A few days ago it was announced that Kei Kamara – Sporting KC‘s most visible, interactive, and perhaps best player – would be loaned out to EPL side Norwich City until May.
Basically, Norwich pays Sporting for Kei’s services over the next several months, then decides if they want to make a more substantial, permanent offer to buy Kei outright.
The KC fan base has reacted in some instances very strongly against the move, but the deal actually does make sense for Sporting.
In reaction to this – or perhaps in anticipation to the backlash – head Sporto Robb Heineman even went so far as to pen an open letter to the SKC community explaining the deal.
“I need to preface this by telling you that we love having Kei on our team,” wrote Heineman. “He’s performed, connected with fans and created a life for himself in Kansas City that will last long after he’s done with soccer.”
Certainly, I can’t disagree with most of that.
Kei was leading scorer the last three years, and he is a unique type of threat on the wing that is few and far between in all of MLS. Plus, he’s great with the media and fans, often involving himself via Twitter and making himself available for any type of public function. Remember last off season when he organized an impromptu snowball fight at UMKC and invited all his followers? A bunch of people showed up for the fun, and then afterwards Kei treated everyone to lunch at his favorite grub spot, Chipotle.
It’s stuff like this that pro athletes rarely do, but for anyone who showed up, I’m betting they’re lifelong Kamara fans.
“Strange as it may seem, we think this gives us the best opportunity to keep Kei long-term.”
This is the part I don’t get.
How can renting Kei out to Norwich possibly advance SKC’s chances of keeping him “long-term”? Norwich obviously likes what they see from Kei and if he performs well over the couple months they get him, chances are they’ll try to buy him from Sporting. Does Heineman mean that Kei would return after several years of playing in the EPL?
“In the event Kei is signed by Norwich City, our club would receive a very fair transfer fee that again, we’d use to reinvest in our club,” Heineman explained. “If Kei returns in May, his contract is extended and we will work in earnest to sign him to a deal that keeps him with the club through the end of his career. If we hadn’t have done this, Kei would have left at the end of the year as a “free” player, similar to Roger Espinoza this past year. So the risk we take is allowing him to go for 10 games this year, in hopes of getting him for years to come.”
I get what Heineman is doing, and I appreciate it. Instead of just throwing out the old, “this is the best thing for our team right now,” he’s trying to really explain the process. Which is cool.
But I think most fans also know the realities of pro sports. There is little loyalty, and the bottom line is an ever present consideration, no matter how much emotion is attached to a personnel decision.
“I’m not going to say to you that “this is a business,” and you have to get used to it,” says Heineman. “I know it’s not a business to you, it’s very personal. It is to us as well.”
My best guess is we’ve seen the last of Kei in Sporting Blue.
The mere fact that Sporting was willing to even loan out Kei at all speaks volumes. They’ve already experienced losing a valuable player due to the expiration of his contract, and they don’t want to do it again.
The only way Kei comes back is if he tanks at Norwich and the blokes say thanks but no thanks. Selfishly, that’s my hope. But setting fandom aside, I have to wish Kei luck in following what is most pro players’ dream – playing at the highest level in the world on the biggest stage.
And that’s the EPL.