It's certainly not the first time a talented young player has arrived in MLS from South America, but FC Cincinnati's acquisition of Brenner, a Brazilian youth international forward, from Sao Paulo feels historic, or at the very least quite different.
Brenner arrives in one of the league's most lucrative deals, reported to be for an initial $13 million with incentives that could push that figure higher yet.
“Normally, this kind of talent goes directly to Europe," Cincy GM Gerard Nijkamp told media on a virtual press conference. "But now, he’s coming to our club.”
Brenner made his debut at the age of 17 for Sao Paulo, a club renowned for youth development that has helped produce the likes of Kaka, Cafu, Ederson, Lucas Moura and innumerable other professionals. Now 21, he was the latest of their wonderkids and reportedly had been a target for Arsenal, Juventus and plenty other big European names, but no move materialized.
"We can be the bridge in going to Europe," Nijkamp said. "In the past there was a lot of opportunities for top Brazilian talents to go directly to Europe, but we took this opportunity. The right moment, the right timing to get Brenner in our club.”
That's the macro. The micro? Cincy believe they are getting a can't-miss talent that will provide immense help the club immediately and in the future.
“Is it a statement? I don’t care," Nijkamp said. "I want to have the best players to be successful and win as many matches with this beautiful club.”
Brenner is far from just a young player with potential. He was in the midst of a breakout season since the resumption of the Brazilian Championship Serie A in August of 2020. He had 21 goals and four assists in 39 appearances (30 starts) across all competitions.
“I hope he will continue performing how he was with Sao Paulo this season, but we have to manage expectations," Nijkamp said. "He’s still young, there’s still room for development. Putting this transfer fee on the table to get him at this moment shows courage for everyone who was involved to get this over the finish line. Hopefully, step-by-step, he’ll show his quality.”
For a team that scored an MLS-low 12 goals last season, it's not hard to see how their new signing can bring immediate dividends.
"Brenner is an impact addition which will help a glaring need for us: Scoring goals," Nijkamp said.
More signings to come
Brenner is easily the biggest coup for Cincy this winter and they aren't done yet.
Already this winter they've acquired a new starting left back in Ronald Matarrita, via a trade with NYCFC, while adding young talent Ben Mines, goalkeeper Cody Cropper as well as forward Calvin Harris with the No. 2 overall SuperDraft selection.
As for what's next, well, reports have linked Cincy with a shock move for former Atlanta United star Pity Martinez. He currently plays for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia, having only left Atlanta in September.
“I never talk about names, I think it’s not good to share names," Nijkamp said when asked about Martinez. "We are still busy with other prospects. Reading the media, we tried to do our utmost to get the best players in town. No. 10, winger and center back are the requirements we need.”
Interestingly, though, he added: “We are also in conversations about the allocation spot.”
If Cincinnati were to agree a deal for Martinez, they'd have to maneuver to the top of the Allocation Order to sign him.
Elsewhere, the decision to make such a lavish investment in another forward automatically raised more questions about Jurgen Locadia. The Dutch attacker is still on loan at Cincy until the summer with a purchase option, but he failed to live up to expectations in year one. There have been reports that clubs have reached out to Brighton & Hove Albion, Locadia's parent club, about his availability. If Locadia departs, it would open up another DP spot.
While Nijkamp was non-committal about Locadia's future once again on Tuesday, he did point multiple times to the possibility of the forwards playing together.
“Jurgen and Brenner can play as a center forward or out on either wing," Nijkamp said. "We have confidence in both players that they’ll be able to work well together but it’s Jaap’s decision to bring the best 11 players on the pitch. If Jaap wants to play with both, he can play with both. If he wants to bring one from the bench, he can bring one from the bench. I create opportunities for our coaching staff to make decisions.”