Features. Miguel Almirón: 'A player who feels happy at work definitely performs better on the field'

30 Mar 24

"Our opponents are allowed to play too, aren't they!" says Miguel Almirón, via a translator and with that typical grin of his, in response to a question about why this season has proved so much tougher than the last. If 2022/23 was a whirlwind of positivity and swift progress then this term has been something of a speedbump for those in black and white.

Tom Easterby
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"All the sides here in the Premier League are very good and have great players. I think that they also know us a bit better now. Initially, maybe you could say that they still weren’t so aware of our playing style. But now they know all about me, and they also know how Newcastle play too, and I believe that this makes things a little more difficult for us."

It hasn't been quite as prolific a campaign for the Paraguayan but there is an argument that Almirón's blistering form last term was likely to prove unsustainable. He scored 11 goals in 34 Premier League games, registering a couple of assists, and a number of those strikes - the looping volley at Fulham, curling beauties at home to Everton and Aston Villa - resembled the work of a man at the top of his game. It was a career-best return this side of the Atlantic, his finest since he bagged 13 for Atlanta United in Major League Soccer six years ago.

"Last season, I reckon that every time I shot for goal, they were all going in, seemingly every one I hit!" he smiles. "This season, it's been a bit more difficult.

"On occasions I think I've been finding it harder to get in goalscoring situations quite so often. But that said, I always try my hardest to perform at my best, to help out my teammates and to try and contribute in my own way in whatever I'm asked to do so I can help the team and to bring some joy to the fans, which is very important too as they are the ones who give us such great support.

"Last season and at the start of this one as well, I felt very good in myself in terms of my own form. I always try to keep improving my game and I always try to be my own harshest critic. I always have a feeling of frustration when things aren't quite going for me, but I always try to work hard on correcting any errors in my game and to improve from day to day."

Things just worked for him last year but few would say he hadn't earned his prominence in an exciting, front-foot United side. The preceding barren campaigns saw him willingly fulfil a host of roles without ever really looking like he was approaching his potential. Last season changed that.

"I think my playing style has really evolved a lot," he says. "I think that Eddie Howe coming here has helped me greatly in every way. The coach showed a lot of confidence in me and really put his trust in me.

"I think that was also very good for me on a personal level - the manager knew how to get the best out of me, and I've also had a lot of help in areas where I needed it, one of which was my finishing. I'm always working on that. After every training session I stay behind, and I strive to improve in that aspect of my game. And I'm aware and I realise that I am improving as a result of all this."

Almirón is 30 now, a fact that jars a little given he seems just as energetic and quick as he was when he joined the Magpies as a 24-year-old for a then-club record fee in 2019. In its own way this has been a testing campaign, beset by injuries and disruptions, and he feels that halted some of their momentum. But there has been another factor in that too: adjusting to the rise in standard that entailed from their fourth-placed finish in May. "I think it's a little bit of both those things really, between the injuries and the tough competition that we've faced. I think that has affected the group a little bit.

"But I think that in spite of all this, the group have also had matches and moments which brought out the real character of the lads, and we showed good signs of improvement. We've come up against some really difficult opponents and had some tough games. But I think we've put that behind us now and now it's all about trying to keep improving and working hard so we can now end the league campaign well."

Almirón has passed the 200-game mark for the Magpies now. It is no mean feat, in one of the world's most intense leagues, that he has remained fit and available for the vast majority of his time on Tyneside. "I try not to talk about that too much!" he says hastily. "But yes, thankfully I've been feeling fit and well for a good while now. This league is such a tough competition, and you have to be as well prepared as you possibly can, both physically and mentally.

"I also try to do the right things off the field too in how I go about my own life, by ensuring that I take good care of myself. The demands of the Premier League far outweigh the demands of other leagues. The Premier League asks a lot of you, and so I just always try and give my absolute best."

The most recent transfer window brought unprecedented uncertainty for Almirón. He was repeatedly linked with a move away from the club, right up until January's final days. "With this kind of thing, I always try to just park and leave alone anything that is being spoken about outside of the club itself. I prefer to focus my whole attention on the place where I am right now, and right now I'm at Newcastle United. I have a contract here with the club and I'm very happy here too. I feel at home and happy to be in the city itself, and I feel happy and content playing for Newcastle. So right now, that is where my main focus lies."

He doesn't feel the speculation that month was destabilising. "I think as players we grow accustomed to that and those sorts of thing happening," he adds. "Like I said, I always concentrate on improving myself as a player and trying to get better with every training session so I'm able to help the team in our games. Then, if something happens, then so be it, but I just try to focus on the club and my teammates, because that is what counts the most. I can’t stress enough that I am very happy here at the club."

He is regularly cited, both privately and publicly, as someone players enjoy playing with and coaches enjoy coaching. Perhaps that feeling strengthened both the desire for him to stay and the desire for United to retain him. "I hope that they're happy with me!" Almirón laughs. "No, my teammates always show me that they are in every training session and every game - not just the lads in the squad, but also the manager and all the staff at the club. I feel that it's like my second family, and when I come here every day I feel very happy.

"I always get in here very early. Just think about it - I arrive at eight in the morning, and I set off back home around three in the afternoon. I'm happy when I get here, and I'm in a great mood as I leave too. I think that a player who feels happy at work definitely performs better on the field."

The season is still salvageable and a European place is far from out of the question. Almirón's durability and endeavour is likely to be relied upon in the campaign's closing months. "I think we all have to try hard and finish the season in the best way we can," he nods. "The aim is always to finish as high as possible in the league table. Sometimes you can't quite achieve that because football is like that. Also, there are a lot of other teams, and many of our opponents are of a very good standard.

"But I'm convinced that Newcastle can still be very much involved in the shake-up. Our squad is very strong and is very united in the cause, and so yes, I think we will have a strong finish to the season."

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