Nicolai Naess arrived to Columbus Crew SC in late July of 2016 with a decent amount of fanfare within the market.
The young defender from Stabæk appeared to be a good fit for Gregg Berhalter’s possession-based style of play.
“Nico came in and fit the mold of what we were looking for from passing as a center back and the midfield position,” Berhalter said. “He gave us great long-range passing, which we were able to take advantage of and he gave us some some controlled possession from the back.”
Naess proved his worth over the final 13 games of the 2016 season and in the early portions of 2017, but his form fell off in early June and he struggled to find it again, making just two starts for Crew SC since June 3.
On Wednesday, Naess’ time with the Black & Gold came to an end as he completed a transfer to SC Heerenveen. But apparently, a move like this was always in the plans for the club and the Norwegian center back.
“Part of the thinking, when we brought him over here, the intention was to bring over a good, young European player with experience, develop him and potentially resell him again back to Europe,” Berhalter explained.
This tends to be the case with European players, especially defenders. In talking with MLS teams, they see the opportunity to play at a good level and against talented strikers, hoping to make a bigger name for themselves and make a move back to Europe.
Although the transfer back to a European club occured quicker than the Black & Gold or Naess pictured, both parties were aware that this was the plan.
“He was absolutely aware of it,” Berhalter said. “When you talk about a player’s developmental plan, you do that together. It’s not one sided. So it was our getting together with him.
“We always had the vision that we would eventually move him back. It came a little sooner than expected, but I think for us, to get the most value out of him, I think the time was now.”
According to Berhalter, Heereveen approached Crew SC about Naess last week and negotiations began.
“We had to assess, this week basically, what we paid of him, were we going to get enough value from him to make it worthwhile,” Berhalter continued. “He was eighth in the team in minutes, but we felt like his game time was limited, especially now. We looked at our center back depth and thought this was going to be the greatest window to get maximize his value.”
Although the fee to the club and MLS received for Naess was not disclosed, Andrew Erickson of The Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus doubled what it paid for the defender just over a year ago, meaning Berhalter’s goal to get the most value was achieved.
When Næss transferred to Crew SC, the thought was he would be with the club for a while. Although that ultimately didn’t work out, the move to Heereveen is similar to what Berhalter and the Black & Gold expected at some point with the defender.
All’s well that ends well.