Conner Antley's offseason transfer from League One's South Georgia Tormenta FC to the Championship's Indy Eleven could start changing the way players make the way up the professional ladder. | Photo courtesy South Georgia Tormenta FC
In a traditional sense, 2019 USL League One Defender of the Year Conner Antley’s move on Thursday to the USL Championship’s Indy Eleven from South Georgia Tormenta FC should have been the outcome for a player that excelled in his first professional season.
Antley will now get the chance to progress his career as part of a side that reached the Eastern Conference Final in the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs, and looks set to be a serious title contender both in 2020 and beyond, in the same way that successful players in the Championship have made the move to Major League Soccer in the past.
There’s a difference to this move, though.
The Eleven paid a transfer fee to Tormenta FC to acquire Antley and add him to their arsenal of returning players for the new campaign, a move that could start changing the way players make the way up the professional ladder.
Transfer fees have not typically been part of the conversation when it comes to players moving on to clubs in other leagues from the Championship before. When Los Angeles FC paid Louisville City FC to acquire current Canadian international Mark-Anthony Kaye before its inaugural 2018 season, it went against the grain of many who’ve come before, including some that have had solid top-flight careers.
That has been in part due to ownership reticence to sign players to deals longer than one year, or a one-plus-one deal that includes a contract option. When the contract is done, a player like 2016 Championship Goalkeeper of the Year Mitch Hildebrandt moves on without his former club getting any value for its investment.
Compare that to Europe, where players even at the lower-division level are regularly signed to two-year deals to allow their clubs maximum potential for return should a bigger club come calling, say nothing of the four- or five-year contracts handed out at the top level with big-money release clauses that give other clubs a measure of what it will take to make a new acquisition.
There should be praise on both sides here, first to South Georgia for making sure one of its valuable players was under contract for the 2020 season, and to Indy for pulling the trigger and sending a fee the other way in return for a player that should fit very well into Head Coach Martin Rennie’s 3-5-2 wingback system.
Now, Tormenta FC gets to reinvest for next season and sets a model for other clubs in League One. And, as we saw this summer when Real Monarchs SLC transferred Kenyan international Stanley Okumu to Swedish First Division club IF Elfsborg for a reported $200,000 fee, the potential for Championship clubs to bring in a positive return on their investment is also available as and when the opportunity arises, building a new market that can benefit players and clubs.
If that happens, it would change the landscape of the way the business of the sport is done in the United States and Canada, with the potential for transfer fees to rival the incoming money that can be made from any sponsorship deal, and creating stronger, more sustainable clubs in the long-term.
As we get ready for the new decade, this deal should be a lesson for all the front offices in the Championship and League One looking to get their clubs to the next level.
Get ahead of the curve, get value for the investment you’re making in your on-field product, and get both yourself and your players rewarded.