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The one that got away: Who was it?

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Colorado targeted a player in December that ended up signing in China. Let’s speculate on who it might have been.

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Did the Rapids make a play for John Obi Mikel?
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Last week, in something of an aside on the Rapids Podcast hosted by Richard Fleming and Conor McGahey (episode #221), Colorado Rapids Sporting Director Padraig Smith revealed that the Rapids had three targets in the Winter transfer window, and that one of them ended up in China. Smith said on the pod

“Our target ultimately chose not to come here, he ultimately decided to leave himself open to China.”

This mystery player is in addition to the two confirmed winter transfer targets of the Rapids: Bismark Adjei-Boateng and Gilbert Koomsen. Boateng joined the team in January, but is currently on the shelf for several weeks, recovering from a back injury sustained in a game against Real Salt Lake in April. According to sources in Norway, the Koomsen deal fell apart when he failed his physical.

So who was the third player the Rapids were pursuing? Here is a list of every foreign player signed to the Chinese Premier League. To speculate on who the Rapids might have been after I’m going to zoom in on players that I think fit the mold.

Over the winter, the Rapids were looking to acquire an attacking midfielder and/or a defensive midfielder. The Colorado defense was all stocked up with quality players. The striker and winger positions looked pretty good with DP forwards Kevin Doyle and Shkelzen Gashi. And burgeoning young talents Dominique Badji and Marlon Hairston seemed to have locked up starting spots as well. Nonetheless, it is possible that the third target could have been a forward.

Just two years ago NYCFC signed Andrea Pirlo and LA brought in Steven Gerrard, both aging Eurostars. The rest of the league, however, is trending younger on their transfer targets. Most teams would prefer to spend big money on a highly-touted player near the prime of their career, like Nemanja Nikolic and Miguel Almiron. It is likely the Rapids were looking for a player in their mid twenties as well.

So we’re searching for a midfielder or attacker from Europe who moved to China in late 2016-early 2017 and is probably younger than 30. I’ll list the guys I think fit those criteria, along with the odds I’d put on them being the guy.

Christian Bassagog

Odds: 5/1

Bassogog is a 21-year-old forward/winger. He transferred from AaB in the Danish league for a reported € 5.8 million to Chinese team Henen Jianye.* It ticks a lot of boxes, i.e. timing, age of player, position of need, and getting beat for a transfer fee that seems ballpark what the Rapids could spend. But maybe 21 years old is a little young to be splashing big cash for an un-established player like Bassogog. The Rapids would only do that if they were sure he was the next James Rodriguez.

Ali Ghazal

Odds: 8/1

Ali went from Nacional in Portuguese Liga NOS to Guizhou Zhicheng. He is 6’2”, plays as a defensive midfielder, and is 25 years old. His reported transfer fee was € 2.6 million . Hmm. Maybe. But the Rapids were already after/already had a d-mid in Adjei-Boateng.

Nemanja Gudelj

Odds: 2/1

A 25-year-old midfielder, Gudelj moved from Eredivisie powerhouse Ajax to Tianjin TEDA for a rumored € 5.5 million. Age is good, position is right, and success with Ajax (40 games, 6 goals) would indicate he’d probably be good in MLS. Price seems a tad high, but all the Chinese league prices are high; probably double what another team in Europe or MLS would be willing to pay. This feels like a strong probability.

Brown Ideye

Odds: 20/1

Ideye is well travelled: the Ukrainian League, Ligue 1, English Premier League, Hellas Liga, and Nigerian League. The 28 year old has 28 caps for the Nigerian national team. He scored 23 goals in 43 games for his last club, Olimpiakos, and we know the Rapids have experience working with that club from the failed Alan Pulido deal back in 2015. The hiccup that makes this less-than-likely? Tianjin paid a reported €12 million for Ideye. That’s a lot of souvlaki.

John Obi Mikel

Odds: 15/1

Obi Mikel played 249 matches in an 11-year career with Chelsea. A midfielder with his pedigree would have been a massive get for the Rapids, even if his odometer just rolled over past 30 years. Some might say: no freaking way would the Rapids be able to pull a guy like this. But hey - Drogba went to Montreal. Gerrard went to LA. EPL stars can come to MLS, under the right circumstances (i.e. for a ridiculous payday.) One point in favor of this being the Rapids mystery target? Obi Mikel transferred on a free - no transfer fee needed - to Tianjin TEDA.

Michael Olunga

Odds: 3/1

The 6’3” striker is 23 years old. He transferred in January from Djurgårdens in the Swedish Allsvenskan to Guizhou Zhicheng, although apparently Galatasaray wanted him, too. Transfermarkt.com has his transfer price as €4.2 million. Not sure the Rapids were planning to buy a striker, but the Kenyan is young and strong and highly regarded. And the Rapids’ other two targets were also from Scandinavian teams. Hmmm.

Jonathan Soriano

Odds: 50/1

Soriano moved from RB Salzberg to China. He’s a striker and he’s 31 - the Rapids already have one of those in Kevin Doyle. Seems pretty unlikely.

Carlos Tevez

Odds: 10,000/1

He’s making $41 million for Shanghai. That’s not a 10-year contract - that’s for THIS YEAR. So, if the Rapids had talks with his agent while he was at Boca Juniors to come to Colorado, I imagine the talks went like this:

Padraig Smith: We’re prepared to break the bank for Carlos. We can go as high as five MILLION dollars for Mr. Tevez. So, is it a deal?

Tevez’ Agent: HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

...

The Rapids were after someone that ended up in China: could it have been one of these guys? Somebody spike Tim Hinchey’s drink next time you run into him at DSGP and see if you can pry the truth from him.

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* This € symbol means Euros. The Euro is currently worth $1.12, FYI.