Manchester United are rumoured to be in talks over a possible deal for highly rated Velez Sarsfield talent Thiago Almada, a player The Guardian named among the world’s 60 best players born in 2001.
There are rumours of negotiations for a possible £16m deal, down from a £22m release clause. You would, however, be forgiven for not knowing anything about the Argentine.
Here’s a look at everything United fans need to know about Almada…
Representation of United’s New Recruitment
Long gone are the days where United would sign players like Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, even Robin van Persie, or be interested in the likes of Gareth Bale and (re-signing) Cristiano Ronaldo.
United have changed their recruitment strategy since the Sanchez debacle, combined with a major overhauling and reinvestment in scouting, both at home and abroad.
As at many top clubs, there is no longer an appetite for established superstar names who might only offer short-term reward on their investment. United are still prepared to spend big money, but instead are looking to younger players who can be developed into stars at Old Trafford and be long-term assets. That includes Harry Maguire, who was 26 and shy of his peak when he arrived.
This year, United have been primarily targeting Jadon Sancho, 20, Jack Grealish, 24, and Jude Bellingham, 16. The club spent £9m to sign 16-year-old Hannibal Mejbri last year and are expected to land 16-year-old Barcelona talent Marc Jurado this summer.
Pursuing Almada is an extension of that wider policy.
Coached by Two Ex-Premier League Players
If Almada wants to hear first-hand experience of what it is like for an Argentine playing in England he needs to look no further than ask current Velez coach Mauricio Pellegrino or predecessor Gabriel Heinze, who played for Liverpool and United respectively.
Pellegrino also more recently managed in the Premier League at Southampton.
It was Heinze, Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year in 2004/05, who gave Almada a senior debut at Velez in 2018, with Pellegrino taking over the reins earlier this year.
Heinze left Old Trafford under a cloud in 2007, sold to Real Madrid after trying to force a transfer to Liverpool, but he was at one point a very popular player with fans.
The Right Attitude
“That kid really wants it,” were Heinze’s words prior to Almada’s top flight debut for Velez in 2018.
“The only thing that makes me hesitate, and I do a bit, is that he is 17. But the things he gives me here...I stay calm, I say ‘well, he’s 17’. But then I say, ‘How can I not play him if he is so good?’”
Having been burned in the past by players whose heads were seemingly elsewhere, attitude is a key attribute for United and Solskjaer is in the process of overseeing a cultural reset in Manchester.
Now, Almada is 19 with nearly two years of maturing and first-team experience under his belt.
Such determination to make it could steam from a humble upbringing, with Almada hailing from the same notorious Buenos Aires barrio, Fuerte Apache, as Carlos Tevez.
‘Drugs are rife, crime is a given, jobs are hard to come by,’ a Daily Mail feature and interview with Tevez in 2011 summarised.
Tevez himself explained, “It was a really poor neighbourhood. Everything was really hard. When it was dark and you looked out of the window, what you saw would scare anyone.
“After a certain time, you could not go into the street. I could have started doing drugs and ended up at the bottom but instead I made it to where I am now.”
Fuerte Apache has overcome some of its worst issues, partly due to help from Tevez’s own foundation. “Now there is danger but not the same as before,” Almada remarked in 2019.
Almada also has a close relationship with Tevez, yet another brain he could pick. Tevez in particular has experience of moving directly from South America to England, having joined West Ham from Brazilian side Corinthians. Pellegrino and Heinze went via other European clubs first.
Almada has operated on both flanks for Velez this season, but has more recently started to establish himself in a ‘number 10’ attacking midfielder role.
That is likely to be his long-term position, from which he can influence games more, although his versatility is also a big plus point as it would mean that first-team opportunities would be easier to come by at Old Trafford - if he is flexible enough to take advantage.