It was a week which began in excitement for Tyler Adams, drifted into a confused limbo, and then a legal wrangle over his future.
In the end, just 18 words summed up his departure from Leeds United.
“Leeds United can confirm Tyler Adams has joined AFC Bournemouth in a permanent deal, for an undisclosed fee,” read a club statement.
It was hardly a warm goodbye.
Emotions can change fast in the tumult of the transfer window, though, and in the end, the USMNT midfielder has got the Premier League return he craved by signing a five-year deal at Bournemouth.
We’re delighted to confirm the signing of @tyler_adams14 on a five-year deal 🤝
— AFC Bournemouth 🍒 (@afcbournemouth) August 20, 2023
Adams initially thought he was set for one U.S.-owned club, Chelsea — where Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have transformed their squad over the past year — and a chance to shine at the start of the Mauricio Pochettino era.
Now another club with American owners, Bournemouth, are his destination, though that move was far from straightforward in a dizzying end to the week.
In his wake, there is frustration at his departure from Leeds United (a third club with U.S. ownership) and more than a little rancour from supporters who are becoming irate about an exodus of players involved in last season’s relegation from the Premier League.
A homemade sign left outside Leeds’ Thorp Arch training ground earlier this week listed Adams among a number of want-away players, a group which also included Jack Harrison, Luis Sinisterra and Robin Koch, as having sparked the ire of fans. “Greed no fight,” the sign read. “LUFC fans never forget.”
A message to the players has just been left outside Leeds United’s Thorpe Arch training ground for the squad to read on the way out after todays training.
— Sam (@smisles98) August 15, 2023
The 24-year-old will be glad about the clarity on his future after his switch to Stamford Bridge collapsed leaving bafflement and suspicion. Chelsea blew hot then ice cold on the signing while vying with Liverpool to sign other players — Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia — in his position.
Adams’ hamstring injury in March was one of the many factors in Leeds’ eventual fall to the Championship last season and may ultimately have damaged his prospects of lining up alongside Chelsea’s host of other signings this summer.
But at the outset of this transfer window, the American was one of the senior and higher-value players the Elland Road club were particularly keen to keep in the second tier.
Leeds — with whom U.S. soccer fans fell out of love last season — knew they would lose plenty of others from their squad but saw Adams as a key retention if he could be persuaded to stay; a strong leader, quality midfielder and a potentially positive influence on a dressing room trying to win promotion.
There was an acceptance that, in order to do that, they would have to revisit his contract and offer him a new one on a very high Championship wage — but that was wholly dependent on him indicating a desire to stay in Yorkshire. At no point did Adams signal a firm intention to commit. And by last week it was obvious that he wanted a move back to the Premier League, while clubs in La Liga had also expressed interest in his signature.
For so much of the summer, Adams did not let his plan to move on influence his behaviour. There was no agitation as he quietly went about his business trying to get fit. But as a release clause in his contract ran close to expiry with Bournemouth bidding to sign him, his attitude shifted enough to make it clear he was ready to call time on his Leeds career.
Even then, it would not be so simple.
Why did the Chelsea move not go through?
Adams had travelled to London with hopes of kickstarting the next phase of his career at one of the Premier League’s top clubs under one of Europe’s most highly rated managers.
He was in the capital for a number of days waiting for negotiations to progress, but as time went on people behind the scenes at Leeds were already starting to wonder if all was not well.
They harboured suspicions that Chelsea were always more interested in signing Caicedo (which they did for £115million ($146m) on Monday) and Lavia (who has chosen Chelsea over Liverpool).
Even as it seemed a deal for Adams was heading towards completion, Leeds officials were never fully convinced it would cross the line. Sources close to Chelsea, speaking anonymously due to commercial sensitivity, deny that their pursuit of Caicedo was connected to the initial stall, then collapse, of the Adams deal.
Chelsea’s decision to pull out hinged in part on a disagreement between the clubs on how long Adams would remain sidelined after his hamstring operation. Already missing since March, when he had a non-invasive procedure on a muscle he damaged in training, he had stepped up his rehabilitation in the weeks before Chelsea’s bid and Leeds expected him to be fit to return after next month’s international break.
There was a feeling at Elland Road, though, that Chelsea believed that estimate was optimistic and feared Adams’ return would take longer. The London club wanted someone to come in and make an immediate impact but would have had to wait for Adams to regain his fitness.
Whether true or, as some connected to the Yorkshire club suspect, simply an excuse to row back on a deal they no longer wanted to conclude, it was a factor that did not help from a medical perspective.
As of last weekend, Adams’ rehabilitation programme continued regardless. But the question marks over his Leeds future had not gone away.
Chelsea may have been off the table, to Adams’ surprise, but there were no shortage of other admiring clubs. Liverpool and Manchester United had shown interest although neither were at that point actively moving to table an offer for him. Aston Villa also monitored his situation without firming up their interest.
It is not surprising that suitors were lining up in an era when midfielders of Adams’ profile increasingly come with eye-watering price tags, such as the £106million ($134million) Chelsea paid for Enzo Fernandez in February and the £115m fee agreed for Caicedo.
Adams’ Leeds contract contained a relegation release clause, with a value in the region of £20million ($25.4million). In practice, another club merely needed to meet the exact valuation and the terms around it in order to sign him, pending a medical and other formalities including negotiations over personal terms. Chelsea had reached that point before pulling the plug.
Adams’ release clause expired on Tuesday night, August 15. The point of ensuring it ran out a fortnight before the end of the transfer window was to protect Leeds from a scenario in which another club took a major player at the last minute, leaving them with no time to reinvest the money.
Enter Bournemouth, who were determined to bring Adams to the south coast and made their initial bid for him on Monday, ahead of the clause’s expiry date.
They did not share what Leeds perceived as Chelsea’s doubts over the timeframe of his recovery and were keen to activate the clause before it ran out, allowing them to get on with a complicated medical for a player who has been absent from full training for more than four months.
Bournemouth’s California-based owner Bill Foley is trying to ramp up the club’s commercial performance, widen its fanbase and replicate elements of the success he has achieved in NHL with the Las Vegas Golden Knights. In Adams, he is landing the USMNT’s captain, one of the pin-ups of soccer in the States.
To that end, Adams is an addition who ticks various boxes. His arrival increases Bournemouth’s visibility in the U.S. market and he is a player new head coach Andoni Iraola wanted. Their interest in Adams was there all summer but was suddenly boosted by the collapse of the Chelsea deal.
Adams will be expected to press in an Iraola team. The Spaniard plays attacking, aggressive football, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp labelling it “organised chaos”.
Adams’ strengths are primarily defensive, with some impressive metrics. He ranks highly in both true tackles (a combination of tackles won, challenges lost and fouls committed while attempting a tackle), and true interceptions, indicating he is a very tenacious, aggressive ball-winner who will always look to make the tackle if he can.
He also ranks highly in tackle and aerial duel success rate, making a reasonable argument that he was one of the best ball-winning midfielders in the Premier League last season.
These days he is established as a midfielder, but his multi-positional experience and intelligence is particularly valuable if he is to play as one of the holding midfielders in a team that inverts their wingers — being able to defend wide spaces really well while a full-back presses on.
So why did Bournemouth’s bid hit trouble?
On Monday morning, Leeds expected that Adams would be leaving for Bournemouth. The Premier League side wanted to sign him, Adams wanted to take the move, and Bournemouth indicated that they were prepared to activate his release clause. As with Chelsea’s offer, there was nothing Leeds could do if they did.
But to the surprise of everyone, and despite the transfer seeming to be an inevitability at one stage, the deal did not move forward in the 24 hours that followed. Tuesday night came, the expiry date in Adams’ release clause passed and, on Wednesday, the midfielder was back at Thorp Arch, Leeds’ training ground.
Adams, however, had reached the point where he simply wanted a Premier League move to keep himself at that level and maintain the exposure that came with it. Leeds were left in no doubt that he saw himself playing elsewhere this season, with no chance at all of him renewing his contract at Elland Road. Chelsea would have been a more high-profile destination, but Bournemouth was the option on the table and Adams was determined to take it.
So, while he was technically back in the building, with his release clause apparently no longer live, there was confusion around him and a sense that the Bournemouth deal wasn’t dead. By Thursday night, amid much wrangling, an agreement between the clubs had been hatched. Adams got his way and travelled for a medical on Friday.
Subsequently, sources at Bournemouth, who will remain anonymous to protect relationships, have indicated they believed they successfully activated the clause prior to the deadline. In their view, they should have been able to sign Adams freely. They were still talking with confidence about a deal after the deadline elapsed and that confidence was vindicated when Adams signed on a five-year deal.
So were Leeds forced to backtrack? The Yorkshire club maintain that Adams clause was never properly triggered — and the fee they are receiving is more than the clause value; £23m which includes add-ons in the region of £1.5m.
The provision in Adams’ deal was not solely about valuation. There were other aspects to it, such as payment terms and scheduling. On top of that, the details of the clause were supposed to be private and confidential. So in theory, Bournemouth should not have known exactly what they had to offer.
When it became clear that Adams was set on leaving, Leeds realised it would be pointless fighting to keep him. There was a risk of legal argument and in the circumstances, so late in the window, a protracted dispute suited nobody. Bournemouth are paying at least £3million ($3.8million) more than the set price in Adams’ contract.
While neither club has commented on the process or the complications involved, sources on both sides have indicated that shaking hands on a slightly increased fee was the only way of bringing the saga to a relatively swift conclusion. Leeds earned more money, Bournemouth signed a prime target and Adams secured the exit he craved.
What does this all mean for the USMNT?
As the summer window kicked off, it was uncertain if Adams would get a move back to a European major league owing to his injury. It wasn’t ideal from a national team perspective, but it meant it was more likely that, upon returning to fitness, he would be starting every match in a nevertheless competitive EFL Championship.
Instead, he appeared to be headed down the M1 and USMNT fans will have been concerned at the thought of one of the senior team’s most important players taking residency at Stamford Bridge, having only just collectively exhaled as Christian Pulisic left for AC Milan. Instead of being a certain starter in the Championship, they feared he would be among the rotation of options at Pochettino’s disposal.
Coming off the back of a significant injury, and given the importance of regaining full fitness and form ahead of next summer’s Copa America on home soil (should the USA qualify) coach Gregg Berhalter needs stars like Adams playing regularly.
It comes at a time when the rest of Berhalter’s three-man midfield is at a similar inflection point in their club careers, with promising Yunus Musah having moved to Milan this summer and Weston McKennie’s future at Juventus remaining unclear. If Adams was going to be a bit-part player or needed more regularly out of position as a wide defender, it could have kept him from working into the rhythm which served him well in the lead-up to his excellent World Cup showing.
Of course, Adams would not have been entering any new club ready to passively accept a small role.
The hope will be that at the Vitality Stadium he will become an integral part of an upwardly mobile club, stabilised in the top flight and with owners who appreciate his worth in every sense.
They might not have the glamour of Stamford Bridge, but they have Foley’s acumen and ambition and high-profile minority investors like Hollywood actor Michael B Jordan.
Jordan’s breakthrough role as Adonis Creed famously portrayed a hungry young fighter, with high hopes and a big reputation adept at peeling himself off the canvas after knockdowns.
Adams may feel the synergy.
Additional contributors: Jacob Tanswell, Simon Johnson, Adam Leventhal
(Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)