Atlanta United star Thiago Almada headed to Botafogo in record deal – Soon to Olympique Lyon?

Atlanta United star  

Atlanta United star Thiago Almada headed to Botafogo in record deal - Soon to Olympique Lyon?

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Thiago Almada is set to join Botafogo from Major League Soccer side Atlanta United. On Thursday, the Argentine World Cup winner was spotted in Brazil, taking pictures with Botafogo fans at Rio de Janeiro’s airport. For Almada, the transfer to Botafogo will just be a stepping stone. Officially signed by the Eagle Group in a deal worth $21 million plus $9 million in bonuses (€19.5m plus €7.5m), Almada is expected to play in Brazil until January and then join Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon. For now, Almada has become the most expensive signing in Botafogo’s history

In its entirety, the package for Almada represents the €27m market value of the 23-year-old attacking midfielder. In Almada, the Eagle Group have signed the second most valuable player in MLS. Only Lionel Messi, with a market value of €30m, ranks ahead of his compatriot. The transfer fee too is significant. Without bonuses, Almada becomes the second most expensive outgoing transfer in MLS history after former Atlanta United star Miguel Almirón. Almirón was sold for €24m to Newcastle United in 2019 but could lose his status as the MLS’s record sale once Almada hits his bonuses (overview).

Although MLS was always going to be an in-between step for Almada, it is still a significant loss for Atlanta United despite the significant transfer fee. After all, Almada scored 26 goals and 24 assists in 86 games across all competitions for the Five Stripes. The Argentine also became the league’s first World Cup winner in 2022. Even though his productivity slipped a bit this season, Almada is still one of the most exciting players in the league. A classic playmaker, Almada has one of the best shots in MLS, and his free-kick ability has resulted in countless highlight-reel goals. “For me, my main idol was always Riquelme,” Almada said in an interview with Transfermarkt in March. 

Thiago Almada: What can we expect from the Botafogo move? 

With that in mind, the expectations were that Almada would be headed to Europe sooner rather than later. Indeed, several clubs have shown interest. Atlético Madrid, Ajax, and VfB Stuttgart were all linked with the 23-year-old. Instead, Almada is now headed to Brazil. It is an odd move, even if there is a prospect of Almada quickly moving on to one of the bigger European clubs owned by the Eagle Group: Olympique Lyon or Crystal Palace

Owned by American businessman John Textor, Botafogo have made a significant step forward in its development. “He has definitely moved the club up a shelf,” Area Manager Brazil Marcos Watts said. “Less than two seasons after being promoted to Série A, they were one of the title contenders last season. Even though they bottled what could have been the easiest title in Brazilian history, their progress up the league standings is still notable. This year, they are again fighting for one of the top spots.” Indeed, after finishing fifth last year, six points off title winners Palmeiras, Botafogo are currently second in the league, just three points behind Flamengo (overview).

Despite the progress, Textor’s activities have also been seen critically in Brazil. “Marketwise, they had some good and very strange moments,” Watts said. “With loads of players being signed from other Eagle Group clubs and some being signed with the promise to join a ‘bigger’ club owned by the company in Europe, which also seems to be the case with Almada. If that’s positive for the club, I’m not sure. Suppose you look at it from the angle that, in theory, every club in America is a ‘shopping window’ for European clubs. In that case, it’s great because more players will be interested in joining Botafogo, knowing that they’re almost guaranteed a place in a European club. But on the other hand, what that means from the club/brand perspective might be a bit off-putting for locals.” Either way, Almada has gotten his big-money move; whether it will lead to a big career in Europe remains to be seen. 

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