Attakora hopes to stay with Toronto FC
Young defender set to enter last year of his contract
Nana Attakora's telephone has been ringing off the hook and his inbox has been flooded with emails the past two days.
And he doesn't understand why.
The future of the Toronto FC defender has been the subject of widespread rumours this week, with speculation that negotiations over a new deal have stalled, and that he's looking to leave the Canadian club after turning down a recent contract offer.
Attakora insists nothing could be further from the truth.
A 21-year-old native of Toronto, the young defender is set to enter the last year of his current contract, which expires on Dec. 31. Attakora is a regular starter for the Reds and is considered one of Canadian soccer's brightest prospects, so it hardly comes as a surprise that TFC wants to re-sign him.
Attakora admits he turned down a contract offer made by the club last September, but he maintains that fans shouldn't misread that as him being disloyal to TFC.
All about timing
Attakora said the club tabled a contract offer when it was in a state of flux and without a full-time management team, shortly after general manager Mo Johnston and coach Preki were fired. That's the real reason why he turned it down.
"There was no coaching staff or manager in place when it was presented to me. Any young player with ambition should never sign a contract without knowing what direction a club is going in," Attakora told CBCSports.ca.
"I know I have a lot of developing to do as a player, [and] common sense says that in order to do so I need to be surrounded by good coaches and strong, consistent management. Toronto was in the middle of rebuilding its coaching staff, so I decided that it was in my best interests to wait until it was sorted out."
The TFC defender also said that money is playing little part in his decision-making.
Attakora earned the league minimum last season, $40,000 US. According to his agent, the team's offer included a substantial raise that would have seen him earn six figures.
So if money isn't a stumbling block, what is?
Although the rumour mill has been in full churn with suggestions that he's looking for a long-term deal, Attakora stated the exact opposite is true — that he turned down the club's offer because it was for four years, and not two.
"I'm in no rush to commit what could be the most valuable years of my playing career this easy," Attakora said. "My total focus has always remained with the club, every time I practise and play, and to me that's the most important thing that should ever matter to a young player."
Attakora's agent Marcos Serioux added: "Had it been for two years, he could have sat back and probably taken the offer. But to commit to four years, it's a lot for any player in that situation."
TFC officially unveiled Aron Winter as its new coach and technical director last week, while Paul Mariner was named director of player development. Earl Cochrane, who served as interim GM after Johnston was fired, was given a new title, director of team and player operations.
Serioux said the team made another contract offer before Christmas, but that he has not officially responded because he was waiting for the team's front office situation to be settled.
"Our thinking was to wait for the team to have new management in place because we didn't want to commit without knowing what direction they're going in.… Hopefully next week we'll have an idea of where Nana stands," Serioux stated.
Attakora said the negotiation process has been far from adversarial, calling it amicable. His agent is hopeful a deal can be worked out.
"Who knows, maybe the club might deem him surplus and maybe they want to bring in someone new. We think he's proven himself on the team and is a great player in the league and he would love to stay in Toronto," Serioux said.
The clock is ticking, though, because according to his agent the TFC defender is eligible to explore his options and sign with another club starting on July 1.
"The team understands in six months time he's free to sign wherever he wants. He can sign a pre-contract and TFC might not see anything in turn," Serioux said.
For his part, Attakora said he wants to stay in Toronto, downplaying suggestions he's looking to sign with a European club. "I love to hear [such talk]. Not because I think I'm ready to jump ship to [Europe]; because anyone who knows me knows I'm an honest guy, and being honest means you know your limitations," Attakora explained.
"I know my limitations and by no means am I ready for the top leagues at this moment in my career."
Attakora added: "I can't see myself playing for any other MLS team. It just wouldn't feel right. It wouldn't feel normal to me. I love the city and the fans."
Attakora has been with the club since its inaugural MLS season in 2007. He made his professional debut under former TFC coach John Carver during the 2008 campaign, but has blossomed into a regular starter and one of the Reds' most consistent players the past two seasons.
As a key member of TFC, Attakora understands his contract status is the hot topic of discussion amongst the Reds' loyal fan base. But he admits to feeling somewhat hurt that so many have interpreted his protracted contract dealings as an indication he's looking to leave.
"That's been the hardest part of this. I am coming to the end of my contract, and people are thinking I want to jump ship. It's nothing like that," the defender said.