Atlanta United take ambition to another level with signing of Miguel Almiron
Atlanta have never been shy about their ambition. They hired Carlos Bocanegra two years before they were set to play their first match and set about building an expansive training facility that would rival any in MLS. They established an academy from the start and signed one of the United States' best youth internationals, Andrew Carleton, not long after.
When people questioned the wisdom of playing in a 71,000-seat NFL stadium, they made it clear that they expected the entire lower bowl to sell out and promptly sold out of season tickets by moving them at a historic rates. They even showed no care for simple MLS competency and the favored wisdom of hiring a manager who was proven in the league. They instead opted for Gerardo Martino, who managed Barcelona and Argentina among others, as they aim to be a transformative club in the league with global aspirations.
There certainly has never been an MLS expansion club as ambitious as Atlanta United. There might not be a club in the league aiming as high period. And on Monday, they took it to another level by signing Miguel Almiron.
It's easy to look at Almiron as just another signing. After all, he's not a household name and he's not even taking up a regular Designated Player spot. He's just a Young DP, theoretically a player for the future, but the Paraguayan is much more than that.
Almiron is a 23-year-old who has broken through with the national team, playing in Copa America Centenario and also featuring in World Cup qualifying. That's a level that few MLS players are at and certainly not many at his age. He also joins Atlanta from Lanus, Argentina's defending champions.
On top of all that, Almiron was being chased by Arsenal. To what degree the Gunners were interested is debatable, but between his accomplishments for club and country, both at a high level, that he showed enough at both to draw the eyes of Arsenal is nothing to sneeze at.
And if that didn't sway you, his price tag will: $8.5 million.
Atlanta United paid all of that just to bring him to MLS, according to reports. That's before actually cutting checks for Almiron's wages. And that price isn't for a name. It's for how good he is right now as well as his potential. It's to sign him ahead of teams like Arsenal. Almiron has been tabbed for Europe for years, be it at a club like Arsenal or simply in another of the continent's best leagues. Signing a playing like that costs a pretty penny, and Atlanta paid it.
This is a type of signing that MLS has never really seen before. When they've paid big money for players before, it was generally to pay big names when they became available in free transfers. Transfer fees have always been low, or even non-existent. Even when Toronto FC shelled out to bring Michael Bradley over from AS Roma, they were doing so for someone who had been a fixture on the United States national team for years. He had marketing value.
Atlanta aren't just betting on Almiron's quality. Of course they think he can be a great player and the heart of their attack, but they're also betting that they can make him a household name. They think that being one of the best players in MLS will be enough for him to become a star, both in marketing to their 25,000 season ticket holders, and abroad. His standing on and off the field gives him significant financial value to the club, even if he's so good that they sell him in a couple years to a European club. They think the fee they receive will come in significantly higher than what they paid for him.
Atlanta United haven't played a single match yet, but they're already playing at a different level than the rest of the league. And it's an approach that comes with significant risk across the board. If interest falls, they'll have scores of empty seats in a cavernous stadium. If Martino can't adjust to the league, they'll struggled and waste all the early hype. If Almiron flops, they'll be out $8.5 million, and that's before accounting for a single dollar they pay the Paraguayan in his salary. All of these moves come with significant risk.
But if it all pays off, Atlanta could be a powerhouse. They could have a world class manager leading a team in front of giant crowds. They could not just have a budding star in Almiron who becomes a leading name in Atlanta, but a star in MLS and around the world. And he will be surrounded by scores of young players, from 16-year-old Carleton, to 18-year-old U.S. youth international Brandon Vazquez, to their other Designated Player, 22-year-old Argentine Hector Villaba. If Atlanta United are right about these players and this approach, they're not just a skillful, thrilling, successful team, but one that can be a powerhouse for years to come.
Atlanta United are doing things unlike any expansion team before them and, really, any other MLS team before them, period. Just look at Almiron.