The curious case of Brighton and Hove Albion, Boca Juniors and Alexis Mac Allister
By Derren Howard
Alexis Mac Allister is a player Brighton and Hove Albion own but it seems one they cannot have - not yet at least.
Brighton signed the attacking midfielder for around £7m in January 2019 on a four-and-a-half-year contract, fully aware he didn't have a work permit to play in the Premier League.
The 21-year-old of Scottish heritage has since made his debut for Argentina but has yet to be seen in the blue and white of Albion.
After joining Brighton from Argentinos Juniors, he immediately returned to the Buenos Aires club on loan and scored twice in his 10 appearances.
He then teamed up with cross-city rivals Boca Juniors where his performances in the Superliga impressed Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni.
He was called-up by the senior team for the first time in August 2019 and made his international debut in the 0-0 draw against Chile at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, replacing Paulo Dybala of Juventus in the second half.
Mac Allister has also featured in Argentina under-23's recent Olympic qualifiers. He had an eventful match against Columbia's youngsters where he scored and was then sent-off in the 2-1 victory.
Mac Allister displayed the range of his talent as he equalised with an excellent free kick and then laid on the winner for striker Adolfo Gaich with a clever back-heel.
He played his preferred No 10 role against Ecuador last Monday and netted a first half winner for the pre-Olympic Tournament Group A leaders.
He is not the next Lionel Messi (who can be?) but many in his home country feel he is well worthy of the coveted Argentina No 10 shirt.
Mac Allister's profile continues to increase in South America and Brighton's recent poor run in the Premier League highlighted the need for reinforcements to Graham Potter's first team squad.
He is an attacking central midfielder by nature but Argentina have also used him wide left and right. He is slight of build, not the fastest but has an excellent range of passing and constantly looks to sneak away from defenders and arrive in the box.
The prospect of him linking with Brighton's other young and creative midfielders, Steven Alzate and Leandro Trossard, is quite a tantalising one.
The Seagulls were originally happy for their man to remain in the Argentinian capital until the end of season and then take stock.
However, the club finally secured a work permit for the player born in La Pampa, and a representative from Albion was in Buenos Aires last week, increasing speculation he could team up with Brighton for the remainder of their Premier League campaign.
It was also reported in Argentina that Brighton offered €500,000 (£422,000) in an attempt to force through an early release of the loan deal at Boca Juniors.
Boca, who are second in the Supaliga behind leaders River Plate, changed their head coach recently. Mac Allister is hugely popular with the home supporters but Albion officials will be eager to see what role their asset will play under Miguel Angel Russo, a vastly experienced manager and former Argentina international midfielder.
One man determined to keep Mac Allister is the Boca Juniors president Jorge Amor Ameal. “He will keep playing until June," said the president, who is under great pressure from fans to sign players, not let them go. "Then we will speak to people from the English team, who were at our match on Sunday at La Bombonera. This has all got to happen.”
Ameal later claimed that talks could also result in the player remaining in Buenos Aires after June. “We currently have people meeting with Brighton’s emissary and there is a possibility that Alexis will stay after June,” he said in an interview this week with TyC Sports.
Being tipped as Argentina's next No 10 could be a blessing and a curse but it has certainly alerted many clubs around Europe of his potential.
Brighton saw his talent last year and were swift to back their judgement with £7m. The club would clearly like a return on their investment, be that on the pitch in the Premier League or a sizeable bid from Boca or elsewhere.
Many fans hope to witness the skills currently lighting up the La Bombonera at close quarters very shortly