Javier Leon, the Managing Director of Andell Sports Group announced today that the club has excercised the option on the contract of midfielder Sebastian Grazzini thereby extending his stay with the club until the end of the season. "The option has been triggered and we expect him to be with us until at least the end of this year and hopefully further after that," said Leon.
He also tried to shed some light on the apparent confusion and speculation that unfolded over the last month after Grazzini initially stated that he was puzzled as to why his option hadn't been picked up. "I know there has been a little bit of speculation and a little bit of noise but we had told his representative a while back that we were going to excercise his option. He's a starter we want this guy," said Leon. "The confusion that came back was because he came to us and said that he had some family issues and there was a thought that maybe he could go back to Argentina. We've been working with him in terms of trying to make him understand the commitment that he's made to us and we're feeling pretty good about the fact that he's going to stay with us. It's still an evolving situation but as far as a contractual relationship, he's with us," he continued.
Accoring to Leon the evolving situation is centered on the familial issues the player is concerned with. "When people are dealing with family situations it's always a difficulty but at the end of the day we wanted Grazzini committed 100 percent like the rest of the group. I think we've built a very good group," said Leon.
When asked what in particular kept the club from making a formal announcement until now Leon explained, "In our minds with him and his group that had been done. That was a done deal. We told them it was going to happen. As far as officially making this statement, he asked us a month ago. He said listen, I want you to explore this possibility and that's why we decided not to say anything publicly. But as far as us committing to him and making this official that has never been a question in our minds."
Leon feels that clarity was not lacking on the part of the organization although Grazzini did express some concern in comments made to the media. "I think that he made some comments a couple of weeks ago but then he came back last week and he basically said to all of you guys that he felt that we'd done good on his behalf. So from that standpoint I think it was more semantics. There was never an issue as to whether we may not pick up (the) option for these coming six months," said Leon.
Leon also addressed speculation that Grazzini and his agent were looking for additional compensation to go along with the contract option. "We explained to him that as a policy we don't negotiate contracts in the middle of the season. At the end of the day this is a contract that was put in place to us by him and his group so it wasn't something that we decided ourselves," said Leon. He also stated that the club was interested in bringing Grazzini back in 2013.
Grazzini has played well over the last two matches contributing two assists and the club appears to be looking forward. "We're hoping that at the end of the day we have a fully committed group. We explained to him that you have to be 100 percent in and we know what he can do when he's 100 percent in. The last few games he's been great for us and we're hoping he can get back to that," said Leon.
Despite the revelation that Grazzini's option was being excercised the saga took another odd turn when Leon announced that the Argentine midfielder would not travel to Kansas City with the team for the match on Friday night. "I don't believe he's going to travel to Kansas City. The feeling is that he didn't train for a couple of days this week. You can talk to Frank since it's more of a soccer decision but we'll be back on Sunday and we expect him to be training with the team on Sunday," he said.
"He's staying back on this one. He missed some training this week," said Frank Klopas. "I think it's important to get him back in training. He's not going in this one but hopefully he'll be ready for the next one," said Klopas. "He hasn't trained and I think it's important to take the players that are in form and have been training," he continued. Grazzini did not train fully on Tuesday but was on the field with the rest of the team today and Wednesday.
When asked if the possibility existed for a change of heart from either side regarding Grazzini's contract since the official expiration date is June 30, Leon seemingly put that concern to rest. "MLS has a policy where we needed to inform them (of the option) yesterday and we complied with that. As of now the option has been triggered," he said.
Grazzini declined to speak to the media but did offer one comment. When asked if there was anything new to report he shook his head and said "Nope."
Rafael Robayo has expressed some unhappiness about playing time and commented on a possible return to Millonarios but Leon feels the player is still committed to the team while he is in Chicago.
"It's interesting with Rafeal. Here is a guy who's had a tremendous career in Colombia and he's hoping to play more. At the same time he really likes the team. He respects Frank and the coaching staff. You see that because everytime he comes on the field he gives 100%. From a family standpoint he loves Chicago. The issues are like any other player. We expect a player who is not starting on a regular basis to want to have more. That's a discussion that Frank is having with him. As far we know he's part of the team," said Leon.
Federico Puppo was brought in during the offseason after the club paid a transfer fee for his services but he's failed to earn steady time and Leon feels it's a matter of becoming accustomed to the game in MLS. "It's an adjustment for all players. Our league is not an easy league. He's a young guy and he's been very good from his mindset and what's required. I think he's going through that. Some players make a faster transition and I think for forwards it's even more challenging. We like his commitment and we're hoping that he'll continue to work," he said.
Possible additions and contract negotiations
Although he was non-committal about the addition of another player or two, Leon outlined some of the considerations taken during player acquisitions. "We're looking at a number of possibilities to try to strengthen the team. I think we have a very good group. We have a very good base and I think that one of the lessons we learned from the past is that's it's about a group. It's not about one player who's going to make the difference so from that standpoint nowadays with the work that Guillermo Petrei has put together we now have a better way of evaluating some of these players and part of that evaluation is how do they fit with our team," he said.
"There are players that when you see them play in their environment, they're great players. The question is does that translate into our environment? Does that translate to how our team plays? We're going through that. We don't expect to make any major changes but if there was an opportunity to improve the team we would certainly consider that," continued Leon.
He also clarified the organization's internal process for contract negotiations since Frank Klopas stated previously that he was not involved in negotiations with Grazzini. "The first point of contact is Guillermo Petrei and then I also get involved in those. The owner does not get involved in those conversations," explained Leon.
When asked if Petrei would be made available to discuss the contract negotiations Leon replied, "Sure, but he's not going to tell you anything different."
With continuous rumors circulating regarding Andriy Shevchenko's interest in MLS the Fire may still consider him although recent comments about possible retirement would also play into any decision.
"You never leave an option off the table," said Leon. "I think we made a comment that Shevchenko is a great player. We saw him with Ukraine and the two goals that he scored. From that standpoint we're going to evaluate everything but more importantly with a guy like him he's come to MLS and said (he) wants to play in MLS. When people say that, you've seen it with Pavel and you've seen it with Arne, if players have that mindset I think that's very important. It's something to think about".
- Paolo Tornaghi, who sprained an ankle last week is expected to resume full training next week.
- Federico Puppo was conspicuously absent from training although a team spokesman said he was inside after suffering an ankle knock during training.
- Alex will be in the 18 but probably not start on Friday
- You can listen to Leon's entire media session at the Fire Confidential podcast page