Minnesota United finalized a loan agreement for Vito Mannone, acquiring the services of the 30-year-old goalkeeper for the 2019 MLS season. Mannone is currently under contract with English Championship side Reading Football Club. the Royals will be covering part of his salary, but Minnesota still needed to use Targeted Allocation Money to complete the transaction.
Mannone recently found himself outside the starting XI with Reading. He started the first six games of the season and allowed nine goals. He now hasn’t made an appearance for the Royals since September. Last season, Mannone made 41 appearances while conceding 58 goals. Reading has three other goalkeepers over the age of 25 on its roster — Emiliano Martínez, Sam Walker and Anssi Jaakkola — and is in the midst of a relegation battle, placed 22nd of 24 teams with 16 games remaining.
Mannone noted financial issues at Reading had the Royals looking to reduce the club’s wage bill. Now, 41 days into the new year, Mannone has a fresh start in a new country and league, with a team that was actively looking to bring in another goalkeeper to compete with incumbent starter Bobby Shuttleworth.
“The most important thing is we have added another player who has vast experience and has played at a really high level,” head coach Adrian Heath said when Mannone officially was announced Sunday at the team’s kit release party. “He’s played in the Premier League, the Championship, some very difficult leagues to play in. He’s been at big clubs and he knows what it feels like to play under tremendous pressure. As a player he’s really competent at all aspects of his game, he’s good playing in traffic, coming out for crosses, he’s good with his feet. He has all the things we’ve been looking for in a goalkeeper.”
✈️ ✈️ 🇺🇸 flight time 🙏🏻 #GodBless
— Vito Mannone (@VitoMannone88) February 7, 2019
Mannone departed Thursday night from England and arrived in Minnesota to sub-zero temperatures, fresh on the heels of a storm that deposited up to nine inches of snow in parts of the Twin Cities. His new teammates simultaneously returned from preseason training in Tucson, Ariz., ahead of this afternoon’s 2019 jersey-release event.
“I thought that this was the right time time to move on and try a different adventure, for myself and my family,” Mannone said. “Minnesota United came about two weeks ago. After I spoke to the director [Manny Lagos] and all the guys in Minnesota, I was impressed with the project. I thought it was a great opportunity, so that’s why I came here for what I hope is going to be a successful season.”
Part of the family Mannone mentioned is his brown Labrador Retriever, Choco. An MNUFC staff member said bring the pooch across the Atlantic was a concern of Mannone’s. The dog remains in England for now, but the club is confident it will eventually arrive in Minnesota.
The keeper’s addition ends what has been an eventful search for a starting-caliber goalkeeper. The Loons’ previous pursuit of Boca Juniors netminder Agustín Rossi was abandoned when accusations of domestic violence from 2017 in Argentina surfaced in the Twin Cities press. The Wonderwall — an umbrella group that encompasses Minnesota United’s officially-recognized supporter groups — released a statement in response to the incident, asking the club to reconsider taking Rossi on loan.
MNUFC has an organizational policy of not commenting on players under contract with other teams. Upon ending its interest in Rossi — never officially acknowledged — sporting director Manny Lagos addressed questions in general terms.
“There is no doubt that any time we’re trying to to bring in and recruit a player that both MLS and Minnesota United ensure that the values of the club and the league are met,” Lagos said. “We will always work to ensure that’s the case.”
In Mannone, it appears Lagos found his man. Still in the middle of what are generally considered peak years for a goalkeeper, Mannone brings with him a wealth of professional experience. In particular, 82 Premier League appearances made between 2009 and 2017 highlight the 13 years he spent in England.
A native of Desio, Italy, Mannone was first brought to England by then Arsenal manager Arnse Wenger. The North London club paid a £350,000 (more than $396,000) transfer fee to Atalanta B.C. to complete the move. Mannone made only 15 Premier League appearances for the Gunners and was sent on loan to Barnsley and twice to Hull City. Signing with Sunderland ahead of the 2013-14 season, Mannone went on to be named the Black Cats’ 2013-14 Player of the Year in separate awards given by the club and its supporters.
Mannone’s addition likely represents MNUFC’s last big offseason signing. Thursday, the Loons sent an unneeded international roster spot for the 2019 season to the Chicago Fire in exchange for $200,000 in General Allocation Money and $75,000 in TAM. On the heels of official confirmation, Minnesota United noted it is working to acquire green cards for multiple players, which would, if successful, free up international roster spots with an eye toward the summer transfer window. Additionally, head coach Adrian Heath confirmed the team still has a few domestic trialists in camp it may sign to round out Minnesota’s roster.