Argentina have reached a World Cup final again, and after their 3-0 performance against Croatia, there is cause to confidently claim that this could be the La Albiceleste’s year.
In Lionel Messi’s final shot at glory, his potential final showpiece at matching the glorious heights that Diego Maradona reached with his solo highlight reels in 1986. It may well be the year Lionel Messi finally places his name amongst the likes of Pele and Maradona on the international stage.
Yet again, the Paris Saint-Germain veteran exerted the character and leadership to drag his country into the promised land. The 35-year-old showed his ruthless streak against Netherlands in the quarter-finals, but against Croatia, Argentina’s main man purred, taking on one of the tournament’s best defenders with a solo run that could live long in the memory.
While Messi laps all the praise for this Argentina team. It’s safe to say that he is finally working within a tactical framework and team that allows him to not only express his glorious self, but also operate and bounce off many of Lionel Scaloni’s midfield enforcers.
Rodrigo de Paul and arguably the breakout midfielder of the tournament Enzo Fernandez have brilliantly and successfully provided Messi with the platform to thrive.
But one player nonchalantly sharing the creative burden with arguably the greatest footballers on the planet, and more crucially highly-rated by the man himself is Alexis Mac Allister. In Argentina’s quest for world domination, the Brighton & Hove Albion playmaker has become the vital and influential cog in Scaloni’s midfield-heavy system.
We get to watch him play like that every week, but seeing Alexis Mac Allister showcase his talent in a World Cup semi final, and hearing him get the praise he’s had in this tournament is so deserved. Brighton and Hove Albion have a World Cup finalist 🙌🏽 #bhafc
— Jules Breach (@julesbreach) December 13, 2022
While Fernandez & De Paul provide all the dog work, battling hard off the ball, in the counter-press, it’s Mac Allister the one picking off the key passes, knitting and orchestrating La Albiceleste’s possession in altogether in perfect harmony.
However, that isn’t to say Mac Allister isn’t battling hard off the ball. He is, but because of his metronomic presence and gifts in possession and in the final third, you rarely see him involved in the defensive phase. He’s a silent killer, a player who doesn’t mind the praise and adulation going to his teammates. It’s how he operates at club level, but more so on the international stage.
Family Humble Beginnings
It’s a testament to his humble beginnings.
Born in the Argentinian city of Santa Rosa in 1998 before moving to Buenos Aires as a teenager to develop his footballing career. His rise to stardom at the international level has instantly led to a curious look into his family line – based on his stylish and eye-catching surname. The links to both Ireland & Scotland stem from his ancestors hailing from Fife in Eastern Scotland and Dublin, stretching back to the 1800s.
His father Carlos Mac Allister back in the 80s and 90s, had the grace of playing alongside the late great Diego Maradona, the full 180 minutes as Argentina triumphed 2-1 on aggregate in a 1993 play-off to qualify for the World Cup the following year. He, unfortunately, wasn’t selected for the finals in 1994 by coach Alfio Basile who went on to resign after Maradona’s drug scandal.
28 years later, it’s his son who could go on to fulfil and achieve the World Cup dream his father sorely missed out on.
The 23-year-old emerged through the ranks at the Argentinos Junior youth team, following the example of his two older brothers, before making his senior debut for the Buenos Aires-based club in 2016. Mac Allister went on to play a key role in their promotion from the Argentinian second tier into the Argentine Primera Division in his debut campaign in 2016/17. It’s wild to think, four years ago, Mac Allister was barely making a name for himself back in his homeland.
After one season in the top flight in Argentina, he would then join Brighton for a meagre £6.8m in January 2019, with former boss Graham Potter admitting that he had been tracking the midfielder for months. So, had Potter not been tracking him then, Mac Allister may not be where he is today.
How his career has knitted together is a footballing fairytale story. From humble beginnings in Argentina to coming within a victory of lifting the most prized possession in football four years later.
Progress in East Sussex
It’s his progress at Brighton, that has somewhat led him to this moment. When he joined in 2019, he didn’t even make his debut until over a year later, having been sent back to Argentina for loan spells with Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors. The 23-year-old’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of sensational – only becoming a fully-fledged Brighton starter midway through the last term where he went onto feature in 33 of Brighton’s 38 games Premier League games as the Seagulls finished in ninth-place in the top-flight.
It’s this campaign, where his career in England has fully taken off, contributing five goals before the World Cup break in 1,257 minutes of football and creating 13 chances for his teammates.
If you’d held the perceived notion that Mac Allister is only an out-right attacking midfielder, you’re wrong. The 23-year-old is incredibly versatile, and his craft and unerring gifts have truly come to the fore this season, playing a deep-lying no.6 role for Roberto De Zerbi, alongside fellow footballing wonderkid Moises Caicedo. He’s extremely hard-working from a defensive standpoint – only Declan Rice and Rodri have won back possession in the middle third of the pitch on more occasions than Mac Allister (68) in the Premier League and the Argentine ranks fifth in the division for tackles won (27).
De Zerbi has provided Mac Allister with tremendous faith and belief since the Italian’s appointment in November, taking on the responsibilities to kick-start Brighton’s attacks from deep, progressing the play through various passing means, slow and measured build-up or quick and incisive line-breaking passes into the final third.
He’s made the sixth most passes in the top flight (738), and is excelling in his deep-lying role to superb effect, catching the eye in metrics typical of his deeper role – recording on average 3.1 tackles – the joint ninth-most in the division – 1.4 interceptions and winning 5.8 duels – at a success rate of 59% – as well as enjoying on average 72.9 touches, performing 2.2 long balls and completing 51.1 passes – at a success rate of 89% – per fixture.
2022 World Cup breakthrough
Mac Allister is quite easily De Zerbi’s best performer but he’s carried that tremendous form right into the World Cup in Qatar, and that’s despite not starting Argentina’s opening game defeat to Saudi Arabia – says a lot about his qualities, that.
The 23-year-old benefitted from Scaloni’s midfield reshuffle, starting Argentina’s two 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland, and he hasn’t looked back since playing a key role against Lewandowski and co. scoring to aid Argentina’s surge from the group stage. But all of his exploits haven’t come in the deep-lying role he plays for Brighton, but he’s much more involved in the final third, alongside the creative genius of Lionel Messi.
In the image below, during Argentina’s rampant 3-0 semi-final win, he’s seen at the tip of a fluid and assured midfield diamond, with Scaloni deploying a midfield-heavy system to counter the threat of Croatia’s influential midfield trident of Modric, Kovacic and Brozovic:
And against such a prestigious midfield, Mac Allister excelled once again. Not only disrupting their flow out of possession, but picking up dangerous pockets in between Croatia’s midfield and defence to link up with Alvarez and Messi.
Amongst Scaloni’s squad at the World Cup, the 23-year-old ranks joint-second behind Lionel Messi for key passes (7), fifth for progressive passes (14) and fifth for shot-creating actions (12). He also ranks fifth in the squad for tackles won (4) and third for tackles in the midfield third (4) suggesting that Mac Allister has indeed shown the completeness in midfield that makes him Brighton’s most influential component and one which is exceeding expectations in a star-studded Argentina squad.
Such performances at football’s grandest stage will only heighten the demand for the talented midfielder’s services in the near future. Brighton & Hove Albion will most certainly make a huge profit on a player who could well cost in the range of £50m-£60m when he eventually seeks pastures new. Alexis Mac Allister is destined for greatness. For now, he’ll be aiming to reach just that at the international stage for his country on Sunday.
Quiet down all the Messi adulation, it’s not all about him. Mac Allister deserves his flowers too.