Europe beckons for mercurial Thiago Almada

Thiago Almada (23) is on the verge of leaving Atlanta United for Brazilian Serie A outfit Botafogo, according to The Athletic.

The Argentine number 10, who became the first player active in MLS to win the World Cup with his country in Qatar almost two years ago, looks set to join the Brazilian side on a six-month loan ahead of a protracted winter move to French Ligue 1 giants Olympique Lyonnais, with both clubs in question owned by American Businessman John Textor and his company Eagle Football Holdings Limited.

The move will bring to an end two and a half years at Mercedes Benz Stadium, with Almada having joined Atlanta from Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield in 2022 for a reported $16M fee and going on to be named MLS newcomer of the year and MLS young player of the year in 2023.

Genius yet inconsistent

So what legacy does the diminutive playmaker leave in US soccer? 26 goals and 24 assists in 83 games are respectable totals for an attacking midfielder whose game is about so much more than statistics. Indeed, Almada does much of his good work in the half spaces, linking midfield and attack and bringing others into play, performing to a level that justifies the projected MLS record price tag ($21M) his sale will generate.

The Argentinian’s highlights reel showcases his extensive talent, a wide range of goals and assists, particularly in the 2023 season, seeing him being named into the MLS All-Star XI and leading the league in assists (19) and only behind Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta for overall goal contributions (30).

And yet, Almada will depart the USA under a cloud of poor form (Six goals and one assist from 17 appearances), with Atlanta languishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and barely holding onto the final playoff spot, although a recent upturn of results following the sacking of Mexican Gonzalo Pineda and promotion of assistant coach Rob Valentino to the hotseat have fostered encouragement for the second half of the season.

Two goals in his last three games in the red and black, including a delightful solo effort at DC United, serve as a reminder to world football of what the World Cup winner is capable of. There is no doubt that Thiago Almada will have to up the consistency and intensity of his game to go with his formidable technical ability if he wants to succeed first in Brazil and then Europe. As for the MLS, it will bid farewell to yet another gifted Argentinian number 10 following the departure of Emmanuel Reynoso from Minnesota United to Liga MX’s Club Tijuana at the beginning of June. Luckily for the league and its growing fanbase, we won’t have to look too far to enjoy other formidable playmakers.

Get Football Jack McArdle

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