There’s an inconvenient truth about being a football supporter, one that all fans of European club football are grappling with this week – international breaks are terrible. They are inconveniently timed and lead to stretches of too many games elsewhere, which in turn leads to poor play. Plus, what are supporters supposed to do during that time? Have friends? Engage with their families? Yeah, sure, OK.
International breaks often serve as catalysts for rumor-mongering around the transfer market, and for Newcastle United, this break has been no exception. Among the hottest rumors for Newcastle and a handful of other clubs has been the potential interest of Atlanta United and Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almirón in moving to ply his trade in Europe, with clubs such as Inter Milan, Arsenal and Newcastle reportedly interested. Almirón, 23, just concluded his first season in the MLS, notching nine goals and eight* assists for the new expansion club, and is a finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. According to sources in the United States, such a January move for the attacking player would set a club back around £20 million.
*Note – the official MLS website lists Almirón as having 14 assists; however, the MLS counts secondary assists (also known as hockey assists) and as such the figures are inflated relative to English norms.
Almirón plays as a fairly traditional Number 10 style attacking midfielder, and is a particularly skilled passer of the ball while also being comfortable taking defenders on. Atlanta United employs an up-tempo brand of football, one that the pacey Almirón took to with aplomb. Most of Almirón’s best work was in driving the attack in transition, spreading passes to his wingers or slotting in balls to his forwards to beat the offside trap.
The video above illustrates that last point – Almirón’s primary strength comes from running at defenses before they have been able to get set after a loss of possession. It’s easy to see how Almirón would fit into this Newcastle side, with a ball-winner in Mikel Merino and the excellent distribution of Jonjo Shelvey sitting behind.
This leads to a tricky aspect of the transfer, as sources have begun to report that La Liga clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Real Betis have begun to sniff around at Merino, who has been Newcastle’s best player on the season by some margin. Additionally, it is believed that Newcastle would not accept less than £18 million for the Spanish midfielder, a fee that is believed to be meant to subsidize the purchase of Almirón. This swap would solve the major need for a true attacking midfielder in the Newcastle starting XI, but would leave the club without an actual defensive midfielder whom manager Rafa Benítez trusts. A pairing of Shelvey and Isaac Hayden would be less than responsible positionally, and as such would not be the ideal environment for Almirón.
There are numerous reasons to doubt the veracity of these reports, however – it was only last season that Merino spent his entire year out of the lineup at Borussia Dortmund, and it is unlikely that the 21-year-old will be keen to suffer the same fate for a monster club after having had so much success Tyneside. As for Almirón, Atlanta manager Tata Martino has noted that, while Almirón is likely not long to stay in the United States, he expects to have this player for at least another season. MLS rules surrounding transfer imposes a set limit on the amount of transfer funding that can be reinvested back into the club, a number far less than the mooted £20 million fee, and as such there’s little incentive to sell unless the player forces a deal.
As with all transfer rumors in or out, it’s unlikely that any of this will play out as has been stated in the media in recent days. However, Almirón is precisely the type of young, dynamic playmaker that Newcastle United needs to prioritize. He also has the evident, if unquantifiable, trait of loving football with his entire being, a trait shown in the video above and that should be prioritized after the disappointment of player malaise in high-profile players of the recent past. None of this, though, should come at the cost of the club’s best player if it means to become the club it has the potential of being.