Atlanta United midfielder Miguel Almiron scores a goal past Columbus Crew defender Jonathan Mensah for a 3-1 victory during the second half in a MLS soccer match on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Almiron’s potential has Newcastle buzzing

Miguel Almiron’s record-setting sale from Atlanta United to Newcastle is bringing joy to one of the most passionate fan bases in England.

Mark Douglas, a reporter who has covered Newcastle for the past 11 years, said the $27 million transfer of Almiron to the Magpies is significant for at least four reasons to a Tyneside club that is removed from its glory days.

1. Manager Rafa Benitez, beloved in Newcastle, finally got his man.

When Tuesday started, the Magpies were in 18th-place in the Premier League, just one spot ahead of the relegation zone, seemed to lack hope of signing anyone impactful in the transfer market, and preparing to host Manchester City, one of the world’s richest clubs. Oh, and some of the supporters were planning to protest owner Mike Ashley’s thrifty approach to running the club.

Not a good way to start the day.

And then, things started to change. 

First, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke the news that Atlanta United and Newcastle had agreed on the transfer of Almiron. He is the player that Benitez has coveted for months, according to Douglas. Almiron is the player that Benitez told his board he needed in his efforts to keep the club from avoiding relegation, which would mean losing out on the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars that come annually with playing in the Premier League.

The board relented and the deal, pending Almiron’s physical that was to take place on Wednesday, was agreed to.

“Not just the excitement factor of landing a player of Almiron’s caliber, it’s also what it represents in the transfer market,” Douglas said.

2. Almiron is a good player, “with a bit of magic in his boots,” as Douglas notes.

Almiron was arguably the best player in MLS the past two seasons. He finished his short stay in the league with 21 goals, 28 assists, two All-Star appearances, a second-place finish in last year’s MVP voting and a league title.

The Paraguayan’s creativity and spark are something that Newcastle doesn’t have, and hasn’t since Hatem Ben Arfa wore the black-and-white stripes from 2010-15. The team this season has scored the third-fewest goals (21) in the Premier League . 

While Douglas describes Newcastle as a team that does the basics well, it doesn’t have a player capable of opening a defense. 

“Almiron with his record and highlight reel is clearly that,” he said.

3. Newcastle supporters are excited about acquiring Almiron because it signals a bit of ambition from the club, led by the billionaire Ashley.

While teams in England and Wales, buoyed by funds from the Premier League’s massive TV contracts, have combined to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on players, Ashley has mostly kept his AmEx in his pocket since buying the club before the 2007-08 season. The most the club has ever paid for a player was $21 million, spent on Michael Owen before the 2005-06 season. They have been the Florida Marlins or Detroit Lions of the Premier League.

4. Almiron brings a bit of mystery. As cosmopolitan as the Premier League is, there aren’t many players from countries in South America that aren’t Brazil or Argentina on the rosters of the 20 teams.

By Tuesday night, things were looking up for Newcastle.

The team upset Manchester City 2-1, giving its fans yet another reason to celebrate. Now, the wait for Almiron’s debut begins. 

“Huge excitement of seeing him play,” Douglas said. “He could be a huge crowd favorite.”