If a rising tide floats all boats, Miguel Almiron’s transfer to Newcastle United is bringing in some pretty high tide for MLS.
With Atlanta United fetching a reported $27 million from Newcastle for the Paraguayan’s services, it more than triples the $8 million it paid Lanus for him at the tail end of 2016. If Atlanta had received $15 or $20 million for Almiron’s services, it would be happy. But the fact that it received a 3x return on investment sends a loud message to players similar to him, especially from South America: MLS isn’t a league to overlook if you have ambitions of playing in Europe.
$27 million breaks the MLS transfer record set just this past summer
Don Garber has gone on record saying that he wants MLS to be a selling league. He’s surely thrilled about the fact that the two highest transfer fees in MLS history have been set in a matter of six months: teenage phenom Alphonso Davies fetched a base of $13 million in his sale from the Vancouver Whitecaps to megaclub Bayern Munich in July, with that number set to grow to as much as $22 million if certain performance standards are met. Even if they’re met, Almiron’s fee is reportedly a full $5 million more, although how much of the full fee is based on escalator clauses similar to Davies’ case isn’t known just yet.
There are two formulas at work here: a) seek out and recruit young up-and-comers, from the fertile territory of Central and South America, to give them a chance to increase their value; and b) develop American talent here at home. Atlanta’s hit on Formula A with Almiron and hopefully will do the same with Pity Martinez. It has a chance to hit on Formula B with George Bello, whose trajectory hopefully matches that of his Canadian counterpart now plying his trade in Bavaria with one of the world’s top clubs. And, at the end of the day, the league as a whole wins.
These become even better deals if Almiron and Davies turn out well
Here’s the thing about Almiron: he’s 25, and you’d like to think that his prime years are ahead of him. With a tough situation ahead of him at Newcastle with the Magpies looking to fight off relegation - a famous victory over championship hopeful Manchester City on Tuesday, though, has them 5 points clear of the drop zone with 14 matches remaining - and supporters standing firmly against owner Mike Ashley, he has a chance to breathe life into the club’s chances of staying up and hopefully making a push for a higher finish in 2019-20. That, I think, will tell the biggest story when this is all said and done: how does Almiron adjust to one of the biggest, if not the biggest, league in the world? If it’s a smooth transition, that deal becomes that much more valuable for not just Newcastle, but certainly MLS and how it is perceived.
Keep in mind, too, that this is uncharted territory for Newcastle: their next-highest transfer was the 16 million pounds (US$20 million today) it paid to bring Michael Owen from Real Madrid in 2005. So this is a group that - and this has sullied Ashley’s reputation - doesn’t splash around big money as often as other clubs.
In Davies’ case, who, at worst, has a good decade and a half ahead of him, the same holds true, but Bayern Munich are leaps and bounds above Newcastle: it is out for an unprecedented seventh straight Bundesliga championship and 29th overall, as well as a sixth European title, and have plenty of money that it’s not shy about using. Needless to say that there’s a deep well of talent on the roster that will make it difficult for him to crack the XI right away, but if he can show Niko Kovac, even with the chances he does get, that he was worth the investment, that’s a huge win for MLS on several fronts. I go back to Bello, who is reported to have clubs such as Manchester City, Roma and Chelsea keeping tabs.
Expect these kinds of transfers to happen more often in MLS
It’s obviously much too early to touch on Davies, but the only other players beside him and Almiron in MLS history to be sold for eight figures is Jozy Altidore. The Toronto FC man was considered a rising young star in the mid-to-late-2000s with the Red Bulls, scoring 15 goals in 37 appearances across three seasons for a club about a half-hour drive from his hometown. Villarreal came calling in 2008, and $11.6 million later, it had its man. While his career never caught on in Spain - he was loaned out three times - a successful stint in Eredivisie followed by a not-as-successful spell at Sunderland predated his return to MLS.
Altidore’s transfer probably should have ushered in a new era for MLS, but it didn’t really do that: the highest fees for an outgoing player between Altidore’s departure in 2008 and Davies’ transfer to Bayern Munich were Maurice Edu’s $6.6 million transfer from TFC to Rangers (also in 2008) and Matt Miazga’s $5.8 million transfer from Red Bulls to Chelsea in 2016. I’d expect eight-figure transfers to be more of a rule rather than the exception for MLS (hello, Lucho Acosta to PSG...maybe), especially as it becomes more comfortable with its identity as a league that looks to lean toward selling rather than, frankly, pretend to be something that it’s not.