Our Davey Shepherd talked with Nashville SC general manager Mike Jacobs this afternoon to discuss the first designated player in club history. You can listen to our full conversation on our latest podcast and read a transcript below.
Davey Shepherd: What are your general thoughts about the Hany Mukhtar?
Mike Jacobs: Hany is the kind of player I think fans of any club would appreciate. For our group, the idea of having this really creative attacking player who has the ability to create for other and score goals himself, to be able to have someone like that in our team, we’re really excited about it.
Shepherd: What are some trademarks of the team you looked for when making the signing? The announcement from the club said he was one of the first players to make your shortlist – what made him stand out like that?
Jacobs: When you look at what Hany does, not only when he has the ball at his feet when his team is in possession, but on both sides of the ball, it’s his work ethic, it’s his ability to press teams. Press them offensively by playing in behind, like a penetrating player, but also press them defensively. You look at some of the best attacking players, their ability to help win the ball back. I think he’s a unique type of two way player, more of a “universal” player rather than pigeonholing him as a 10 or an 8 or a 6 to describe as a midfielder. He’s really a true two-way midfielder, which is really unique for a 10 or an attacking player.
Shepherd: So it sounds like there’s a little bit of a theme there. When we talked a few weeks ago with you about the Aníbal Godoy signing, you and Gary [Smith] pointed out that he was more than “just a 6”, that he had the ability to do more going forward. It sounds like with Hany, you’re saying he’s not just a 10 but has the ability to track back. Are you and Gary Smith prioritizing guys who have multi-faceted games that can do the work both ways?
Jacobs: Absolutely. I used that phrase of being “universal”. Think about sports like baseball where you have players like designated hitters – they only do the work with the bat in their hands. I think there are certain positions and roles in our sport when the players are active when they have the ball at their feet, but they don’t really do much when they don’t have it. I think for us, as we try to build our roster out, our hope was to be able to find players who can be used in multiple areas, not just in the attacking half of the field, but defensive as well. But also players who can get it done when they have the ball and without it. I think those are players who our fans can associate with because they’re constantly in motion.
Shepherd: What does this say about Nashville’s scouting internationally to go out and grab someone who’s young and talented and potentially has sell-on value, but to get him from a league in Europe when he’s had that big club experience already?
Jacobs: You made a good point about where players come from in our league. We spend a lot of time looking at players we think best fit the profile, not only of what we think fits our team, but to be able to move into our league in MLS. It’s unique to have a player with the European pedigree Hany has at the Euro’s level with the U19s, the U20 World Cup. I think players that have come not only from Europe but specifically from Germany also, that players who have come to our league from there have been at the twilight of their career. So to have a bright talent like Hany, at the age he is, is really unique. For us, things like resale value is critically important for the future of our roster. Not only looking at what we’re doing right now, but how to monetize that group at some point in the future. But first and foremost is putting together a team that we think can pursue championships on the field, and we think Hany is a great tool to help us grow towards that.
Shepherd: What does this signing say about the way the roster is going to be built out over the next couple months and signings that we could see in the future?
Jacobs: I think fans of our club have to appreciate and hopefully trust that we’re going to put together a roster that’s going to not only be one that can compete to win matches for us week to week, but also one that they can identify with and associate with. You can’t have a team built of all 10s running around the field. You have to have certain responsibilities at different areas on the field.
For us, we’re very strategic and calculated about what we’re looking for. Whether we sign bright and shiny attacking players with our first signings or they come in gradually, the hope is that people who support our team appreciate how it’s being built out, that there’s a method and a plan to what we’re going through, and we’re excited about being able to nail the targets we set early on and feel good about the future of this group.
Shepherd: The club is announcing that Mukhtar is the first Designated Player signing, meaning that the club still has two DP slots open and David Accam is not taking one of those slots, correct?
Jacobs: That is correct. We have flexibility within the league mechanisms to move certain players, depending on the designation, to move them from a DP or a TAM, depending on their age, from a TAM to a young DP, so really there’s some flexibility. To be honest with you, those designations don’t have to be made until when the rosters would be set in March.
So the reality is, where someone sits to day, be it as a TAM or DP player… You are correct as to where someone like David Accam sits or Hany Mukhtar sits right now, but someone like David gives us some flexibility that he has been a DP and he has been bought down with TAM. So that creates some flexibility in our roster, not only being this really pacey wing player, but also versatility in that he could be a TAM player or could be a DP player. But as you asked, he is a TAM player.