As the transfer window opens, Brighton and Hove Albion are as confident as can be that World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister will still be their player at the end of January.
Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are said to be interested in the Argentina midfielder, who will fly back to England on Monday.
He could feature for Tuesday night’s trip to Everton if head coach Roberto De Zerbi decides he is ready.
Speculation over the 24-year-old’s future has been rife during the break Brighton gave him to enjoy the celebrations in Buenos Aires and back home in Santa Rosa after Argentina’s win over Qatar.
Mac Allister got two weeks off. He was not due to return until Saturday’s FA Cup third-round visit to Middlesbrough but will return earlier, such is his eagerness to resume action with Brighton and catch up with his team-mates.
Brighton will be equally happy to have him back. He was sorely missed along with his suspended midfield partner Moises Caicedo in Saturday night’s 4-2 defeat to Arsenal.
The club are not surprised by the level of reported interest in Mac Allister, but they question the credibility of those reports and the likelihood that many of them are driven by agents jumping on the bandwagon.
They are used to the ‘noise’ around their star names – Caicedo, Leandro Trossard, Robert Sanchez and now Mac Allister after his forays on the biggest international stage.
They don’t treat it seriously until there is direct contact from the club. At the time of writing, there has been no such connection with Mac Allister or anyone else.
The new deal, shrewdly negotiated by the club with Mac Allister and his representatives four weeks before the World Cup, is not believed to contain a release clause until June 2025, when Brighton have a one-year option.
Effectively putting a price on the player’s head is not how they routinely conduct their business.
Argentina’s success in Qatar and Mac Allister’s central role in it have raised his value to a new level. Even if a club or clubs do come forward, it will take an eye-catching offer – more than what he will attract in the summer – for Brighton to even consider losing him midway through promising seasons for De Zerbi’s side. time to sign a suitable replacement.
Brighton’s hardball reputation was cemented when Manchester City made what owner-chairman Tony Bloom and his management team saw as an insulting £30m bid for Marc Cucurella in the summer.
The Spanish defender was sold to Chelsea for a fee that could rise to more than £60m.
What is the World Cup winner’s fee? It’s hard to measure. There is no specific formula, but Brighton takes a number of factors into account.
Cucurella did not make the Spanish World Cup team. Not only is Mac Allister a World Cup winner, he played a significant role after Lionel Scaloni left him out of Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 defeat in Argentina’s opener.
He started the remaining six games on Argentina’s road to glory. He scored for his country for the first time in the group stage victory over Poland, which sealed a place in the last 16, and produced a number of impressive performances, embellished by the way he regularly linked up the play with Lionel Messi.
His contribution reached a crescendo in the final against France when he set up Argentina’s memorable second goal, scored by Angel Di Maria, and with an outstanding all-round display. Only six members of Scaloni’s squad in Qatar played more games than Mac Allister, who amassed 550 minutes.
Another factor in assessing her value to potential suitors is her versatility. Scaloni used him in Argentina as an advanced midfielder, often drifting in from the left to link up with Messi.
Since making the first of 86 appearances, including 13 goals, at Brighton in March 2020, he has played in a number of midfield positions.
Under both Graham Potter and now De Zerbi this season, Mac Allister has created an elegant double pivot in the middle of the park with Ecuadorian Caicedo.
Arsenal were lucky in that sense to face Brighton without both players following their fifth booking of the season and the accompanying one-match suspension for Caicedo in the closing stages of Southampton’s Boxing Day clash.
Pascal Gross and Billy Gilmour, making his full league debut for the club, did their best to plug the gaping hole. They don’t have the same chemistry or combination of slick passing, pace and athleticism that the South American pair offer, although De Zerbi understandably played down their absence.
“It wouldn’t be right to talk about (the missing) Mac Allister and Caicedo,” he said. “People know their quality but Gilmour played a fantastic game and Pascal the same.”
Mac Allister’s humility, longevity with Brighton and his deep-seated appreciation of the club’s development are other factors that set him apart from the circumstances surrounding Cucurella’s sale. Interest from elsewhere arose quickly after one season.
Knowing the traits of his character, Brighton does not expect Mac Allister to be agitated.
All the club’s big sales have been made during the summer windows, when there is more time to plan – Cucurella, Yves Bissouma to Tottenham, Ben White to Arsenal.
They can never say never, but there’s every chance they, his teammates and supporters will be able to enjoy the technical gifts of their World Cup winner for at least the rest of the season.
(Top photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)