Chelsea buys rights to Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it’s thought that Chelsea paid around $10 million, plus add-ons that could bring the pact to $15 million. That easily breaks the Fire outgoing transfer record.
The ‘‘Gaga Saga’’ is over.
English Premier League club Chelsea purchased Fire goalkeeper Gabriel ‘‘Gaga’’ Slonina, signing him to a contract that runs through 2028. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but it’s thought that Chelsea paid around $10 million, plus add-ons that could bring the pact to $15 million. That easily breaks the Fire’s outgoing transfer record. Around $1 million of the fee can be added to the Fire’s pool of general allocation money.
‘‘I joined this club with ambitions of playing at the highest level, and it’s been a dream come true to wear the Chicago Fire jersey,’’ Slonina said in a news release. ‘‘This club has become my second home, my second family, and there are so many people that have played a big role in helping me get to where I am today.’’
An Addison native and Fire academy product who is arguably the top young goalkeeping prospect in the world, the 18-year-old Slonina has been loaned back to the Fire, for whom he will finish the season before joining Chelsea on Jan. 1. After that, it will be up to the London club to decide his next steps.
Expecting to contend for all the top honors available, Chelsea looks set in goal with 30-year-old Edouard Mendy. The youngest regular starting goalie among the so-called ‘‘Big Six’’ teams in England last season was Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale, who turned 24 in May.
Still, the news is a landmark moment for Slonina and the Fire after his journey to London took many twists and turns.
Slonina and Chelsea were reportedly close to a deal earlier this year, but that was interrupted by owner Roman Abramovich being forced to sell the team because of his close ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. There were also links to Real Madrid and other European heavyweights, with new rumors popping up frequently.
Meanwhile, Slonina’s form dipped in May, as he was deciding between committing to the United States or Poland on the international stage. After picking the United States, he has resumed showing why he was so coveted.
The Fire’s 0-0 tie Saturday with Atlanta United was Slonina’s 10th shutout of the season, giving him a chance to break Fire broadcaster Tony Meola’s MLS record of 16 set in 2000 for Kansas City.
Though he has started for less than a year, Slonina has become an important part of the Fire. He’s a fan favorite who gleefully amps up the supporters behind him at Soldier Field. His steadiness has been impressive, and his passionate comments about the war in Ukraine showed a maturity beyond his years.
It figures that when Slonina leaves for good, he won’t forget about the Fire.
‘‘In my heart forever,’’ Slonina wrote when quote-tweeting a Fire tweet about the move.
That feeling is mutual.
‘‘You can’t overstate the importance of ‘Gaga’ Slonina to the Chicago Fire,’’ owner Joe Mansueto told the Sun-Times last month. ‘‘He’s probably the best goalkeeper in the world for his young age of 18 years old. Not only are his playing skills world-class, but his character is equally world-class. He’s mature beyond his years, disciplined, extremely hard-working and an all-around great guy.
‘‘He’s an inspiration and a role model for the thousands of aspiring young soccer players in Chicagoland. He demonstrates what’s possible with hard work and effort — to go from Addison to the biggest stage in global soccer by age 18. It’s also a testament to the quality of our academy and our ability to grow and develop players.’’