with mutually beneficial scenarios as opposed to a lopsided arrangement.”

Not that there weren’t complications. With the team looking like a safe bet to qualify for the playoffs, LAFC had to weigh how much losing Ciman would hurt their chances at winning MLS Cup. This is where the acquisition of Silva loomed large. Had LAFC not landed the 31-year-old for at least the remainder of the season via loan from Brazilian club Internacional, it’s unlikely they would’ve moved Ciman.

“If Danilo were not here, I don’t think we could’ve been able to do it,” said Thorrington. “If we were in a different position in the league and we were looking at the rest of this year and thinking, ‘Well, let’s just do the right thing for 2019,’ it might’ve been different. But given where we are and what we’d like to achieve this year, we didn’t sign Danilo because we knew this would happen, but the signing of Danilo did enable this transfer to take place.”

Ciman is the second player to be sold by LAFC after the club moved Omar Gaber to Egyptian club Pyramids FC for a reported transfer fee of more than $1 million in July. If the reported fees are accurate, the two transfers landed LAFC around $1.125 million in General Allocation Money – a massive amount.

Thorrington said that the decision to sell Ciman wasn’t motivated by cap considerations, and he noted that the club have “a lot of flexibility” with their budget heading into 2019.

That flexibility could help retain Ciman’s former center back partner Walker Zimmerman. The 25-year-old US international is out of contract at the end of this season and has drawn interest from foreign clubs in the past. He’s making $235,000 this season, according to the MLS Players Association, and, given the contracts of some of his peers around the league, could command a hefty pay raise next season. Thorrington didn’t want to go into much detail when asked about Zimmerman’s status, only saying that LAFC “see Walker as part of [their] future for many years.”

And LAFC expect that future to be bright – both this season and beyond. Thorrington admitted that the timing of the Ciman sale wasn’t ideal, but he’s confident that LAFC will still contend for Cup even as their first-ever captain begins a new chapter in France.

“We were able to work with it and we have full confidence in our group,” he said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to compete this year and we don’t think that this decision will compromise our competitiveness throughout the year.”

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