Sporting Kansas City officials were in Germany over the weekend to meet with Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart. But contrary to international reports, the meetings did not include a formal offer, club CEO Robb Heineman told The Star on Tuesday.
A German newspaper reported late Monday that Sporting KC offered van der Vaart, captain of German Bundesliga club Hamburg, a contract worth $4.8 million per year — but Heineman vehemently described that report as inaccurate.
Heineman, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes and Mike Illig, part of Sporting’s ownership group, met with van der Vaart and his father before Hamburg’s match in Frankfurt. The two sides spoke again after the match, followed by a meeting with van der Vaart’s agents.
“I think (our interest) is very strong,” Heineman said. “I think there’s some deeper research we want to do. There are a lot of different things we need to put into an evaluation like this, so we’re going to take our time. But I think we had a very good step in Frankfurt.”
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Van der Vaart, who turned 32 last month, is in the final year of his contract with Hamburg. Vermes said a potential move would not be likely until the summer transfer window, when van der Vaart is out of his contract and therefore a free transfer.
Because his contract expires in the next six months, teams from outside leagues are free to begin negotiations with van der Vaart, who is thought to be intrigued by the possibility of joining Major League Soccer.
“I think he has a strong interest,” Heineman said. “But I think there are a number of factors involved. He’s very close with his family, and there are a number of different family factors we we’re going to have to work through. I don’t think this is a decision that’s going to happen in the next week. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Should Sporting KC extend a formal offer, it likely wouldn’t be alone in its bid. Several clubs have been reported to have interest in van der Vaart, who has appeared in 109 matches for the Netherlands national team, a stretch that includes 25 goals and two World Cups — including the team that reached the World Cup Final in 2010.
“I’d like to say I’m always optimistic, (but) I think the difficulty is there are other people talking to the guy,” Vermes said.
Add to that, van der Vaart would almost certainly command a contract that would earn him designated-player status in MLS, even if the threshold for that status is raised during the ongoing collective-bargaining negotiations.
The captain midfielder has recently fallen out of favor with Hamburg. He came off the bench Saturday in Frankfurt.
Sporting KC already has a crowded midfield, given the offseason return of Roger Espinoza, but it’s an area the club made a point to improve after an early exit from the 2014 playoffs. Vermes said he believes van der Vaart’s style of play is complementary to Sporting KC’s system, though he noted that part is still under evaluation.
“I have to make sure he fits us, as well. I’m not bringing guys over here just to give them a swan song,” Vermes said. “They’re coming here to help us win and be successful, or I don’t want them here. By no means am I saying that’s the mentality he has. I’m just trying to feel that piece out a little bit more and just make sure the situation fits with us.”