After months of haggling, Atlanta United have finalized the transfer of Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United for a reported $27 million. It’s the largest outgoing transfer fee in MLS history and the largest incoming fee in Newcastle’s (much longer) existence.
Atlanta executives Darren Eales and Carlos Bocanegra deserve credit for holding their nerve over the transfer fee. Reports suggested that Newcastle put in a bid for $20 million but Atlanta wanted $30 million. Atlanta, however, didn’t have much bargaining power.
The acquisition of Pity Martinez put them over the Designated Player maximum, and either Ezequiel Barco or Almiron had to go. It was always more likely to be Almiron. Pushing the number so near the original request marks a win for Atlanta.
Newcastle didn’t have much wiggle room, either. Some reports went as far as to say that manager Rafael Benitez, formerly with Liverpool, Napoli, Valencia, Chelsea and Real Madrid (among others), threatened to quit if NUFC didn’t land the players he wanted.
That’s largely because Newcastle sat one spot and two points above the relegation zone in the Premier League when the Almiron deal was reported on Tuesday (though have since moved up the table after beating Manchester City later in the day). Benitez, a guy who has won the UEFA Champions League, isn’t a manager who enjoys working in the lower divisions.
Why Almiron can be a success at Newcastle
Benitez has always been known as a detail-oriented tactician, particularly defensively. Newcastle tend to play a defensive 5-4-1, sit in a low block and attack on the counter. They have the second-worst possession rate (42 percent) in the league, but have conceded the sixth-fewest goals (32). Their penchant to counter makes Almiron so appealing.
Almiron’s best attribute is his ability to play in transition. He combines the pace, technical ability and decision making to be lethal on the break. Newcastle have lacked that type of precision – or, to use a trite word, “quality” – from their attackers. The Paraguayan’s skill set seems to match Newcastle’s need. He will most likely play wide midfield, probably on the left.
Almiron’s MLS legacy
The attacker leaves a monumental legacy in Major League Soccer. He was the best player in the league over the last two years. I heard one league executive say he was the best player to ever play in MLS.
Moreso, Almiron established a paradigm. He was the first big-time player with an obviously bright future to use MLS as a stepping stone to one of the top five leagues in Europe. He opened up an entirely new type of player for MLS to target, and new possibilities for teams to go about their business.
It’ll be a bummer that we don’t get to watch Almiron in Atlanta anymore, but it was a decision the Five Stripes had to make. If Atlanta and MLS want to be a destination for top young players with Premier League aspirations, they also need to hold up their end of the bargain. Almiron will be in every presentation ATLUTD, or any MLS team, make to potential transfer targets.
As MLS continues to draw young players with huge potential, it will always have Almiron to thank.