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Miguel Almirón and the wait for the next MLS mega-deal

There is little doubt Miguel Almirón will be the next outbound megadeal for Major League Soccer.

Some even think the Paraguayan attacking midfielder could shatter the league record for an outgoing transfer — recently set by Canadian Alphonso Davies, whose transfer to Bayern Munich could bring in more than $22 million  — and the record set for the most expensive player in Paraguayan history — also $22 million, paid for Roque Santa Cruz when he moved to Manchester City in 2009. 

Almirón’s transfer value is about $16.9 million, according to German-based transfer evaluation site Transfermarkt, though Atlanta likely will command a transfer fee far above that valuation.

But a potential transfer is not easy. In early December, Newcastle United reportedly wrapped up a deal to sign Almirón in the January transfer window. That deal, according to MLSsoccer.com, now appears to be dead.

“It’ll be interesting, … Miggy is under contract for another three years,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said on ExtraTime Radio a few weeks ago. “We’ve got an owner who likes winning and has had a taste of success. We know that we don’t have to sell the player, but clearly the way that we’ve built the club, the way that we’ve brought the young players in — if the right offer comes in, [selling him] is something we’d consider.”

Whether the Newcastle United deal is dead remains to be seen, but even with Newcastle out of contention, plenty of other European clubs are interested in the midfielder. Interest is high among several La Liga clubs and in Germany, both Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig have kept a close eye on Almirón’s development. Not to forget that several other English clubs could join Newcastle in pursuit when the transfer window in England heats up toward the end of January. 

Almirón by the numbers

What makes Miguel Almirón such an exciting proposition for European clubs? 

Even before the Paraguayan surprised the world by joining Atlanta United in January 2017, there was plenty of interest in the midfielder. The now 24-year-old was one of the most highly sought after prospects in South America after he won the national championship with Lanús in 2016. 

London-based club Arsenal was interested, as was Russian giant Zenit. But instead, Almirón chose a somewhat unorthodox development path by joining Tata Martino at Atlanta United. 

What at first produced some consternation in South America and Europe has turned into a brilliant move in retrospect. Working with a tactical mastermind like Martino allowed Almirón to make a big step forward in his development.

Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almirón (10) controls the ball against the Portland Timbers during the first half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almirón (10) controls the ball against the Portland Timbers during the first half in the 2018 MLS Cup championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)

During the last two years, Almiron was heads above anyone in MLS. He produced 10 assists in the 2018 season, which ranked eighth in the league. He was also eighth in overall scoring with those assists plus 13 goals. 

Those numbers were somewhat overshadowed by the buckets of goals his teammate Josef Martínez scored in 2018. The Venezuelan striker managed 35 goals in 39 games (regular season and playoffs) for Atlanta United and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award. Critics might even argue that Almirón’s assist numbers should has been higher given the productive season Martínez had up front. 

There is a bit of truth to this — at first glance, at least. But digging in the data reveals Almirón did fulfill expectations in 2018. The attacking midfielder was expected to produce 23.23 scorer points this season, and he produced 23 overall.

Furthermore, while Martínez shooting the lights out didn’t directly translate into a higher assist count for Almiron, he is among the top players in the league with key passes played. Overall, Almirón managed 17 key passes this season, which ranked him sixth in the league among a pack of players that also included teammate Julian Gressel. 

Then there was the number of smart passes the Paraguayan played last season. With 76 such passes (43.42 percent completed), Almirón was sixth in the 2018 MLS season, behind the New York Red Bulls’ Alejandro Romero Gamarra (129), D.C. United’s Lautaro Acosta (103), Columbus Crew SC’s Frederico Higuaín (93), the Portland Timbers’ Diego Váleri (85) and LAFC’s Carlos Vela (81).

All of those numbers highlight Almirón’s playmaking ability. However, it would be a mistake to narrow down Almirón’s role to that of a playmaker. Because with 137 progressive runs, Almirón led the league — ahead of attacking wingers like Alphonso Davies (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Sebastián Blanco (Portland Timbers).

That ability to make a pass at the right time or keep the ball on his foot to penetrate deep into an opponent’s defense is what makes Almirón the most complete player in the league. 

Add to that his ability to shoot from almost any position. In all competitive games, Almirón had 135 shots, the second most in the league, behind Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco (164), and the fifth most per 90 minutes (3.59 on average). 

Having Almirón drive down the pitch with the ball on his foot, not knowing whether he will shoot or play a pivotal pass to an attacking outlet, makes him a difficult proposition to defend — especially when one considers that 41.5 percent of his shot have been on goal. Then, there is his ability to play four different attacking roles. The Paraguayan is comfortable on the left, right, the center or even as a false-nine up front.

All of the above make Miguel Almirón a special player, a one-of-a-kind player in Major League Soccer and a highly sought-after prospect on the European transfer market.

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