Atlanta United announced a strategic partnership with Scottish club Aberdeen on November 24, 2019. A quick excerpt from the official press release of that announcement described the new relationship as such:
The strategic partnership will serve to expand Atlanta United’s reach globally and will be an opportunity for both clubs to share knowledge and experience including player and youth development, fan experience and venue best practices. The partnership also has technical advantages by extending Atlanta United’s scouting network into a new region and allowing for a development pipeline between the clubs.
Up until now, aside from some bits and pieces of news, the most notable piece of business resulting from the partnership has been Jon Gallagher’s loan to Aberdeen. Atlanta United sent their 2018 first-round SuperDraft pick to Scotland where he spent a full season. The move paid dividends as the Irishman returned to Atlanta and eventually worked his way into the starting lineup in 2020. He would go on to be used as a trade piece to acquire allocation money.
However, could the biggest move of the partnership have actually been made on transfer deadline day this past January? It was then when Aberdeen pulled off the £800,000 signing of Venezuelan full-back Ronald Hernandez. A move that took almost everyone who follows the Scottish club by surprise. If the rumored fee is correct, it would put the deal as the fourth most expensive incoming transfer in the club’s 117-year history.
Even more surprising is how little of an impact Hernandez has made at the club since the move. Despite having 17 caps for the Venezuelan national team, the 23-year-old has played a total of only 220 minutes since his arrival, leaving many to closer examine the specifics of the transfer.
The abnormally large fee was paid just two months after Atlanta United’s parent company injected cash into the club as part of the partnership agreement.
“It shows you where we are with our collaboration with Atlanta at the minute,” Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes told the club’s website after the transfer was finalized. “Once we were speaking with their recruitment team it was a player who they were aware of and had flagged up on their system.
“Jointly we got to know him a bit better. Atlanta have several Venezuelan players and contacts and that allowed us to make inroads into the possibility of bringing him to Aberdeen.”
Aberdeen fans began speculating about Atlanta United’s involvement in the deal as a possible stepping stone to get the Venezuelan international to the MLS club at some point.
.@SkyBet what are the odds on Ronald Hernandez joining Atlanta United in January please— Matthew (@mcinnes97) December 14, 2020
Usually these types of things can be chalked up to fans being fans on the internet and coming up with wild conspiracy theories. That is until a Venezuelan journalist made the link tangible on Monday. Mario Alberto Sanchez tweeted out that Hernandez will indeed be joining the Five Stripes in January and signing a four-year contract.
El lateral derecho Ronald Hernández será nuevo jugador del Atlanta United de la MLS y estará firmando contrato por 4 años. Será compañero de Josef Martínez. Viene de estar con el Aberdeen de la Primera División de Escocia. pic.twitter.com/tefJmzuGsk— Mario Alberto Sánchez (@MarioSanchezVe) December 29, 2020
Hernandez is represented by the same agency that is used by Josef Martinez and former Atlanta United defender Jose Hernandez.
On paper it all makes sense from Hernandez’s side to end up with Atlanta United. However, from the club’s perspective, he wouldn’t seem to fit the current roster with Brooks Lennon and Franco Escobar already entrenched on the right-back depth chart. Some moves would need to be made for this whole merry-go-round of rumors to come to fruition.
At this point, the rumor of Ronald Hernandez-to-Atlanta United has graduated from fan theory to semi-reliable Twitter rumor. Aberdeen has all but confirmed the player’s exit from the club and he has reunited with his family after being separated from them due to the worldwide pandemic. All we can say for now is to keep an eye on this and see how this weird saga plays out.