Kaku makes a losing Al-Taawoun debut as standoff with MLS continues

Kaku playing for the New York Red Bulls during a game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 7, 2020 in Sandy, Utah. (AFP/File Photo)
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  • Paraguayan international’s move from New York Red Bulls is still disputed by MLS as his new club suffers 2-1 loss to Al-Ittihad

LONDON: It only took Alejandro Gamarra, better known as “Kaku,” 15 minutes to make an impact in Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, the Paraguayan international sent over a delightful looping cross from the left for Abdoulaye Sane to head Al-Taawoun into the lead against Al-Ittihad. Unfortunately for the hosts, the visitors came back to win 2-1 to move just a point off the top three in the Saudi Pro League.

Excellent in the first half, Kaku had played as if barely aware of a brewing international controversy he now finds himself in the middle of.

“I think that we did a good game in the first half, but in the second half I’m not happy with the result,” Kaku told Saudi television after the game. Subbed with 20 minutes to go because, he said, of tiredness and tactical reasons, the player is looking forward to adapting more to life in Saudi Arabia on and off the pitch. “I think it’s a good league, I’m very happy to be here.”

Getting here has been quite a saga as Kaku has been at the center of a growing dispute between the Buraidah club and the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer (MLS). The Americans paid $6.25 million to Huracan of Argentina for the player in December 2017 and maintain that Kaku is still theirs. 

As far as Al-Taawoun are concerned, the attacking midfielder is now a vital part of a team that is now in eighth place but still with faint hopes of a top three finish. The stance in Saudi Arabia is clear. Nothing untoward has happened.

“I am not aware of the details of the American club’s request,” Saudi Arabia FA president Yasser Al-Mashal said last week. “I trust the legal cooperation procedures. I do not think there is a mistake.”

On Feb. 1, Al-Taawoun announced the arrival of the Argentine-born star and New York quickly released a statement.

“We are aware of the announcement made by Altaawoun FC,” said the club. “The New York Red Bulls exercised a club option in Kaku’s Major League Soccer contract for the 2021 season, and he remains under contract with Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls.”

At the crux of the issue is the one-year extension option that was included in the player’s original contract. New York said they emailed Kaku’s representatives on Feb.28, 2020 to notify them of the extra 12 months.

The player’s side insist there was no official notification of the extension and that therefore, he was free to move at the end of the year. Kaku’s claims that he was out of contract are supported by the MLS Players Association (MLSPA). In January, the body wrote to MLS  to say that the notification email sent by the Red Bulls had been addressed solely to Scott Pearson, who is, according to reports, an informal business manager and not Kaku’s designated representative. 

“That email was not copied to Kaku,” the letter said. “Despite several requests to MLS for evidence to the contrary, that February 28, 2020 email to Scott Pearson was the sole means of delivery to Kaku of the notice to exercise the 2021 option in his contract. Despite several requests, MLS has not provided evidence to support its assertion that the notice was delivered to Kaku. Mr. Pearson is not designated as Kaku’s authorized representative on his contract…”

According to ESPN, New York Red Bulls asked the US Soccer Federation (USSF) not to release the International Transfer Certificate (ITC), a document necessary for deals between leagues in different countries to go through. The absence of that document meant that, despite the 26 year-old completing his quarantine procedures and passing a medical examination, Al-Taawoun were unable to select him for last Saturday’s league game against Al-Qadisiya.

Al-Taawoun received a temporary ITC earlier from FIFA this week which means Kuka was free to make his debut against Al-Ittihad. New York, however, have not changed their tune.

“The issuing of the provisional ITC does not change the fact that a valid contract exists between Major League Soccer and Kaku,” the club said in a statement. “In response to the player’s apparent signing with Al-Taawoun, MLS and the New York Red Bulls have sought to arbitrate the dispute pursuant to Kaku’s MLS contract and will take all further necessary action to enforce their rights.”

In their search for compensation, they may push for arbitration between the club and the player or even take the case to the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

With Kaku already starting his Saudi career there is little chance of the player returning back west. He can now prepare for next Monday’s meeting with Al-Wehda. It’s a must-win game if Al-Taawoun are going to keep faint hopes of a top three finish alive. There may, however, be other battles to fight off the pitch.