Yedlin: Next big thing or the next small Brek? Why Tottenham is the wrong move

He was the bad shot that went in.

When Jurgen Klinsmann selected DeAndre Yedlin to be part of the World Cup squad, the move was widely criticized. Yedlin had shown flashes at the 2013 Under-20 World Cup, but his MLS career was marked by inconsistent performances. His selection was a long-shot move more familiar to a struggling high school football team than a surging national soccer team.

With his exceptional speed and noteworthy games against Portugal and Belgium, the Seattle right back has drawn attention from far and wide.  He was rumored to be on the way to Serie A and Roma only to have that move fizzle out. Now is apparently the time for Yedlin to move and Tottenham will win the race. The English Premier League side will acquire Yedlin for an American eye-popping, but mundane for larger European Club transfer fee. Yedlin’s transfer to Tottenham is the wrong move.

Don’t confuse this with the Jozy Altidore move to Sunderland. Tottenham is not invested in Yedlin enough to hand him playing time. They aren’t even invested enough to keep him on the first team. Reports have Yedlin backing away from Roma because the Serie A side sought to loan him to a smaller team. There is no shame in wanting to start this year. Yedlin is no Freddy Adu. He doesn’t slouch from competition. However, that desire doesn’t make the Tottenham move any more prudent.

The allure of European money is often too rich for a player with five times the experience of Yedlin. However, Yedlin is engaging in the classic discount factor economics problem. How much does a player value getting paid today over more tomorrow?

The move to Spurs will not spur the growth of Yedlin. The fee of three-and-a-half million dollars exceeds whole MLS team salaries, but it is nothing more than pocket change to European clubs. Don’t let the artificially-suppressed MLS market oversell the importance of the move to Tottenham. Spurs live for financial opportunity. They seek value. Clint Dempsey was signed after his Liverpool deal soured. Yedlin’s move follows a similar trajectory. Dempsey’s fee was triple that of Yedlin.

Within 18 months, Dempsey left London as unceremoniously as Nyjer Morgan departed Progressive Field.

Money won’t force Tottenham to give Yedlin starts and hype won’t save Yedlin from his defensive lapses.

In less than a week, the next Premier League season will begin. Yedlin will not have participated in any preseason work with the London club. Whether Yedlin joins now or in January, that fact will not change. It’s the same story as former US rising star Brek Shea.

Brek Shea was an MLS All-Star who got the assist for the first goal of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. He was a frequent US national team starter. Until his career hit a brick wall called Stoke City. The Potters purchased Shea, a tall, left-footed winger, for around four million dollars. Shea desperately wanted to move to Europe.

An injury slowed his first year at Stoke, and last year was hurt by questionable maturity. He went all Marcus Hall on his own fans in England. Shea has demonstrated consistently the ability to use his speed. The technical part of his game is inconsistent, in part, because MLS ill-prepared him for the European game.

It’s likely that if Brek Shea had stayed in Dallas, Julian Green would be an afterthought to much of the US Soccer fan base.

Since being purchased by Stoke City in January 2013, Shea has played in a total of five games for Stoke City. He also appeared in eight games for Barnsley on loan. That works out to about a game a month since moving to England if you factor out some injury time.

Two years removed from soccer stardom in MLS, Shea is in limbo and in the make-or-break year for his European experiment. Realistically, Shea has until the January transfer window to find consistent playing time at Stoke, or he will have to move back to MLS. Shea needs to make the 2015 Gold Cup roster to try to prevent Julian Green from locking down the left wing position. Much like Yedlin, Shea is known for his athletic prowess that masks technical deficiencies.

The struggles faced by Shea are not unique. In the 2010-2011 Premier League season, 38 players were purchased by the largest teams in the league. Twenty-one players were purchased for less than four million pounds. Those 21 players, on average, appeared less than nine times between 2010 to 2014. That’s less than three games played a season out of a possible 38. About a fifth of the players did not see any game action. Among those 38 players, only one saw significant playing time, who was purchased for around the same amount as Yedlin and was under 25. Jonjo Shelvey appeared in 47 league games for Liverpool, including 20 in the last season with the team. He was sold to Swansea City for nearly triple of what Liverpool spent on the English youth international.

The English soccer system is brutal. Much like baseball, the vast majority of players that enter a team’s system will never reach the starting lineup. Yedlin will make substantially more to not play for Tottenham than he would to play in Seattle. A move to Europe isn’t  wrong for Yedlin. A move to Tottenham is. Geoff Cameron was bought by Stoke City for two and half million and he is now a consistent starter. Bolton bought Tim Ream and he has made over 60 appearances in the last few seasons. These were smaller clubs. Purchasing a player for four million dollars to sit on the bench doesn’t make sense for Stoke or Bolton.

Yedlin won’t stay at Tottenham. Loaning Yedlin back to Sounders will only exacerbate his entry problems into the league. Midseason transfers are notoriously bad ideas unless that team needs you to play immediately. The talent that Yedlin shows is great. The numbers say it matters very little. If Yedlin wanted to play in Europe, he should have accepted Roma’s offer several weeks ago. A full preseason and the chance to be loaned out to a smaller Serie A club is the formula for success in Europe.

Even Jonjo Shelvey did not stay at Liverpool. Establishing yourself in the Premier League for Leicester, Sunderland, or Swansea increases your value and future transfer fees. Struggling at a large club is the formula for having to move to Belgium, lower division Germany or English teams, or back to MLS in 2016.

Brek Shea should be a cautionary tale for Yedlin. Similar skill sets, similar concerns, and similar contract demands. Shea is caught in limbo and Yedlin will soon be too. The prize of European football can be too great  for young players.

Hopefully US soccer won’t be caught in that allure as well.

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