If you’re a Seattle Sounders fan you’ve known for some time that Nouhou may be the most interesting player you’ve ever seen. From his expressions to his acrobatics, he’s been a treasure to watch in Rave Green. Nouhou recently played a pivotal role in Cameroon’s journey to the Africa Cup of Nations semifinals and his play has given him a profile to the rest of the world, namely for his masterclass defensive display against Mo Salah.
Those of us in Puget Sound have known of his talents, but now that the rest of the world knows him, it might be time for Nouhou to finally move on from Seattle. Asked about that possibility on Friday, Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey welcomed the offers while still making it clear that he’d love to have Nouhou around for the long term.
“We’ll see if folks are interested or if they’re not, but what I’ll tell you is that they should be after that performance,” Lagerwey said, noting there have not yet been any formal offers. “I thought Nouhou was dynamic and dynamite. He was everything we’ve seen here in fits and starts over the past four or five years.
“If Nouhou wants to stay here, no one would be happier than me,” he added later in the conversation. “He’s been a big-time player for us for a long time, he had the performance we all thought he was capable of and if he wants to stay here we’ll welcome him with open arms. If the summer comes and the right offer comes, we’ll accommodate that as well. Hopefully, there’s some proceeds on the other end of that that allow us to replace him.”
What those offers might look like, though, is hard to nail down. Lagerwey noted that the transfer windows are closed across Europe, meaning the next time Nouhou can move is in the summer. That gives him at least four more months to make an impression. In that time, he’ll compete in Concacaf Champions League, World Cup qualifying and the MLS regular season.
“He’s had this moment, he had this spike,” Lagerwey said. “Can he sustain that? Can he have that level of play with the Sounders, in Champions League, go back and do it again for Cameroon? That will ultimately determine whether or not there are offers for him.”
Without knowing any of that, though, how might the market look?
The emotional side of fandom wants conflicting things at times. It’s natural to want Nouhou to go for a record transfer fee to some team we’ve heard of so we can see what he can do against the brightest stars — similar to DeAndre Yedlin’s transfer to Tottenham Hotspur several years ago. A move like that has its downsides, as we saw with Yedlin’s case, where the player can be stuck in loan purgatory. So as fun as it would be to see Nouhou move from Seattle to Manchester or London, that seems unlikely.
Just like his play on the pitch at Lumen Field, Nouhou has one of the more interesting and unique profiles in the world of soccer right now. There’s been several exports from MLS in the last two years, firmly putting the league into the global transfer conversation. The likes of Tajon Buchanon and Kevin Paredes have both sold for more than $7m, which is probably more than is realistic here since they’re both attacking players who are younger than Nouhou. However, both have much weaker overall resumes than Nouhou.
Richie Laryea, who is two years older, just left Toronto FC for roughly a million dollars to head to Nottingham Forest in the Championship of England. A caveat there is that Laryea was in his final year of his contract with TFC, which usually diminishes the club’s bargaining power. Nouhou, on the other hand, is under club control through 2024.
Trying to place Nouhou into the global transfer market is incredibly difficult, so let’s just focus on his profile, rather than his specific skill set. Nouhou is a player who has been a starter for three seasons for the best team in MLS. He’s played about 150 games and is just about to turn 25. He’s now a mainstay on his national team after a stellar international tournament, where he got the best of inarguably one of the world’s best attacking players. He has shown in two of his last three seasons that he has the tactical flexibility to play in different setups, both as a left back in a traditional back four and as a left-sided centerback in a back three. That, to me, looks like a player who would be valuable to a lot of clubs in Europe.
It makes sense at this junction to evaluate what the European transfer market context looks like. The pandemic understandably was a shock to the system of spenders of all types for the last two years, but capital has been moving in the last two windows. That bodes well for this summer, with clubs being financially stable enough to make moves and for players wanting to secure spots for their World Cup hopes in the late fall. The old adage here is that teams have money to spend money.
The transfer market is usually dictated by what the teams at the very top are doing, since they spend the most money. While Nouhou will probably not end up going to Manchester City, Chelsea, or Liverpool — how they spend their money matters. Those teams spending a lot of money on players like Jack Grealish and Romelu Lukaku means the teams those players are coming from need to buy replacements, which means the teams that sell the replacements will have money to spend, so on and so forth.
Alright, so what does all of this mean for Nouhou? I think there’s a move to be had if all interested parties are smart. I know everyone would love to have Nouhou go for $10m this summer, but that doesn’t seem very realistic in this market. Having just come into his national team, I suspect Nouhou’s coming fee to be around $2m to $3m with clauses for future sales. It’s worth noting that the Sounders can only convert his transfer fee into about $1m in General Allocation Money, although they can use the rest of the proceeds on things like future transfer fee. At his age, I don’t think Nouhou will end up going to a team where he’ll be a backup — so that eliminates most Champions League clubs in the “Big 5” European leagues, but perhaps not all. If it’s my money, I’m betting he ends up with a middle-of-the-pack end team in France or Italy, or maybe one of the few top teams in Belgium given that these leagues have the most relaxed work permit situations and have a history of buying from MLS.
Wherever Nouhou goes, I hope it’s good for the player and the Sounders. Things can get really sticky with transfers and I hope this situation doesn’t lead to one where anyone regrets what happens.