Is Chelsea move the best thing for the development of Matt Miazga?

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Is Chelsea move the best thing for the development of Matt Miazga?
Is Chelsea move the best thing for the development of Matt Miazga?

New York Red Bull central defender and United States men's national team prospect Matt Miazga is apparently off to Chelsea, according to an ESPN report. He had a year remaining on his Major League Soccer contract and will reportedly fetch a $5 million transfer fee, which would make him one of the more lucrative sales by the league.

Those are the facts. Or the soon-to-be facts, if all reports are indeed accurate.

Now comes the opinion in this high-profile transaction. And there are as many ways of looking at this move as there are of assessing MLS and American soccer and their respective places in their sport in the Miazga transfer's context.

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Certainly, it's encouraging that an American prospect is being snapped by one of the world's best and richest clubs – this flukey season excepted – at just 20 years old. That speaks well to the Red Bulls' academy, the league's homegrown program and the American development mechanism as a whole.

But looked at another way, MLS is losing one of its premier talents after a solitary season as a regular. There are plenty who believe that the league's path to global relevance leads through the retention of its best young players and national teamers, rather than slotting into the hierarchy of the global player market. Miazga might well be a regular for the U.S. at the 2018 World Cup, and now it's likely that he'll be employed overseas if he is.

There isn't anything wrong with that per se, but it runs counter to the league's recent policy of trying to keep and bring prominent national teamers at home. Then again, regular playing time in the Premier League will inarguably challenge Miazga more than such a gig in MLS would.

But that's just the thing, and here we arrive at the essence of judging this mooted transfer: Will he play?

Matt Miazga got his first cap with the USMNT last November in a World Cup qualifier. (AP Photo)
Matt Miazga got his first cap with the USMNT last November in a World Cup qualifier. (AP Photo)

Chelsea is famous for a number of things. First and foremost, it has remade itself from a big-ish but perennially underachieving club into a European powerhouse that put four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, a Champions League and a Europa League into the trophy case in the span of a decade. Secondly, it has done so by spending an inordinate amount of money on players through the endless investment of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. And thirdly, for all that purchasing power, the Blues are remarkably savvy operators on the player market.

A dozen or so players arrive every single year, but only a few of those are intended to be plugged into the first team straight away. The rest are long-term investments of sorts, largely bought for solid but not enormous fees. They are then loaned out for a few years. Some will eventually make their mark elsewhere and earn a shot with the senior team at Chelsea. Most don't. But of those castoffs, a surprising number go on to command huge transfer fees when they're moved on.

Chelsea currently has 37 such players out on loan – almost 3½ entire starting lineups. So the question becomes whether Miazga is genuinely intended to become a Chelsea player, or if he will be relegated to this farm of long shots and sent away to go graze on some other pasture until he might grow big enough to bring him home.

Sports Illustrated reported on Wednesday that Chelsea intends to keep Miazga in London for the remainder of the season, should the transfer go through, and assess him over the next four months. It could then keep him around or loan him out.

This sounds promising. And it'll likely be helpful to Miazga's chances to be so visible during a turbulent time at the club, as a permanent successor to interim manager Guus Hiddink is found. The next full-time boss will have to remake the club in the wake of the second Jose Mourinho era.

You could argue over the merits of Chelsea's fairly singular transfer policy. It's probably paid the club a nice dividend – although the outlay on all of those players must have been considerable. But is it the right approach to bringing a young talent along? Plenty of them have succeeded, whether at Chelsea or elsewhere. Plenty have not. But then such is the numbers game of player development.

There exists no evidence that buying promising young players and sending them out on loan either helps or hurts their chances of making it, since no generalizations about talent development stand up to scientific scrutiny. Stability is generally preferred for a young player, but then so is the challenge of an increasingly elevated playing level.

As such, it's hard to gauge how this move will play out for Miazga, even if he is loaned out. Of the Americans who have recently struck out in the Premier League, the slightly older and more experienced ones (Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Stu Holden, Geoff Cameron) have largely fared better than the younger, less polished players (Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo, DeAndre Yedlin). And none have ever managed to stick at a club this big since Howard, who faded from the starting goalkeeper job at Manchester United after his first season.

One thing that does seem clear is that now was Miazga's chance. With his contract up after the season, MLS was willing to sell, rather than risk him walking out for free. Had he renewed his deal with the league, he might not have been able to get out for several years if he'd wanted. And there will only come so many chances to join a club like Chelsea. The market for him might have cooled off a year from now.

So now Miazga looks set to become one of the dozens of prospects Chelsea has under its control. He'll get opportunities, in England or elsewhere. But there's absolutely no telling just yet how this will shake out for him.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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