A Season to Remember; And Uncertainty Follows
When Miguel Almirón came to Atlanta for the 2017 MLS season, he was one of many young prospects playing in South America. But at 23-years of age, the creative midfielder had decided to leave Lanus in Argentina after he was approached by Atlanta United manager Tata Martino, who had previously led his native Paraguay to their best World Cup finish in 2010.
Almirón’s impact on the field was immediate. And he flourished in an attack where he was the focal point, scoring 9 goals and 14 assists. When the season was over, Almirón’s value had more than doubled. Bought last Dec. for a reported $8 million, the club supposedly turned down offers upwards of $20 million over the summer. And since the season’s end, several big clubs have already been linked with a move for Almirón in January’s transfer window.
Perhaps it’s not something we’d like to think about, but the chances of keeping Almirón in the long term, perhaps even for one more season, appear in doubt. And while Almirón has clearly loved his time in the ATL, we know that his ambitions are to one day play in Europe. Martino himself said last week that his best player’s “objective was to play in Europe” (although he went on to stress that he expected to keep Almirón through the January window).
But with Almirón already making a lucrative $2.3 million and a high transfer fee required for his services, there are actually only a host of clubs across Europe that could both afford Almirón’s price tag, and give him a pay raise. With that in mind, let’s take a deep breath, speculate wildly, and see if we can narrow down the potential destinations for one of our own. Hopefully none of this becomes reality any time soon.
Let’s take Arsenal for example, whom Almirón was recently linked with and were tracking the ATL playmaker before he even signed with the Five Stripes. The Gunners are known for being careful with their transfer expenditures - but that’s a relative term in England, where they still spent over $60 million on striker Alexandre Lacazette last offseason.
Almirón would also fit a potential need for Arsenal, as they are likely to lose World Class CAM Mesut Ozil and winger Alexis Sanchez this summer, leaving two starting spots vacant which Almirón can fill.
Newcastle have also come in for the midfielder. Notable manager Rafa Benitez will surely be looking to cement the Magpies’ status in the Premiership, and a big buy in January could make that happen. Benitez also employs a 4-2-3-1 system, similar to Tata Martino’s most-used formation in Atlanta, so Almirón could hit the ground running.
Another big time suitor is said to be AC Milan, who were reportedly considering a bid of $18 million for the AUFC star. I Rossoneri hit tough times as they cut back on player wages in past seasons, selling many of their star players. But new ownership last year has sparked a revival of sorts, with $225 million in transfer expenditure last summer, and more promised to come. Almirón also fits a potential need for ACM, who are struggling to score goals, and currently sit 11 points off the third and final Champions League place.
There is also some interest at Milan’s other massive and historic club, Internazionale. The rumor mill has sources claiming that Inter are monitoring Almirón. With veteran center midfielder Borja Valero turning 33 in January, Luciano Spiletti may be looking for a younger replacement. And Almirón’s ability to play wide or central means he should be able to find the field regardless of Valero’s presence.
Of course, it’s important to clarify that transfer season rumors are about as reliable as Orlando City making the playoffs. It’s impossible to know if any of these specific rumors are true, especially with the January transfer window still over 6 weeks away.
It’s true that the above stories regarding Almirón’s departure must be taken with a grain of salt. But we can extrapolate some relatively reliable information if we assume that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Piecing these rumors together, we can surely assume that Almirón is at the least on the radar of plenty of European clubs, with his suitors ranging from clubs competing for the Champions League to mid/lower table English sides. By identifying these factors among clubs in Europe’s major leagues, and taking into account their financial situation, we can identify most of the clubs that could realistically court Atlanta’s highest valued player. And surprisingly, not as many clubs fit the bill as one might think.
England? (team finances data from spotrac.com)
The Arsenal and Newcastle links show that the Premiership is perhaps the most realistic option. And the the whispers also tell us that clubs frequenting both ends of the table can afford the United playmaker. After all, the money is flowing in the Prem, where a lucrative television deal has sparked a spending spree that’s seen the league easily surpass its closest counterparts. In fact, the EPL’s average salary is already more than Almirón’s high wages in Atlanta.
Using the qualifiers we’ve established, we can take an educated guess at Almirón’s potential suitors.
Among the many clubs that could afford the Cerro Porteño native are Everton. The Toffees may well have reason to spend in January after underachieving so far this season, despite showing a sudden propensity to spend big last summer, when they broke their record transfer fee on Gylfi Sigurdsson. If there is money left to spend and the season’s outlook still looks bleak come January, Almirón could be the answer in Merseyside.
At the bottom of the table, a host of desperate clubs can also afford Almirón , and are in great need of a spark to their season. Crystal Palace currently prop up the table and need an injection of energy into the attack, as they have scored just four goals this season. Despite the performances, Palace have the league’s 9th highest payroll, and would have no problem giving Almiron a hefty raise.
Meanwhile, West Ham are in crisis, surprisingly sitting in the relegation zone, and are among the more likely January spenders in England. The Hammers have no issue spending big either, having made big money acquisitions in Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Marco Arnautovic over the summer. If current fortunes keep up, manager David Moyes will likely be forced to spend big in a second consecutive window come January.
Mid-table clubs like Stoke City have spent big the last couple of summers, and could easily give Almirón a pay raise if they want to invest in the 23-year old, as their highest earners in Jese’ and Saido Berahino are both making considerably more than Almirón, at present.
2015-16 shock champions Leicester City currently sit a disappointing 12th in the table. Furthermore, Almirón could be the perfect replacement for wide playmaker Riyad Mahrez, who could be poached by a bigger club at any time.
Spain (all numbers from transfermarkt.com)
Almirón is yet to be officially linked with a Spanish La Liga side. But as a native Spanish speaker, it also seems a possible destination. But unlike England, most La Liga clubs can’t afford to give Almirón the pay raise he surely covets, little less pay the high transfer fee.
Valencia are an intriguing possibility. Los Che struggled last season after selling the trio of Shokdran Mustafi (Arsenal), Paco Alcácer(Barcelona), and André Gomes (Barcelona) for over $100 million in transfer fees. After having a tough time last season, Valencia are a real threat to qualify for the Champions League this year, and signaled a return to their usual ways by purchasing Simone Zaza in August. However, they will likely have to spend slightly more on Almirón than they spent on last summer’s “big signing.”
Villareal are also in the mix for a top four spot. But the Yellow Submarine spent big money in the summer and among the new arrivals was Pablo Fornals, who plays a similar position in midfield to Almirón .
Sevilla have the resources. But they have already filled Almirón’s preferred positions recently after buying winger Nolito, central midfield playmaker Ever Benega, and speedy wide man Jesus Navas. Add in the acquisition of striker Luis Muriel, and manager Eduardo Berizzo will probably want to give his newly acquired attack more time to click before breaking the bank on the Five Stripes star.
Almirón’s two-way ability makes him a great fit for Serie A. But like Spain, very few in Italy can afford him.
We already mentioned the quite realistic possibilities of the two Milan clubs making a bid. And Roma are perhaps the only other Serie A club that could rival them for Almirón’s signature. They are a Champions League side this season, but more so fit the financial bill of a potential Almirón suitor. Roma have a world class striker in Edin Dzeko that Almirón could work provide service for, and a boatload of cash to spend after selling the likes of Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) and Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea) for big bucks. On top of that, they have thus spent the majority of the last window’s profits on defenders, and if last summer’s $29 million profit in the transfer market is available to spend, it may be time they spent some of that money on an attacker.
In Germany’s Bundesliga, the likes of Schalke, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen are looking to improve on their early season fortunes, and have spent transfer fees similar to Almirón’s valuation in the recent past.
Ligue 1 in France provides an interesting landing spot. While we can assume Almirón won’t be on PSG’s radar, Monaco are an intriguing destination. The 2016/17 Ligue 1 winners could afford to give Almirón a pay raise, and are awash in cash after selling Kylian Mbappe to PSG for over $200 million. They also have shown a propensity to buy young players, before moving them on for a sizable profit later, a category into which Almirón certainly fits.
Embrace the Love
The inevitable departure of Miguel Almirón may be an uncomfortable topic for Atlanta United fans. But having our players linked with the likes of AC Milan and Arsenal is almost unheard of for an MLS player, and the big boys from Europe will certainly have to pay the premium. For fans of any club, little less a side that just completed its expansion season, this should be a cause for celebration. United will make a huge profit on Almirón, and also assert themselves as a great destination for young, talented players looking to make a name for themselves.
As fans, we’ll be sad to see Miggy go. And finding a replacement for a player of such quality is no sure thing. But in the end, be happy it was Atlanta United who helped unearth and separate Almirón from the host of young talent in the Americas, increasing his value and putting him on the radar’s of a host of renowned European clubs.
We need to accept that when it comes to our prized star, it’s not a matter of “if” he leaves, but “when.” Whenever he does go, it’s a credit to the Five Stripes, not a detriment. And if things go to plan, he will be the first of many top class players to come out of Atlanta United.