MLS expert and ex-Newcastle United defender delivers fascinting insight into ‘elusive’ Miguel Almiron
Miguel Almiron can be a “superstar” in English football.
That’s the view of former Newcastle United and Burnley defender Steve Caldwell, who is now a TV analyst in Major League Soccer.
Caldwell watched Almiron develop at Atlanta United before his big-money move to St James’s Park.
And Almiron’s stunning debut in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Huddersfield Town didn’t surprise Caldwell, who will be analysing tonight’s game between Newcastle and Burnley at St James’s Park for a Canadian TV channel.
“I thought Almiron reinvigorated their entire attack – you can see he was anxious to impress, and he never stopped running the entire game,” said Caldwell, a football analyst for TSN. “I thought he brought a freshness to (Ayoze) Perez and (Salomon) Rondon, making them look more dynamic and dangerous.
“Rafa’s the perfect manager to improve him tactically, and allow him to become more efficient with his work and movements. This guy is going to be a fans’ favourite, and he’s really going to respond to the energy in the stadium.
“He came to MLS a couple of years ago and fitted right in immediately. You could see right away that the lad had a lot of talent, pace, dribbling ability and could score goals.
“And also that he had an attitude about him and a determination to work hard that really suited his team. Atlanta are a transition team who play quickly on the break.
“Him and Josef Martinez became the double act in MLS. He’s an exciting, pacy player. Basically, he was the best player for two years.”
Caldwell – who started his career at Newcastle and went on to captain Sunderland and Burnley as well as MLS club Toronto FC – believes that slightly-built Almiron can handle the physicality of the Premier League.
The former Scotland international added: “The million dollar question coming from North America across to Europe is how will it translate? How will the form in MLS translate into a European league? In my opinion, he’s joined the most difficult European league out there.
“I do think he has the attributes, as you saw against Huddersfield, to be successful in the Premier League – and at Newcastle. I was adamant that Newcastle was the best team for him to join. I just felt the way Newcastle play, and the capabilities he has to be a hard-working No 10, would suit the way Rafa likes to play.
“It’ll take him a bit of time, but he’s quick. He looks slight, but he’s quite wiry. It’s hard to hit him, he’s so agile and elusive. There’s no doubt he’s stepped up a number of levels, but I think he can be really influential for Newcastle.”
Almiron was Rafa Benitez’s No 1 target in last month’s transfer window, and Caldwell – who has watched the player on numerous occasions, can see why.
“He’s absolutely rapid – he’s really quick,” said Caldwell, who is also club president of Canadian club Oakville Blue Devils. “Atlanta weren’t a possession side. They’d seize on a loose pass in that midfield area –and he was at the centre of that.
“Once he gets the ball and he starts driving forward, you can’t stop him from behind. He has the talent to dribble past people and the awareness to bring people in.
“I do think Newcastle is the right fit for him. He won’t get disheartened by the fact that he’s not going to have the ball all the time. He’s not really a playmaker, he’s more of a transition guy. He could do a role in the wide area, but, for me, he can do that Ayoze Perez role or at the top of the midfield or No 10 off a main striker.
“I’m not surprised the fans have taken to him so quickly. I think he could become a real fan favourite.”
Newcastle’s club-record move for Almiron deal, which could cost up to £21million with add-ons, was the biggest outgoing transfer in MLS history.
“It’s huge,” said Caldwell. “He joined a brilliant organisation in Atlanta, who have a plan and model of how they want to do things as an expansion franchise.
“They had a number they felt was right and never budged from it.”
United were a popular team in North America before Almiron’s move – and there’s even more interest in the team now.
“We have them very often, and they’re actually one of the most-viewed teams – they’re very popular,” said Caldwell.
“He’s been one of the most popular players in the MLS, and everybody knows who he is. I think the eyes will be on Newcastle.
“This is a guy who could be a superstar for the team in years to come.”