Quotes attributed to the agent of Major League Soccer side Atlanta United’s star man, Miguel Almiron, this week suggested he was at St James’ Park to witness Newcastle United’s win over Bournemouth on Saturday. Rather typically, it has led fans to get over excited about the possibility of signing his client when the January transfer window opens.
It is believed that Newcastle and Rafael Benitez are in the market for the 24-year-old Paraguayan, but reports suggest West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal are keen, too. Champions League football and the prospect of living in London are just two of the many reasons Almiron may prefer to look further south than Tyneside, and there is a fair amount of understandable scepticism, based on the approach of the Newcastle board, that they would stump up the £15million to match the price tag supposedly on his head in the States.
For once, though, Mike Ashley may just be willing to loosen the purse strings. Were Almiron to move to the Premier League in January, which looks increasingly likely, he would need a period of adaptation, which would not be helped by the need to hit the ground running at Newcastle, given the likely relegation battle he would have to endure. Yet, the MLS’ Newcomer of the Year for 2017, an award he was deservedly given just a year after leaving Argentine side Lanùs, where he is said to have lit up the Primera Division, fits the bill of an ‘Ashley’ signing.
One of the many reasons the owner didn’t afford Benitez the funds he desired in the summer was because he wanted to sanction deals for players who have ‘sell on value’. Almiron, though, is at the perfect age to double in his worth if he can transfer his form onto the big stage in England. Whether the competitiveness of MLS can be given much credence or not, 13 goals and 13 assists this season are impressive statistics.
More generally, he is the kind of player Newcastle should be targeting, both positionally and in terms of stature. The idea of Benitez being backed by significant funds has always promised much for Newcastle, because he would build an organised, disciplned team with the quality to hurt teams going forward, and Almiron is exactly the kind of player he’d want to sign. In front of his agent, the Magpies showed a glimpse of that against Bournemouth, but it has been clear they lack a diminutive, creative player between the lines of midfield and attack to provide the crucial spark. Almiron certainly fits that bill.
Defensive stability comes first for Benitez, so it is expected that he will use whatever funds afforded to him to strengthen the rearguard. Unfortunately, that has meant a ‘number ten’, the man expected to change a game and create something from nothing, has decreased in importance as each transfer window passes,
Right now, creativity is not a pressing issue; Ki Sung-Yueng has given something new in midfield and helped give Kenedy license to make an impact out wide, spurring the team on to successive Premier League wins. But when Newcastle are not winning games, as they weren’t until a couple of weeks ago, a lack of creativity is the biggest factor. Of course, confidence plays a huge part, but the lack of quality, or even the type of player that can make the difference is patently, and painfully, obvious.
Benitez is often forced to play Ayoze Perez in a more withdrawn striker’s role, but it doesn’t suit his game, nor does it Yoshinori Muto’s. Often if Jonjo Shelvey is on the pitch, which he hasn’t been for any moment in which Newcastle have been winning over the last fortnight, the attacking threat lives and dies with him. Either he gets the space to dictate the tempo, or he is crowded out of the game; when that happens, the outlook is bleak, but it is only a matter of time until Ki is sussed out in a similar way.
Whether it is Almiron or not, which does seem unlikely given the clamour for his signature and potentially hefty fee, Newcastle must priotise a creative midfielder in January. For too long now, Benitez has been forced to ignore that particular deficiency because a more pressing one arises; Ashley does have form for spending money in the winter if relegation is a distinct possibility, and if reports are to be true, Almiron may be a player he sees as worth signing, but the issue is greater than that. Now is the most critical time for him to back his supremely talented manager.
Miguel Almiron appears to be destined for the Premier League, and though Newcastle fans are right to tread with caution when it comes to speculation, if it is true that he is a major January target, then a huge problem with the current squad could be about to get fixed.
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