CHAD WINGER - Wednesday, July 21, 2004
With talks having been stalled between USMNT member Tony Sanneh and MLS on returning to the league with the Columbus Crew, the former Nuremberg defender is preparing to leave next to week to Europe with eyes on rekindling interested clubs in England, Italy, Germany as well as Scotland.
He returned to action late last season after recovering from a degenerative lower back condition which nearly ended his career. During this comeback he was still able to start the remaining seven matches, scoring a goal on his debut and helped lead the team to a five game winning streak, clinching promotion back to the Bundesliga.
Despite a falling out with Nuremberg manager, Wolfgang Wolf, Sanneh was offered a new contract by the club after the past campaign. "I just turned down an annual contract offer of 700,000 Euro from Nuremberg because I really felt it was time for me to come home. I wanted to move to the Midwest because I am from Minneapolis. So, it was actually that Columbus had the allocation and the funds," Sanneh told YA from his home in Minnesota. "I'm not going to pinch pennies with the league."
Sanneh believes he is worth the league max, and is frustrated at the situation.
"I have not asked for an outrageous amount, and far less than the 700,000 a year I could have been making in Nuremberg. MLS has had an opportunity to bring back a starting player for the US team, as well as a starting player in one of the top 4 leagues in the world. It is hard enough to be American over there with their soccer prejudices. But, if they do not respect us in our own country where shall we go?"
Fears about his health being a potential stumbling block for the league's reluctance to agree on terms are unfounded, Sanneh believes. "The back feels strong. It is a total non-issue and has been for a long time. I've been training with the [Minnesota] Thunder and keeping in shape." When asked about the ankle injury that kept him out of the World Cup Qualifying series against Grenada, Sanneh replied "It's healthy. It feels good."
The former DC United defender believes that MLS has undervalued American talent and questions the league's mentality of dealing with home grown players. While he understands the business side of the sport, he believes more emphasis should be given to players' salaries and giving proven Americans more respect. With expansion looming on the horizon with two new teams beginning play in 2005, he questions MLS' approach.
"Where will they find a starting national team player on a top ten ranked team in the world who will play for anything close to what I am asking? Where could they even find another American that has a guaranteed starting job [in Europe] to give it up along with half of his salary to come back?" Sanneh questioned. "I want to see who they bring in with my pedigree for less money."
With the impasse between the league and himself lasting now almost a month, Sanneh thinks the time is right to once again look abroad and is headed to Europe next week to gauge interest from former suitors.
"I will be back in Europe next week trying to open the different doors that I closed in Scotland, England, Italy and Dubai. You take things for granted. You want to be honest and some people take advantage of that. So, maybe in the end it will be better for me. The first time I left I grew tremendously. It was our national team coaches that encouraged me to sign my deal in Nuremberg and play in the Bundesliga," he stated.
"My agent was outraged that I would leave so much money on the table in Nuremberg as well. Everyone always says come back when it is over, over there. I wanted to come back to make a difference, not to collect a check."
With the MLS season nearing its midway point and preseason camps in full swing over in Europe, Sanneh is eager to latch on to a team and get back on the field. While still holding hope of a MLS return, and that a deal can be reached between the two sides, he concluded, "I am pessimistically optimistic something will happen and it will work out."
"Otherwise, like my Mom said, I chose to be a soccer player, so go where the game takes you, and apparently it is nowhere close to home."