Commentary / Signings / Union

The decisions of Marco Fabian

Photo: 215pix

Former Philadelphia Union midfielder Marco Fabian signing with Qatari side Al Sadd last week rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe it has something to do with how his lone season in Major League Soccer ended. Maybe it’s the overall arc of his career path or maybe it’s the timing of it all. It could simply be how he’s framing it.

Whatever way you slice it, there are a lot of Union supporters out there that won’t have much more to say about him than “good riddance.”

It won’t just be because he had a very lackluster season in Philly. We’ve all seen those. It will be more about how he objectively didn’t live up to expectations and then showed little desire to win anything by heading out to Qatar. Going back to your home country at the tail end of your career (which he will probably do in the summer) is one thing, but this is something different.

The thing about Fabian is, from Mexico’s perspective, he is a generational talent. Guys leaving Liga MX for a top 5 league in Europe doesn’t happen very often and in a span of four years his career has gone from rare potential to utter disappointment.

Now, unquestionably, part of that story is injury. He was doing fairly well at Frankfurt (in the top half of the Bundesliga right now) before he got hurt and he certainly dealt with it here in Philly last year. There’s really no telling where he could have gone if he had stayed healthy in the Bundesliga, but injuries don’t have anything to do with the decisions that caliber of player get to make. International stars like Fabian are privileged in that they more or less get to choose where they want to play soccer.

To say he could have gone anywhere would not be accurate. He’s 30 now and had a bang-average (being generous) season in MLS. His list of suitors was obviously shortened. That doesn’t mean Qatar, though. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have stayed in MLS and tried to prove something. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked with the Union, but he at least could have stayed in a competitive league and shown us some desire.

It’s not surprising that he would say “I am ready for this new challenge” while being introduced over there. That’s what you have to say. Except, what challenge are you referring to? Learning a new language? Adapting to a new culture? Surely, he is not talking about soccer.

There is simply only one reason you go to Qatar and we all know what it comes down to. That’s fine. I’m certainly in no position to judge. I won’t demean a guy for taking a paycheck nor tell someone how best to support their family and friends. Some soccer players view the game as more of a job than a passion and there’s nothing wrong with that. Problem is, that’s not the narrative we’re getting.

“My goal with Al Sadd will be to compete and win titles.”

Get real. Does he actually think anyone will recognize a league title in Qatar as a real accomplishment? What was he trying to do with the Union? Of course circumstances are different, but go ask Alejandro Bedoya or Jamiro Monteiro what they thought of last season’s ending in Atlanta. My guess is they’d tell you it wasn’t good enough. That it left a bad taste in their mouths and they want another crack. With Fabian, we’re going to be left wondering just how much he values winning in a real league.

Was that deflection goal against Red Bull satisfying enough? I will never be convinced that he was actually shooting, but that’s beside the point. It simply seems cowardly that he would claim he wants to win trophies in Qatar after coming very close to a shot at one in the U.S. against real players. Is it merely a crowd-pleasing claim like the fact that he wants to “learn from Xavi.” Learn what? How to work out better? The time to learn from a legend (especially in the Qatari league) has come and gone, has it not? Fabian is 30 and isn’t it time he started teaching a bit himself?

Xavi is not a justifiable reason to make a move like this. He went to Qatar for a fat paycheck before he went back home and the least he could do is be a little more honest about that.

I’m not saying every star player to come out of Mexico needs to be Chicharito Hernandez but, man, are those two career paths staggering side by side. Manchester United for over 100 caps, then on loan to Real Madrid. After that it was off to a big Bundesliga side and then West Ham and Sevilla, respectively. Sure, he bounced around quite a bit in the second half of his career, but those are all big clubs in big leagues and if he wasn’t trophy hunting, he at least wanted to be playing at the highest level he could. Now, at 31 he comes over to LA Galaxy to tie off an impressive career.

Was Fabian as good as Chicharito in his prime? Maybe not, but he had similar decisions available. He had the star power to make things happen and he could have gone after legitimate trophies. It’s now looking like his greatest accomplishment as a player will be a Gold Cup or Gold Medal. It’d be tough to imagine Tata Martino wanting him around the El Tri national team in any capacity at this point, especially after this move.

Those titles both mean something, but players far below his talent level can also boast them. Players not nearly of his skill are playing in big leagues against proper competition right now. That was his choice. It would still be disappointing if he had just gone straight back to Chivas, but this move to Qatar is almost like a slap in the face to the Union. He brought them (or lucked into) a big goal in a big match, but then opted for the cash when it ended.

His legacy in Philly will surely be debatable, but he lost a lot of respect last week, whether he cares about it or not.


  1. Great article. Agree almost completely. Always enjoy your stuff.

  2. Anyone who saw him play in the Union regular season and also saw him play against Pumas knows we didn’t get his best.
    He was a significantly better player that game than in any other. Folks sitting around me speculated that he was hoping it was a job interview.
    Heard others say that he had contracted Ronaldinho disease before he ever got to Philly. If that were the case, would have hoped the front office would have sniffed it out.

  3. Just a reminder – Fabian was here on a one-year deal with consecutive club options for another two years. The club declined the options.
    Fabian signing in Qatar is not him choosing *that* over the Union – he was on a “show me” contract here and didn’t show enough for whatever reasons you want to list (health, fit in a pressing team, motivation, etc.) so the team decided to move from him, not the other way around. This is in no way a slap in the face to the Union – it a player looking for one last payday and a chance to see a different part of the world.

    • I'll drink to that says:

      This. Didn’t have a choice. Desperation gamble over a position they waited too long to fill that didn’t work out because of a poor system fit in the end.

      Imagine that?

  4. I find it hard to blame Fabian for anything. He was hampered by injuries and hasn’t been able to put it together. I also won’t blame him for saying what is really the only thing he’s allowed to say about joining his club in Qatar. He can’t say, “Well. I’m getting older and this is the best place for me to make a buck before the inevitable declines of aging force me to retire.”

    • Yeah, earning potential has a short shelf life in soccer. I don’t fault him for trying to earn what he can at this point.
      I’m just glad it’s not us paying him any more.

      • Come on guys let’s be honest here. Qatar is hosting 2022 world cup, and their league is improving. It’s the 2nd top league in Asia. Stop being so rude. He’s signed a contact for only 6 months. What paycheck your talking about!

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    With respect…. if Xavi Hernandez wants me on his team… I’m rolling. Playing on a team with his vision of the game is absolutely an acceptable reason to leave america.
    Nothing further to discuss here.
    Like standing on the first tee as a touring pro on a wednsday afternoon practice round and getting to choose between Jim Furyk or Tiger Woods.

  6. Very nice article, with one caveat…what legacy? He didn’t even play a complete season here. I consider his time here a blip on the radar that most will forget in two years. I don’t care where he goes or what he does, just so he doesn’t do it here.

  7. Sorry, not buying it. Union declined the option (maybe it would have been different if his salary had been lower) and he went looking for greener pastures. At 30, he is entering the twilight of his career, so getting a fat paycheck is a valid motivation.

  8. I always enjoy Christian’s editorials, he does a nice job finding interesting angles and applying a sharp critical eye….but this one was just a whiff. The basis of the argument seems to be that Fabián left the Union by his own decision to chase a buck, and as already pointed out by others it was the Union who ended the relationship. Union basically told him to take a hike and he hooked on where he could.

    I also question the attitude toward the Qatari league. “There is simply only one reason you go to Qatar”, “does he actually think anyone will recognize a league title in Qatar as a real accomplishment”, “it simply seems cowardly that he would claim he wants to win trophies in Qatar after coming very close to a shot at one in the U.S. against real players.” Are we looking down our noses now at other leagues? Those comments seem a lot like what Europeans would say about MLS. Don’t like hearing it from them, and don’t think we should be following suit.

  9. Coronavirus sadly rules out China’s super league as an option.
    Not many options for aging players or those fighting injury. Also I am sure an opportunity to play in Qatar league this year helps position for coaching their native nal team or other world cup opportunities post-retirement from playing.
    I liked Fabian and how he embraced sixers, etc. I wish him luck and good fortune.
    Just felt from getgo union overpaid given his injury history. Charlie Davies also great story but same issue.
    Someone ridiculed me early March last year for being more excited about Kai.
    Of course I was very wrong in thinking McKenzie and trusty would be platooned and matched with Jack and Colin to help grow their skills. Move from academy and skipping steel was very rushed for both and a veteran pairing might have helped ease the growing pains. Last year was brutal to watch their stories.

    At end of day, worse than Fabian leaving,I am very sorry to see trusty follow rosenberry and Jones out of town and wish them well. Not saying they are amazing players, but like MacMath, felt they brought fan excitement.
    Given the lack of success for former union players, going back to Jack Mac, the jury still out–did union ruin them or did union simply know how to make them peak and wisely cut bait when “better” players became available? Dan Walsh, care to tackle?

  10. The “Did the Union ruin them?” Narrative has been around for ten years, stretching across multiple players who have passed through Chester. If you look at where they ended up after their exit, I think there is enough proof that they were simply not good enough, or not worth the money, did not fit the system, etc.
    The level of the league has also increased almost every year, raising the bar for the type of players that succeed in MLS.

  11. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Remember what the injury was.
    It was his back. not a leg, not a shoulder, but the most basic piece of the physical body structure aside from the bowling ball on top of it.
    And elite athletes are elite because of that last teeny-tiny bit of an edge.
    Johnny Bench had an absolute cannon for a throwing arm until spot on his lung necessitates surgery. he muscles were cut and the the absolute cannon became just a very good arm.

  12. This article is way too harsh on Fabian. He has earned right to play where he wants (and is wanted) and his short time was up in Philly.

    While he disappointed for most of his Philly season he was a total team guy and never caused any problems when coming off bench.

    Guy is fine by me and no need to criticize his career decision….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *