Why Miguel Almiron’s time at Newcastle United could come to an end this summer
It is three years ago today since Miguel Almiron made his Newcastle United home debut with a lively display in front of an expectant St James Park crowd.
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The Paraguayan international had joined the Magpies in a club record £20million deal from MLS side Atlanta United on the final day of the January 2019 transfer window.
A debut as a second-half substitute in a 1-1 draw at Wolves kicked off Almiron’s career in black and white and his home bow came in a crucial meeting with relegation rivals Huddersfield Town.
Early promise under Benitez
A Wor Flags banner declaring “Wor Almiron Quiero Contar Contigo” - a Paraguayan saying that means “I want to count on you” met the new addition ahead of the game with the Terriers.
Almiron wasted little time in making an impression on the Magpies supporters as he raced in on goal before producing a neat chip over Terriers keeper Jonas Lossl.
With the Gallowgate preparing to mark a spectacular debut, the ball agonisingly struck the post before Salomon Rondon crashed the rebound over the crossbar.
Almiron was in the heart of the action once again seven minutes when later the visitors were reduced to ten men after Tommy Smith saw red for a dangerous challenge on the Magpies recent signing.
Second-half goals from Rondon and Ayoze Perez gave United all three points and hinted at what was to follow from the Magpies’ new-look attacking trio.
After the game, then-United boss Rafa Benitez commented: “He’s very dynamic and he has good movement behind the defenders and between the lines.
“It’s now important to settle down in the Premier League and understand the mentality of the Premier League. “If he can stay at the same level and score a goal, it will be better. “The crowd could see he was a player with energy, and dynamic.
“If he continues to play at this level they will enjoy his football. We know what he can do. He did well. He is a different kind of option.
“He has been really positive and it was a pity for him that he didn’t score.”
Almiron continued to impress with his energy and enthusiasm as the Magpies ended the season in 13th place in the Premier League - although a first goal in a black and white shirt continued to evade him.
Off the mark…at last!
Steve Bruce had replaced Rafa Benitez by the time Almiron’s second season on Tyneside had got underway.
With the new manager looking to implement a new style and system, Almiron suffered from a lack of consistency in his position in the United side.
Whereas Benitez had used him mainly as a left-sided threat in an attacking front three, Bruce consistently altered how he used the Paraguayan International.
Almiron was a regular feature throughout the season - but he featured in no fewer than six different positions as Bruce chopped and changed his formation in a bid to put his own print on a side that had been used to the regimented and organised style of his predecessor.
Finally, almost 11 months after joining United, a first goal arrived as Almiron fired home a late strike in a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace in front of an ecstatic St James Park.
Bruce praised Almiron for his display, saying: “He’s a great pro, a great lad, and he works really hard. When you’ve got a gem like that they deserve all the success I’m sure will find him.
“My goalkeeper made a few saves but I don’t think anyone can deny that Almiron deserved the winner. “He’s a great pro, he works really hard, and when they work hard like that they deserve all the success they find.”
With confidence flowing after his maiden strike, Almiron ended the season with eight goals to his name - four of which came in the FA Cup as Newcastle made their way to the quarter-final before suffering a 2-0 home defeat against Manchester City.
More inconsistency - but links with a move away still arise.
Bruce’s second season only led to more frustration for Almiron with more inconsistency in team selection and formation hampering his performances.
He did flourish with four goals in 15 appearances as an attacking midfielder, but Almiron was often switched to play out wide, as a ‘false nine’ and as part of a deeper-lying midfield trio.
A return of five goals in 39 appearances in all competitions provided a modest return for his effort and endeavour.
Links with Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan were floated by his agent Daniel Ocampos - a move that infuriated Bruce.
He said: “His comments were outrageous, bordering on ridiculous.
“A two-bob agent who is so amateurish…why would you put your client in that situation?
“If it was (Miguel) Almiron knocking on my door then I would listen, but an agent probably trying to profit again after two years is hugely disrespectful to the club.
“Miguel is a great pro and a great lad but his agent leaves a lot to be desired.”
Waiting for a chance under Howe
Almiron has started just three of the 14 games overseen by Bruce’s successor Eddie Howe.
They all came as a right-sided attacking player in a home win against Burnley and 4-0 defeats against both Leicester City and Manchester City.
Since the latter of those fixtures, the 28-year-old has played just 60 minutes of football and failed to appear as a substitute in successive games against Leeds United, Everton and Aston Villa.
He did replace the injured Ryan Fraser for the final 11 minutes of Saturday’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United and could be in contention for a starting place in this weekend’s crucial visit to Brentford.
Despite his own lack of game-time, Almiron has praised Howe for his role in the rejuvenation of Joelinton’s performances over the last three months.
He told the club website: “He is really on the up since the new coach arrived. Like I’ve always said, Joelinton is a great player.
“Apart from being a really top person, he’s an excellent player as well, I believe.
“It makes me very happy to see.”
Whether or not Howe can replicate that upturn in performances in Almiron waits to be see - but the United boss has been impressed with what he has seen from the attacking midfielder.
Speaking in December, he said: “His energy is very infectious, along with his attitude. You can see from the way he plays, what he gives the team.
“I thought his work rate from a defensive perspective was very, very good, and he also had some really good moments going forwards. He’s a really good runner in behind.
“Physically, his stats from the weekend were incredible really. He’s going to be a very important player for us – he’s someone I really like.”
What is next for Almiron?
This future looks to be pivotal for Almiron as he approaches the final two years of the five and a half year deal he signed in January 2019.
It is difficult to assess his time at St James Park and there are arguments to be made on both sides.
He has struggled to find consistent form on Tyneside, and despite his early promise under Rafa Benitez and spells of form during Steve Bruce’s reign, he has largely been a figure of frustration.
In his defence, having three managers in three years all trying to implement different philosophies, styles and systems has hardly helped his cause.
With Howe’s preference for energy and intensity at the top end of the pitch, Almiron looks to be a perfect fit for the United boss.
But he is yet to force his way into Howe’s thinking on a consistent basis and Ryan Fraser’s improvement in form and Allan Saint-Maximin’s obvious importance to the side could hamper his opportunities throughout the remainder of the season.
The pressure is on Almiron to make the most of any chances that should come his way - otherwise his time on Tyneside could well come to a close this summer.
When, and if, United secure their Premier League status, attention will fully turn towards putting together a squad capable of taking the next step under their new owners.
There will be casualties and several members of the Magpies squad will be made available to make way for new additions.
His agent discussed a possible exit at the end of the season and tried to initiate talks over a new contract as recently as last month and once again suggested Almiron had interest from Serie A and La Liga.
As yet, Newcastle have not been responsive to those comments.
Almiron, unless he is able to find a regular place in Howe’s starting lineup, could well be one of them heading for the exit at St James Park at the end of the season.