The saga is over. Nigel De Jong has officially signed with Turkish club, Galatasaray. And although it went quickly, it wasn’t without the painful realization that things have not gone according to plan for the LA Galaxy in 2016.
But first come the details. De Jong will make approximately $2.79 million per year with his new club according to Kevin Baxter of the LA Times, and, the most interesting part of this deal, his transfer is free. As in there was no transfer fee paid to MLS or the LA Galaxy. Zero. Leading anyone to ask about the motivation for completing this deal for both the player and the team.
Nigel le Jong left #LAGalaxy on a free transfer. His salary will be $2.79 million per year, basically what we reported yesterday.
— Kevin Baxter (@kbaxter11) August 31, 2016
The LA Galaxy, in their press release say that “The LA Galaxy and Nigel de Jong have agreed to mutually terminate the midfielder’s contract.” Leaving little doubt that the LA Galaxy will indeed, get nothing. However this also clears up any fuzziness that De Jong was simply on loan. A bad rumor that was spread for no reason. AC Milan terminated De Jong’s contract last year so he cold sign with the Galaxy, and now the Galaxy have done the same so he could sign with Galatasaray.
If you want to follow the entire timeline of De Jong’s transfer to Galatasaray you can see our previously updated article. It’s all very interesting.
But who wanted this deal to go through? Were the Galaxy forced into this deal by De Jong who said, via Galatasaray’s official twitter account, that “I could have been here last year but it didn’t happen.” Was this whole move about De Jong living out his destiny that somehow stalled last year?
Nigel De Jong: I'm very happy to be here. I could have been here last year but it didn't happen. There people here are great.
— Galatasaray EN (@Galatasaray) August 31, 2016
As theorized before (you can listen to our PODCAST about why the LA Galaxy might transfer De Jong), perhaps the LA Galaxy decided they didn’t want De Jong as a Designated Player next year. His contract would trigger that requirement if he played in 23 games this season. And having played 18 games with 8 games left it would’ve been close. That would mean that any vacated Designated Player spot, either from Steven Gerrard’s likely retirement, or by Robbie Keane either becoming a non-DP player or no longer playing for the Galaxy, would go to De Jong.
And what if Steven Gerrard is staying another year? Unlikely, yes. But it would’ve forced them into making this deal. Without a DP spot open they couldn’t have fulfilled their contractual obligations.
What we do know is that LA is now without one of their key defensive weapons. And because of injuries they are going to need to use depth. Zardes is out for the season. Van Damme and Gerrard are out for multiple weeks, and now you lose a key player in a revamped defense that is second best in the league.
Or perhaps the Galaxy just saw a long term liability. De Jong played in 18 of 26 games for the LA Galaxy and in that time amassed over 1,500 minutes. But he also received three yellow cards and 1 red card and was suspended a total of 5 games during his run with the Galaxy. And with his reputation of being a dirty player, he was always riding the edge of red cards, yellow cards and multiple game suspensions whether you believe they were deserved or not.
Bruce Arena, when talking to reporters about De Jong, said “Nigel’s a very good player. We don’t have an educated public to understand what he does, but he’s been an important member of our team.” So without giving Arena too much credit for the “educated public” comment, I can agree. But it’s not so much about education as it is about only seeing De Jong’s reputation as a bone breaker.
I sat down with Nigel De Jong the day before the infamous Darlington Nagbe incident (you can listen to that interview here). A tackle, to the this day, that I find borderline dirty but not nearly as bad as most. And while the incident wasn’t to play out until more than 24 hours after the recording of the show, I asked Nigel whether he would need to adjust his game in any way to account for his reputation or the level of refereeing in Major League Soccer. He said:
“No no no. If I adjust my game then I can’t be the player that I am so I don’t back down for nothing, I mean, I just got to deal with it. All these years, always have to look at certain situations if you can go for a fifty-fifty but, if a fifty-fifty comes I always go a hundred percent so it doesn’t matter what kind of referee I have in front of me, I mean, you just have the player that you have to be.” Nigel De Jong
And for De Jong perhaps “being the player that he needs to be” is a player in Turkey instead of one in MLS. But his time with the LA Galaxy was more than entertaining. He was always tuned into the game. And for the most part was able to make great tackles, timely passing, and organized the players around him perfectly. On the few occasions he was forced into emergency defending he was solid, metered in his level of force, tactical in his approach, and intelligently ruthless in winning the ball. And that’s Nigel De Jong for 99% of his time.
That other 1% of the time? That’s where he got in trouble. Whether it was going over the ball and finding Darlington Nagbe’s ankle, or taking offense to an elbow in the face from Blas Perez and retaliating with a tackle – he was out of control. That 1% is what defines his life to most people.
There will be many in MLS who will applaud his time ending in the league – and who could blame them? But De Jong was able to put his stamp on a defense that struggled last year. His inclusion, and his partnership with those around him, made the Galaxy a defensively tough team to play and that portion of his game will be greatly missed for the remainder of the season at least.
The only question that still remains is why did it all end about as quickly as it began for Nigel De Jong and the LA Galaxy?