It’s been a busy two months for Atlanta United FC.
The club won MLS Cup, celebrated that victory with a parade, had its former coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino get hired in Mexico, brought on a new head coach in Frank de Boer and added several players, including South American Player of the Year Gonzalo Pity Martinez.
And the Five Stripes topped all of that this week, when they finalized the transfer of Miguel Almiron to English Premier League side Newcastle United. Atlanta United did not reveal the transfer fee it garnered from Newcastle for Almiron’s services, but said in a club statement that it “breaks the league’s all-time record.”
Several outlets, including Sky Sports, reported the fee is $27 million. That total wouldn’t just break the MLS record — it would smash it. Alphonso Davies briefly held the crown for MLS’ most expensive export, when Bayern Munich paid a reported $22 million for the Vancouver Whitecaps product.
“When we recruited Miguel, we knew he was a fantastically talented player who could achieve success in Atlanta, develop his game further and, if he wished, move to a top European League,” Atlanta United club president Darren Eales said in a statement. “Two years later, we couldn’t be happier with what Miguel has contributed to the club, and that he is realizing his dream of playing in the Premier League. He is a committed athlete who gives his all to the game and is loved by our fans as a player and as a person. We wish him nothing but the best in his career.”
For Atlanta United and MLS, the sale is much more than getting a return check. There have been talks of MLS becoming a “selling league” where young players — whether they be from the U.S., Canada or South America — could come and develop their skills and use the league as a platform to get to top-flight club in Europe. With the sales of Davies and Almiron, the idea of MLS being a launching pad isn’t just a whisper anymore. The league is beginning to be recognized around the world for young talent ready for bigger things.
“This is also a landmark day for Atlanta United,” Eales said. “We not only shattered the league transfer fee record, but gave proof of concept for our original club model of signing top young players and giving them a chance to thrive and develop.”
After coming to Atlanta from Argentina’s Club Athletico Lanus, Almiron, 24, quickly established himself as one of the best players in MLS. An attacking midfielder, Almiron showed off his speed and footwork, his knack for putting his teammates in position to score, and his selflessness. He also proved to be a solid defender, tracking back often to win balls for the Five Stripes.
The Paraguayan playmaker was a two-time All-Star, a two-time MLS Best XI selection, a two-time finalist for MLS MVP, and he tallied 22 goals and 30 assists in 70 appearances across all contests for the Five Stripes.
The 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year has also appeared often for his national team, notching 13 caps for Paraguay since 2015.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) January 31, 2019
Almiron trades in red and black stripes for white and black ones. He signed a five-and-a-half-year deal with Newcastle, the club said, and will wear the No. 24 kit for the Magpies.
“I’m very happy and eager to start and to meet my new team mates,” Almiron told the club’s website. “The league is very competitive, this is a historic club, and Rafa Benitez himself were the main reasons why I am here now… I think it is a great responsibility, something beautiful for me, and I will try to offer the best I can to repay the trust the club put in me.”
Newcastle is currently in the bottom half of the English Premier League table in 14th place with a record of 6-12-6. The transfer fee for Almiron is also a record for the most the club has ever paid out, breaking a mark set in 2005 by Michael Owen when he joined the Magpies from Real Madrid, according to the Guardian.
“We were following Miguel Almiron for a while, and we saw a player with some pace in attack, who can play behind the striker. We have someone who can score goals and give assists,” Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez said. “His impact in MLS has been really good — he’s been one of the best players this year — and hopefully he can give us more competition and more quality in the final third.”
It’s unclear when Almiron will make his English Premier League debut. Newcastle faces Tottenham on Saturday, then Wolverhampton on Feb. 11.
For Atlanta United, the sale of Almiron also clears the third Designated Player spot needed for new signee Pity Martinez. Before Almiron’s transfer, the Five Stripes were not roster compliant because they had four DPs. Martinez will wear Almiron’s former kit, No. 10.
The Five Stripes will begin their MLS regular season on March 3 at D.C. United, but will first face Costa Rican side C.S. Herediano in Concacaf Champions League play on Feb. 21 and 28.