[AMERICANS ABROAD SPOTLIGHT] As a method of perspective, for the price paid by Bolton to obtain defenderTim Ream in a transfer from MLS, the club could fund the salary cap of one MLS team this season. Selling Ream, who earned just $62,500 last season, for $2.81 million won't clear a lot of room from the salary-budget charge in 2012 mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. Yet the Red Bulls and MLS did make the right move by holding onto Ream last summer because his value escalated sharply from Arsenal's $1.2 million bid.
The money issue, among others, surfaced during a teleconference call with reporters with reporters on Friday after Ream’s return from England following two weeks of negotiations on salary and other compensation. MLS and Bolton had reached an agreement on the transfer fee in early January, at which point Ream – contacted a few hours after he’d greeted the new day as a married man for the first time – informed his bride they’d be jetting to England instead of Tahiti.
“We got married on January 7th, and on January 8th I got a phone call from [Bolton manager] Owen Coyle and the chairman, asking us to not go on a honeymoon and come to Bolton instead to speed up the process, getting a work permit, getting the deal secured,” said Ream, who had passed up a'U.S. training camp in Arizona and Southern California to get married in his hometown, St. Louis.
“At the time, it was very disappointing and upsetting, because it is such a special event and special weekend. Obviously, you can look back and we say it was a good decision to not go. It will set us up for the future and what life holds for us. It was a tough decision but a great opportunity that we jumped at and took, just not the best timing.”
Only time will tell how fortuitous the timing will be for Ream, who is moving abroad for the largest transfer fee ever paid MLS for a defender, and after playing only two seasons and earning just seven U.S. caps. The MetroStars/Red Bulls have been parties in deals that transferred much younger players to Europe: Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore were both 18 when they were transferred to Heerenveen and Villarreal, respectively.
Unlike Bradley and Altidore, however, Ream is 24. Long before he turned pro, his skill, composure on the ball, instinctual anticipation set him apart from most of his counterparts. “As a player, I’ve always liked to be one step ahead, and trying to think one step ahead and try to figure out where the play’s going to be,” he said.
“It’s suited me pretty well, but over the years -- in high school and college and now these last few years – it’s just kind of grown and adapted a little bit better. That’s something that I’ll look to take into the Premier League and my time at Bolton.”
He played four collegiate seasons at Saint Louis University and, taken in the 2010 SuperDraft as the 18th overall pick, moved right into the Red Bulls starting lineup to earn mention as one of three finalists for MLS Rookie of the Year. Right after the Red Bulls’ season ended with a playoff loss to San Jose, he joined the national team and earned his first cap in Johannesburg against South Africa. Stardom seemed inevitable.
His rapid ascendancy flattened out last year. The Red Bulls struggled into the playoffs as a wild-card team after leading the Eastern Conference early in the season, and exited after one game. Teammate and defensive partner Rafael Marquez criticized Ream’s naïve play.
Former national team coach Bob Bradley, after giving him starts in the first two 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup games, benched him for the remainder of the competition. He played only one of seven post-Gold Cup matches after Jurgen Klinsmann took over in late July. Still, Coyle welcomed him for a trial, and on the training field Ream confirmed Coyle’s impressions gleaned by scouting him in competition.
“Going over to West Brom and Bolton in December, it was a couple of conversations, my agent [Patrick McCabe] and I, about possible loan deals, and going over to train and kind of show what I was made of,” he says. “West Brom wanted to take me on loan and Bolton actually were keen on taking me permanently.
“West Brom said when I went over there, that’s when they were really persuaded. But the Bolton manager said he had watched me close to 20-30 times on tape and live with the games he gets over there. It was definitely a good feeling that he had known about me for a long time.”
To qualify automatically for a UK work permit, a player’s national team must be 70th or higher in the FIFA rankings and he must appear in 75 percent of his teams ‘A’ internationals played in the previous two years. The 2010 World Cup games were excluded because they were played prior to his debut, yet still Ream’s two competitive caps (33.3 percent of six) left him well short of the benchmark.
Ream’s cause was aided by a successful appeal launched in early January by Robbie Rogers, who also fell short of the caps requirement yet has been transferred to Leeds United. Letters of recommendation from Bradley and Klinsmann were among the documents submitted to bolster Ream’s case. He’s fuzzy on other details, which is how it should be. Specifics are supposed to be kept confidential. (He admits his salary was also a factor, it is believed to be in the range of $20,000 a week).
How he got to the Premier League really isn’t his concern; flourishing in a tough, glamorous pressure-cooker is the ultimate objective. Though his paperwork won’t be completed in time for him to face former teammate Thierry Henry and Arsenal on Wednesday, he’ll be a rush job nonetheless. He joins a team just one point out of the relegation zone.
“I think as a player you want to be put in pressure situations,” he says. “You want to show that you can handle the pressure, and a professional you want to perform in those pressure-packed situations. To have to basically fight for your life and stay up in the league is exciting and scary at the same time. You know that if you fight and work and scratch and claw and you stay up, you’re there for another year and, not that you’re a hero, but you prove that you deserve to stay up.”