Miguel Almiron is still the most high-profile sale from MLS. His time at Newcastle United serves as a warning to fellow exports looking to follow him to a European club.
Atlanta United arrived in Major League Soccer with a plan. They would target and acquire young South American talent, offer them a chance to play regularly in a league that was more closely watched and followed by European clubs, and then sell these players on after two or three years for a handsome profit.
It was and is a very smart process, one that everyone wins. The South American clubs can sell on their talent for decent fees, Atlanta build a competitive team on the back of signing high-level young players, as evidenced by their results in their three years in MLS thus far, and the players can sell themselves to European clubs in the hope of securing a move to a major league in world football.
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This process was mastered by Miguel Almiron. Signed for an MLS record transfer fee before Atlanta’s expansion season, Almiron played in Atlanta for two years, excelled during that time, including leading them to the MLS Cup in 2018, and then moved to Newcastle United in the offseason in a league-record sale.
Almiron is now almost 18 months into his time on Wearside. His struggles at the club provide a cautionary tale to those who may look to follow in his footsteps and try their hand at European-level play as they approach the prime of their respective careers.
Almiron moved to a mid-table Premier League club knowing that he would get regular playing time. This was crucial for him and his development, especially as he adapted to a new country and league. He could have pushed for a larger team, perhaps, but he may have not been afforded the ample playing opportunity that he has been given at St. James’ Park.
That he chose Newcastle and not a more competitive team meant that he can ease his way into English football, arguably the most difficult and unique style in the world. It is hugely physical, high-tempo, and demanding for smaller, slighter players like Almiron. It took him time to figure out how he must change his game as a result.
Nevertheless, while his early performances were underwhelming, Almiron has remained in the Newcastle team. And more recently with Steve Bruce switching to a 4-2-3-1 shape and using the Paraguayan in his favoured attacking midfield position, he has begun to blossom. He was excellent in Newcastle’s 3-0 victory over Sheffield United on Sunday.
His time at Newcastle is a warning to those still in MLS. Diego Rossi, Ezequiel Barco, Brian Rodriguez and others have all expressed their desire to move to Europe one day. None have dominated MLS like Almiron did. The former Atlanta star’s difficulties in adapting, then, should serve notice to these highly ambitious players. They may not flourish from day one.
It has also been vital for Almiron to find a style that he suits. Bruce’s defensive tactics do not exactly pander to his more creative skill set, but he has been a threat on the counter-attack and is now coming into his own as a number 10. Others should follow his lead and find a team that suits their style.
Plenty of MLS stars will make the jump to Europe in the coming years. It is not just the approach of Atlanta but many teams across the league. But Almiron was the first, and his difficulties and eventual settling at Newcastle should serve as a warning to those that will follow. Finding the right landing spot is crucial.