Sometimes, all it takes is one moment for a player’s career to be transformed. Miguel Almirón made the most of his special moment on May 29 of this year at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. He led Lanús to a championship and launched his career onto another path, one that has now led him to Atlanta.
The first half of 2016 saw a Torneo Transición in the Argentine Primera División as they began to change the league’s format. It was a short season with two groups. The group winners met in a final at the Estadio Monumental, the stadium where Almirón’s idol Enzo Francescoli lined up nearly 200 times for River Plate.
Lanús faced San Lorenzo in the winner-take-all match for the championship at a neutral venue. River Plate’s famous Estadio Monumental was the host for the special occasion. Almirón was in the starting lineup and his performance sealed the trophy for Lanús in the second half.
Almirón scored the second goal early in the second half and then assisted on the third to lead Lanús to their second national championship in 101 years. It also put Almirón in the spotlight for a bigger move. He was part of Paraguay’s roster at the Copa America Centenario and started two games over the summer.
Reported interest from Villarreal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Inter, and Arsenal caused Lanús to announce that they intended for Almirón to remain with the club through the end of the calendar year. Atlanta United, no doubt buoyed by the arrival of Tata Martino, was able to beat the others to his signature.
TyC Sports journalist Juli Micheles told Dirty South Soccer:
“I think he has everything to be one of the best players of the MLS. When he arrived to Argentina, he showed he was ready to play and he didn't need a period to get used to the Argentinian league. So I think in the USA, it's going to be the same.”
Martino’s presence was obviously very important in bringing Almirón to Atlanta. Remember, Martino is highly respected in Paraguay for his work in the domestic league and with the national team at the 2010 World Cup.
“He is going to have a great coach in Martino, who I'm sure will get the best out of Almirón. Also, if Atlanta makes the important team they seem to be making, he will have good players to play with.”
Brian Zehnder, a journalist who covers Tata Martino’s former club Newell’s Old Boys for Info Lepra, told Dirty South Soccer that Almirón will be a great fit for what Martino wants to do on the field.
“Almirón is a great success. He is an ideal player for Tata’s system. He will know how to carry it to its maximum level.”
While Atlanta United has given Almirón the #10 shirt and called him the “playmaker”, he will not be the old school #10 who sprays passes around. The best description of his game is as a “flying #8”, an attacking box-to-box midfielder that is deadly on the run. Almirón’s speed, especially on the dribble, can unbalance defenses. He makes intelligent runs both with and without the ball, can hit the killer pass, but he can also score himself.
There is also something to be said about being left-footed. Lefties with speed have that extra bit of unpredictability for defenses.
While his attacking presence is what has earned Almirón this contract, he is a hard worker who has no fear in doing defensive work. The chemistry between the midfield triangle in Martino’s system is very important, and Almirón will have to get on the same page with Chris McCann and the final member of their trio for the team to have success.
Tata Martino will look to play a variation of the 4-3-3, which has been his hallmark throughout his career. In a setup that could get the most out of Almirón’s skillset, it could look like a 4-1-4-1.
With Tito Villalba and his opposite winger pushed up high, Almirón will be the central midfielder tasked with supporting the striker. McCann will sit behind Almirón and the other central midfielder. The third central midfielder can be another attacking player, a box-to-box midfielder, or a defensive midfielder to pair with McCann against certain opponents.
With Martino’s tactical flexibility, expect all of these variations to show up throughout the season. Don’t forget that Almirón is also comfortable wide on the left and can be utilized there when the match-ups present themselves.
Micheles summed it up:
“In a few words. Atlanta bought a top player that will give them many good things. He could be playing in any important team of Europe.”
Almirón won a championship in his first season with Cerro Porteño in Paraguay. He won a championship in his second season with Lanús. Will he be the good luck charm in Tata Martino’s Atlanta United?