Javier Leon, Managing Director for Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman's Andell Sports Group, came into Toyota Park this morning and made the following announcement:
"I want to start by confirming that the trigger for Grazzini’s option has come up, and the option has been triggered. So expect him to be with us until at least the end of this year, and hopefully further after that. I know that there has been a little bit of speculation, but we have told his representatives a while back that we were going to exercise the option. He’s a starter-we want this guy. The issues that came up were because about a month ago he came to us and said that he had some family issues that he wanted to address. There was a thought that maybe he could go back to Argentina. So we have been working with him to make him understand the commitment he made to us and to the team. Therefore we are feeling pretty good about the fact that he is going to stay with us. It is still an evolving situation but as far as a contractual relationship, he is going to stay with us."
And there was much rejoicing. No doubt some fans at home even got up and did a little samba reminiscent of a Sebastian Grazzini goal celebration. I'd be lying if I wasn't at least dancing in my heart when I found out the good news.
Now that the dust has cleared, I'm not so sure I like what I see. Grazzini is still with the team but at what price?
Rumors that Grazzini's contract expired this June started to come out last winter. Sometime in the spring we found out that this was true but the Chicago Fire had an option to extend Grazzini's contract. Problem solved, right? What team would not choose to extend the contract of their, to use the words of MLSSoccer.com's Simon Borg, "left-footed, creative genius" in the midfield. As time marched on and there continued to be no option renewed, it appeared that it just might be the 2012 Chicago Fire that would like some self-inflicted pain.
Sebastian Grazzini on June 13th
"To be honest, yes, I find the situation to be uncomfortable... If I hadn't done my best on the pitch, I would understand the delay. I don't want to create any controversy, but I have a family and, with 20 days left on my contract, the situation has become uncomfortable."
'Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas insinuated on Tuesday that the team may well pick up the Argentine playmaker's option, while making it clear that he no longer deals with contracts as he did when he was technical director for four years.
"The guy is a starter for our team, so you can draw any conclusions after that," Klopas told MLSsoccer.com. "That's all I can say from my part."
"The club will make a decision, and we'll let everyone know when we do," coach Frank Klopas said tersely Wednesday. "Right now my main focus is on (Saturday's game against) Columbus."
Sebastian Grazzini on June 21st
'Grazzini said on Thursday that he only recently realized that the club had that option, which would keep the 31-year-old around for the rest of the season.
The Argentine said that he has no issue with the club, and the miscommunication was between him and his Argentina-based agent.
"In my time here, they've always been forthcoming with me," Grazzini said through a translator. "We keep talking, and the problem is, I came here on a one-year deal, and I misunderstood my contract in terms of what is said in terms of the extension. It's a misunderstanding as to what I could do under these terms."
Javier Leon on June 28th
On the delay of picking up the option:
"In our minds with him and his group, that had been done. That was a done deal. As far as officially making the statement, he asked us a month ago, he said ‘Listen, I want you to explore this possibility.’ That’s why we decided not say anything publicly. As far as us committing to him and making this a go, there has never been a question in our minds."
Frank Klopas on June 28th
On Grazzini being a happy player:
"I’m happy to have him back, and that decision was made a long time ago. I don’t know why he wouldn’t be happy. He should be ecstatic, with a big smile on his face. For us, it wasn’t delayed, we informed them of this over a month ago, so we did our part. If there was any misunderstanding in communication, it wasn’t from the Fire’s part. This is a contract and there’s an option. If there was a situation where we wouldn’t pick up his option, we would have informed him a month ago. He knew the contract that he signed and it was pretty clear."
The Different Options to Take on This Option Saga:
A: Everyone is telling the truth
I'm not sure anyone is Pollyanna enough to do that. The Fire Spanish interpreter and Grazzini's agent would both have to be the worst individuals at their respective jobs in the history of their professions in order for this to be a possibility.
B: Grazzini thinks he is underpaid
This wasn't an angle I had thought of but that message comes across loud and clear in Len Ziehm's article. Ziehm points out Grazzini's reportedly low salary of $50,000 and the fact that Grazzini told reporters that he wanted higher pay two weeks ago. I left Ziehm's article feeling like Grazzini regrets signing his contract in the first place and feels that he is trapped.
C: Grazzini's option escalates his salary
This is my approach and I'm sticking to it. I believe Grazzini's option increases his salary quite a bit. It's rumored that the Fire did not pick up Diego Chaves' contract last year because if they did so, his salary would have been too high to handle. That certainly would make sense if you look at the team declining to return a player who scored 6 goals in 2011 and essentially replacing him with an inferior Federico Puppo.
Don't be surprised if Sebastian Grazzini is the next player to show up on the Designated Player list. That wouldn't be a decision for the front office to take lightly. The team might have also spent all of May and June trying to find a better DP or two than Grazzini to sign. Nothing came through so we picked up Grazzini's option after all. It's possible Grazzini will not be a DP but the team needed some extra time to figure out some Allocation money financial wizardry.
D: A little bit of A, a little bit of B, AND a little bit of C
It's possible that Grazzini was totally confused. Hey, athletes can be a flaky bunch. Let's say Grazzini thought the Fire wanted to pay him $50,000 again. 'Grazzini, you stay on the same contract you signed' to which Grazzini was thinking he should get more money. It wasn't until this whole situation came up in the press that everything got resolved and Grazzini found out he would make more money now. All is well and Grazzini is saying 'We're good!'.
E. Grazzini is still upset and wants to return home
The Chicago Fire have picked up Grazzini's option. He's here to play for the Fire. But for how long? The odd wrinkle that disputes everything here is the fact that Klopas informed the media that Grazzini isn't traveling to Kansas City tomorrow. Klopas' reasoning is that Grazzini hasn't trained this week but in fact Grazzini was reported as having trained yesterday and today. Klopas is hopeful Grazzini will play in the next game (Tuesday at Houston).
This does not make sense. Even if Grazzini didn't train, he'd still be valuable and fit enough as a sub. The guy is even valuable as a decoy. You just broadcasted to Sporting KC that Grazzini isn't going so they can adjust their gameplan accordingly. If Grazzini does in fact not travel to Kansas City, it will be the second road game where he hasn't even made the Gameday 18 (Columbus on May 26th being the other one). This is not how it normally goes for your No. 10 creative midfielder.
Javier Leon stressed that all Fire players must be in 100%:
"We are hoping that at the end of the day we have a fully committed group. We explained to him [Grazzini] that he has to be 100% in."
That is a great attitude. It can also be a cover in case Chicago decides to sell Grazzini to a team back home. Leon himself admitted in his opening statement that all parties involved looked at options in Argentina. Leon talked about Grazzini's family issues he has been having recently. What if Grazzini is spending the weekend in Chicago to reevaluate his commitment while the front office works out a potential deal?
F. Let's go back to option D and add that Grazzini is a player that fatigues easily
You know, I'd rather leave my conspiracy theories to cable TV. Simple misunderstanding. Grazzini is happy and paid. Grazzini trained but not as hard as the team needs him to. Look at Grazzini's game log. He rarely plays a full 90 minutes. The Fire are playing 3 games in 8 days starting tomorrow. The last time Grazzini didn't make the Gameday 18, the Fire also had 3 games in about 8 days. As the Midwest summer heat intensifies, it's not going to get any easier for old man Grazzini.
I like this option the best and by now the ice for my champagne has melted. Best crack open the bottle this very moment. A toast, a toast! To the Chicago Fire career of Sebastian Grazzini. May it be long and fruitful.
If you didn't have your fill of Grazzini option theater, don't worry. Frank Klopas revealed on ExtraTime Radio that the club has another option on his contract at the end of the year. See you in six months.