In the first addition of what promises to be a wild offseaon, the Chicago Fire today announced the signing of Nigerian striker Kennedy Igboananike to a Designated Player contract.
Igboananike, 25, hails from Nri-Igbo, Nigeria, but has lived in Sweden since he was recruited to Dynamo Football Academy at age 16. His career began in earnest in the Swedish lower divisions, a level of competition he absolutely dominated, scoring 30 goals in 51 appearances while still a teenager.
That two-year stretch led to a contract with Allsvenskan club Djurgarden IF, where he scored 16 goals in 63 appearances before falling out of favor in his third season. His most recent employer was AIK, for whom he had his best stretch of top-flight football, banging home 16 goals in 32 appearances in 2013.
Igboananike is a streaky striker with tremendous speed; those lower-division numbers he piled up as a teenager tell the tale of a guy who is physically overwhelming his foes. Fire head coach Frank Yallop noted that the striker has "a track record of producing," which is hugely encouraging for a fanbase grown skeptical after watching recent DP acquisitions like Frederico Puppo, Sherjill MacDonald and Juan Luis Anangono underwhelm and skulk back to obscurity.
All that is known about Igboananike's contract is that he will occupy a Designated Player slot for 2015. Whether that status is conferred purely by his salary, or by a combination of his salary and a pro rata portion of a transfer fee, is not known: "Per MLS and team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed."
Hot (Time) take
Let's face it, folks - the Chicago Fire are not going to spend "Keane-like money" on a single player. There have been six transfer windows since ownership whistled that riff, and it looks more and more like purest fabulation. The whispers I'm hearing have the already tight-belted front office being asked to tighten further; hardly the scuttlebutt one hopes to hear after the worst performance on the field in club history.
But it's not all gloom and doom. This is just where the club is right now. We flew so very close to the sun during the AEG/Wilt years, and now we've fallen back down to earth; no longer lordlings, the Fire are now the scrappy kid next door. We're not going to spend our way out of trouble. We're just not. And that's not the worst thing in the world. Accepting reality has some truly lovely knock-on effects.
With that in mind, I'm hopeful for Igboananike with the Fire. (What's the nickname going to be? Iggy?) If the Fire's Designated Players are to be of the budget variety, then finding guys in their prime who can excel in a league of MLS' level is the name of the game. An explosive, mobile wing forward who likes to run onto through balls sounds like just the player one would look for to complement Harry Shipp's game.
This offseason has a long way to go, but at least we've got something new to ponder. The club still has needs all over the field - centerback, the wings, central midfield. There's a budget. This isn't a hacked game of Football Manager. We're not adding Didier Drogba and Vincent Kompany; we're scrappier than that. If this thing's to be rescued, it's going to be be by the football; and if it's to happen by the football, than deals like this one will be a big part of it.
As ever, interesting times. Stay tuned.