After several months of will we, won’t we, with peaks of excitement followed by troughs of an all too familiar despair, on Thursday 30th January Newcastle United, finally signed Miguel Almiron, a player identified as a priority several months before by Rafa Benitez.
The signing also broke a long-standing and well-publicised transfer record for the club. Fifteen years after we signed Michael Owen from Real Madrid for £16 million, we completed our search down the back of the settee to scrape together the slightly more than £16 million (although even that figure is shrouded in mystery) that it would take to complete the transfer of Almiron. So what does this mean for us, the fans? And what could it mean for the club?
‘We want a team that endeavours to be better.’
Firstly, Almiron’s arrival brings excitement. Every fan of every club loves a new arrival. They bring a chance for change. At a very basic level they mean that your team might be a bit better. As Newcastle United fans – despite what attention seekers like Merson, Keys and Gray might tell you – that’s all we want. We want a team that endeavours to be better. We’re realistic and understand that the Premier League title and the Champions’ League are out of our reach; but we do want our team to compete. Put simply then, Almiron gives us a better chance to compete in an increasingly competitive league.
Now I can’t confess to being the type of person who has the time or the inclination to sit and watch the MLS. As such, I have precious little knowledge of Almiron. But I’ve watched the clips shared on social media and via YouTube, and with fingers firmly crossed, I’d say we’ve bought a proper player. I’d like to think that I’ve gathered enough experience of football over the years to be able to be fairly sure of that. Almiron appears to bring the kind of flair and imagination that entertains; that gets fans out of their seats. In terms of continental flair players, think more Hatem Ben Arfa and less Diego Gavilan. And that can only be a good thing. It’s what we wanted from Kenedy and what, sadly, we’re still left wanting. Let’s hope then, that Miguel can fill the void.
He certainly looks the type who’ll drive us forward. A strong runner with more than a touch of flair and pace. He’s shown that he has an eye for goal with 22 goals and 19 assists in his last two seasons and so I’d hope that the least we could expect is excitement. If he can chip in with a few goals and assists before the end of the season, then he’ll have settled in nicely. He also, from what I’ve heard and read, seems like someone is isn’t afraid of hard work, which given our league position is again the kind of player that we’ll need. Flair is OK to a point, but in the position we find ourselves in, graft is king; especially in the eyes of Rafa.
Again, from hearsay – the noun, not the manufactured pop group from Pop Idol – I gather that Miguel is very much a positive influence around a club. Certainly from the photos and interviews with former colleagues, he seems quite the contented soul. The football fans in Atlanta, it seems, are nothing but grateful for his contribution over the last two years. And on a very basic level, he smiles a lot. So let’s hope that’s a good indicator of a player! With the Hispanic influence of the likes of Rafa and his staff, Fernandez, Manquillo, Ayoze, Perez, Kenedy, Rondon, Joselu – yes, even Joselu – he has a better chance of settling in quickly and if his roots mean that he can strike up some kind of understanding with our centre forward, then all the better.
‘…for every Rafa, terrifyingly there’s a Marcelino.’
We have a history with players from South America though and so we all know that it’s not always that simple. In terms of influence and positivity, for every Perez there’s a Mirandinha and for every Rafa, terrifyingly there’s a Marcelino. We can only hope that Almiron settles quickly. And in terms of a Mirandinha comparison we can only hope he refrains from kicking goalkeepers up the arse.
Some have questioned Almiron’s size, wondering if he has what it takes to adapt to the sheer physicality of the Premier League. In truth, only time will tell, but if you look at players around now like Aguero, Sane, Sterling, Salah, Fraser and Erikson as well as players from the recent past like Modric and Suarez, then size isn’t everything. You could argue that all of these players are also exceptional footballers, but again with Almiron we don’t yet know.
In terms of the future Almiron could have a huge effect. Could his signing be a signal that the purse strings are being loosened? Well, given the overwhelming evidence of the last 11 years, then you’d say probably not. But given that you’re a Newcastle United fan, you’re the eternal optimist by definition, otherwise you’d have given up the ghost years ago! So let’s hope that his signing leads to more of the same. Could Almiron help bring success? Conceivably, yes. But it’s obvious that he’s going to need help in the form of more signings of at least similar quality if we’re to start battling for trophies. While his signing brings a certain level of optimism, it doesn’t blind you to the fact that January still left Rafa with a great deal less than he’d asked for.
Which brings me to the man himself. Rafa Benitez. A man who has invested so much into both our club and community over the last few years. Although still not enough if your name’s Richard Keys. And if your name is Richard Keys, then pop off back to hanging around the sixth form gates; this blog’s not for you.
‘But this is NUFC and life is never, ever that simple…’
It’s been speculated that Almiron’s signing might well be the gesture that helps persuade Rafa to sign a new contract. And it’s true, there’s a certain poetic kind of logic to that. He desperately wanted the player, so why would he leave mere months into coaching the fellaa? But this is NUFC and life is never, ever that simple or straightforward. It’s a nice dream, but really? Almiron – and I mean this in the most respectful of ways – should be viewed simply as a start and I feel sure that Rafa will think very much the same. I mean, for all the good feeling he brings, we’re still playing with somebody else’s centre forward leading the line and a bloke bought from Stoke’s reserves as back up. So while signing Almiron might make Rafa feel like we’ve got more of a chance, I’m sure it won’t make him sign the first contract that’s stuck under his nose.
Looking at the signing from another ‘future’ angle, I wonder what he might do in terms of the development of players like Sean Longstaff, Mo Sangare, Kelland Watts and the like. Certainly in terms of Longstaff who will at the very least be training with the first team for the foreseeable future, Almiron could be a fantastic influence and totally compliment his style of play. And from a slightly different angle it could be interesting to see how he might link up with the likes of Shelvey.
‘He won’t have missed the league table…’
As ever with Newcastle it’s important to look at the darker side of things though. Almiron comes into a club that in many ways is in turmoil and into a team that is fighting relegation. It’s to be hoped that he settles quickly and begins to exert his influence on the team so that we can start to gain even more positive results. However for any player coming into a fight such as ours there will always be a question mark. That said, I’m sure he’s coming in with his eyes well and truly wide open. He won’t have missed the league table and I’m sure that he’s been informed of the current stand off between fans and owner. It has to be hoped though that his focus is solely on the team and results. He’s certainly going to find that he’s a long way from Atlanta in every sense of the phrase.
One thing is absolutely certain about the signing of Miguel Almiron. Our fans will be behind him from the off. His signing has caused a definite excitement; one that we haven’t had from a signing for a number of years. For me, there’s even a certain parallel between signing Almiron and signing Asprilla. Granted Asprilla was already very much established in the game, but still in terms of how he’d settle and what he’d produce, an unknown quantity. Well Tino definitely produced the goods. Let’s hope Miguel can do the same.
Whatever happens, the signing of Miguel Almiron is a step in the right direction. Whether it’s a baby step or some sort of seismic leap…well we’ll have to wait and see. Whichever way you look at his signing though, it’s going to be an interesting next few months. Same as it ever was then.