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In Galaxy’s pursuit of Giovani dos Santos, persistence paid off

Giovani Dos Santos

Giovani dos Santos was a target of the Galaxy long before actually becoming a member of the team this summer.

(Robert Mora / LA Galaxy)

Giovani dos Santos didn’t come easily or cheaply to the L.A. Galaxy, as it took nearly four years and about $34 million to land the Mexican national team star.

He wouldn’t have come at all if not for the patience and persistence of Jovan Kirovski, a former Galaxy player and coach who wouldn’t give up in the pursuit of Dos Santos.

“Jovan was really the one,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said. “He said, ‘This is a possibility.’ And then the wheels started to be put in motion.”

The wheels had never stopped moving for Kirovski. He was still playing soccer for the Galaxy when the team first expressed interest in Dos Santos, who will be formally introduced in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. He is expected to make his Major League Soccer debut Sunday against Seattle at a sold-out StubHub Center.

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Although those first feelers went nowhere, the Galaxy never lost interest. Two years later, the team tried again — and this time Kirovski, now a team executive, refused to take “maybe” for an answer, flying to Paraguay twice in the spring of 2013 to meet with Vicente Montes, the player’s agent.

“One of the first things he said was, ‘To fly here, you’re showing how much you want the player. And that’s important,’” Kirovski remembered. “That was the seed that was planted.”

It would take 27 more months, with Kirovski returning repeatedly to Latin America to talk to Montes.

“I kept in touch with him. And the family as well,” said Kirovski, who spent much of that time telling the agent and the family about the Galaxy and MLS. “You never know. Things change in soccer. And two years later he called me, and he said, ‘Jovan, I think now’s the time.’”

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Timing, it turned out, was the key. When the Galaxy first reached out, in 2011, Dos Santos was 22 and finishing a four-year deal with English Premier League club Tottenham, which had loaned him to three teams in three countries.

Seeking stability — and a lot more money than the Galaxy was willing to pay — he signed with Mallorca of Spain’s La Liga instead.

“He just wasn’t ready to come,” Klein said.

The Mallorca deal proved a bad one, though, because, despite Dos Santos’ team-leading six goals and seven assists, the team was relegated and the player was forced to move again, this time to Spanish rival Villarreal.

“We weren’t quite there, both parties,” Kirovski said.

Dos Santos had a spectacular first season for Villarreal, setting career highs for goals (12) and assists (8) before things soured again last February. Soon other Spanish teams were lining up, offers in hand. Big Mexican clubs joined the bidding too.

Only this time Montes reached out to the Galaxy.

“It was the right moment, the right time,” Kirovski said. “He was 26. I think planting the seed, the agent coming here, me speaking to the father, just educating them on what we’re about made them very comfortable with us.

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“And he said, ‘You know what? I want to go. It’s the time.’ That’s what made it the perfect moment, really.”

Kirovski, who facilitates contracts and deals with player-personnel matters for the Galaxy, was able to negotiate with Montes in Spanish. The two sides had been talking for years, so each was aware what was important to the other.

If that made the process easier, it didn’t make it much quicker, with Klein, Kirovski, Montes and Dos Santos’ father, Geraldo, flying several times between Mexico City and Southern California. Villarreal wanted a transfer fee of $7 million, and Dos Santos wound up signing a contract worth $27 million more. It was the most the Galaxy had ever paid for a player.

“The obstacles, we had a lot of them,” Klein said. “Would Villarreal sell him? And for how much? Did he really want to come? Plus there were other clubs making big offers.”

Even if the Galaxy could overcome all those, it couldn’t absorb Dos Santos’ contract without a designated player roster spot, an exemption that allows teams to sign as many as three players to salaries that count only partially against the MLS salary cap of $3.49 million.

The league solved that problem early last month, giving each team $500,000 in so-called targeted allocation money (TAM). The Galaxy immediately spent its TAM to buy down the contract of defender Omar Gonzalez and fit him under the league salary cap. The team then opened a designated player spot — and its checkbook — for Dos Santos.

“That was the final piece,” Klein said. “There was nothing we could do if the league didn’t have a mechanism for us to open up a roster spot.”

Three days later, Klein and the elder Dos Santos met again on the sidelines at a Galaxy game, where they congratulated each other.

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“It was a process in which they showed a lot of interest in me,” Giovani dos Santos said. “I want to thank Jovan for the work that he did to bring me here.

“He’s a great guy.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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