Among the ways in which international professional soccer differs from traditional American sports is the "transfer fee."
Instead of players being traded between clubs, players are price-tagged, bought and sold.
A portion of the transfer fee goes to the players (signing bonus) and another to their agents, who in international soccer profit most significantly — some may say obscenely — from transfer fees.
In Americans sports, agents earn primarily from a percentage of players' endorsement deals (10%-20%) and salaries (3% to 4%). In international soccer, agents thrive off what clubs pay them as intermediaries during player movement.
Fifty years ago, Barcelona paid a transfer fee of $2.2 million to Ajax Amsterdam to acquire Johan Cruyff. That 1973 amount comes to about $15 million in 2023 dollars.
Midway through the 2021-22 Bundesliga season, fourth-from-last-place Augsburg paid a reported transfer fee of $20 million to acquire then 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi from FC Dallas.
It more than doubled Augsburg's club record transfer fee — for a teenager who had barely found his groove in the pro game.
Pepi failed to score in 14 Bundesliga appearances. The move abroad would prove to doom his prospects of being part of the 2022 World Cup after he had boosted its qualifying campaign.
One game into the 2022-23 season, Augsburg's sporting director Stefan Reuter announced that Pepi had requested a loan, and sent him to Dutch Eredivisie's Groningen.
The move placed Pepi on another lowly team poorly suited to creating scoring chances for a center forward.
Groningen finished in last place and was relegated, but of its 31 goals, Pepi scored 12 goals and assisted on three.
Ricardo Pepi signed with struggling Bundesliga club Augsburg in the middle of the 2021-22 season.
By April, Pepi said he didn't want to return to Augsburg. His agent, Jaime Garcia, criticized Augsburg for not "knowing how to deal with such an investment."
Reuter responded that Augsburg wasn't considering selling Pepi and that Pepi's qualities fit Augsburg's playing style.
That Pepi could score a dozen goals with the lowliest Dutch club sparked the interest of the top Dutch clubs, title-winner Feyenoord and runner-up PSV Eindhoven.
SportBild in April reported that Augsburg would be willing to let Pepi go – for a transfer fee that recouped its investment. PSV's biggest splurges in recent years have been in the $8 million range and Feyenoord has never paid more $9.5 million for a player.
Bundesliga fifth-place finisher Freiburg, whose highest transfer fee for a player was $11 million, could be a good fit for Pepi.
Now valued at $9 million by transfermarkt, Pepi is contracted through 2026 to Augsburg, which could also consider hammering out another loan deal.
Pepi is now in the USA, at national team training camp ahead of next week's Concacaf Nations League semifinal against Mexico in Las Vegas.
"I'm really focused on these next two games with the national team," Pepi said. "I really haven't thought about what's going on with [my club] future.
"I leave that up to my agent."