If Almiron thrives in Premier League with Newcastle, MLS will benefit most
There is plenty riding on Miguel Almiron's progress in the Premier League now that he's completed his move from Atlanta United; it's bigger than Newcastle United and bigger than Paraguay. It has to do with the possibility of a shift in the architecture of the global game.
Almiron's £20 million move from Atlanta United to Newcastle has surely rammed home one point to the Europeans: namely, that Major League Soccer is much more than a glorified retirement home for famous old names. There are other models at work. Over the past decade and a half, MLS has made a point of looking south, especially to Argentina. Indeed, the model that took Atlanta from startup to champions came with an immense South American contribution. And now Almiron, one of the stars of the process, moves across the Atlantic.
Atlanta have done wonderfully well out of the deal. They picked up a young Paraguayan midfielder from Lanus in Argentina, used him to help establish their club and their city as a soccer venue, and now they've sold him on at a healthy profit. But this leads to the big question: is this a one-off deal or the birth of a regular stream of revenue?
There is another, related question hanging over Almiron. He had just helped modest Lanus to a rare Argentine title when the call came to move north. Did he make the right long-term decision for his career when he chose to leave MLS? Because the clock is ticking.
Almiron is just a few days away from his 25th birthday. This might seem an innocuous milestone, but it is an age at which the top European clubs are now reluctant to spend big money bringing in a South American player.
The tendency over recent years has been for Europe to buy in at an ever-younger age. The South American Under-20 Championships, currently taking place in Chile, are crawling with European scouts working for clubs or agents. Indeed, 22 of the youngsters on show in Chile have already made the move to Europe. The clubs are aware that there are risks entailed in bringing players over at such an early age, but they seem to have concluded that these pale in comparison with the advantages.
A consensus has arisen that over the past 15 years or so that a huge gap has opened up both the quality and the ideas of the game in Europe and South America. The best way to help a player bridge the gap is to get him over as soon as possible in the hope that he will make a swift adaptation. The younger a player makes the move and shows his value in a European context, the greater his sell-on value.
There is little room in this way of thinking for those who have reached their mid-20s. A number of recent examples come to mind. Around three years ago, left-footed attacking midfielder Lucas Lima was wearing Brazil's famous No. 10 shirt and hoping for a glamorous move. There was some interest from China and Eastern Europe, but he resisted the temptation, all in the hope that he would be picked up by one of the traditional giants. It never happened, and now at the age of 28, it almost certainly never will.
Playmaker Luan of Gremio was the key man in Brazil's 2016 gold medal Olympic campaign. His introduction to the side put a faltering team on the right track. The following year he was outstanding as Gremio won the Copa Libertadores, and he was chosen as the best player of the Americas. But at the age of 25, he's still waiting in vain for interest from one of the top European clubs.
His successor as the best player of the Americas is the Argentine midfielder Gonzalo "Pity" Martinez, also 25, who helped take River Plate to victory in last year's Libertadores. There was some interest in him from minor European clubs but none from the giants; he's since become Almiron's replacement in Atlanta.
And so, as he approaches the dangerous age of 25, how quickly and successfully will Almiron be able to adapt to the Premier League?
To this point, Almiron has cleared all the hurdles put in his path in Argentina and the United States. MLS clubs will be hoping that he can do the same in England: his form could do wonders for the credibility of their competition and should open up further possibilities for buying young South Americans, developing them and selling them on at a profit.