In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Miguel Almiron underlines his commitment to Newcastle; Watch Newcastle vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm
Sunday 2 May 2021 16:01, UK
"Más o menos... más o menos."
Miguel Almiron is still getting to grips with the Geordie accent, but he is more or less there. Learning English in one of the country's footballing 'firepits', as Gary Neville described Newcastle on his most recent podcast, is no easy task - especially during a year in lockdown.
"It challenges me a little but I'm learning," he tells Sky Sports when asked about his ongoing English classes. "It's a difficult language and the accent up here is a bit complicated! It's a little bit more closed but I'm learning.
"It's been a good season for me overall given the circumstances. I feel I have adapted well to a new country and a new league. Football in the Premier League and in England is very different to playing in MLS but my team-mates and the manager have helped me greatly.
"Right now, I have to keep on working hard in order to improve, but I'm very happy here in Newcastle. The truth is that when the gaffer [Steve Bruce] speaks English during training to the group, I understand him and the instructions he's getting across. But having Javier Manquillo, Federico Fernández and Joelinton as team-mates certainly helps."
Almiron is accustomed to things not being handed to him. Raised in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, the 27-year-old's journey from the dirt pitches of his San Pablo barrio to the Premier League has been intersected by various obstacles.
Almiron's formative years consisted of 5am alarm calls followed by three-hour round trips across Paraguay's bustling capital to football training before school classes.
He was rejected by Club Nacional - pronounced as too lightweight to make the professional grade - while it wasn't until he turned 17 at his hometown club Cerro Porteno where his career began to take shape - and faith has helped inspire his ascent from humble beginnings.
"When I was seven, my father took me to a school called 3 de Noviembre football club. It all started there. I honed my dribbling skills on these rock-hard pitches and that's where I thought I could pursue a career in football.
"As a kid, a ball was always by my feet. I didn't have any other passion. It was only football, and the sacrifices made have allowed me to reach where I am today.
"My family and friends have always supported me in what I've wanted to do, and this has really helped motivate me. It's true my father used to work 18 hours a day as a security guard to help support my dream of becoming a footballer. Both my mum and dad worked really hard so I didn't go without. Thanks to God, they could help me achieve my goal."
Almiron is clearly ambitious. He was recently quoted in an interview with Paraguayan radio station ABC Cardinal as saying he wanted to "play for a side that fights more", sparking further speculation about his future after his agent Daniel Campos had claimed his client was anxious to leave in the autumn.
Bruce described Campos then as a "two-bob amateur" following his comments, but the player has reiterated his desire to remain in the North-East this summer, clarifying the recent interview.
"What I was speaking about has been wrongly interpreted," he vows. "At no point was I suggesting I wanted to play for another team. As I've been saying, I'm very happy in Newcastle and all I'm thinking about is helping the team achieve its goals of improving."
The 3-2 victory over West Ham followed by the valiant point in spite of VAR at Liverpool indicates there has been a collective response over the past couple of games, irrespective of the validity of those quotes.
It has been over two years since the Magpies paid Atlanta United a then club-record £20m fee for the playmaker, finally eclipsing the £16m spent on Michael Owen in 2005.
Having featured in the MLS team of the year for the previous two seasons and scored 13 goals as Atlanta won their first MLS Cup in 2018, there was understandable expectation on Tyneside.
Against the backdrop of a failed takeover bid and the team's battle to avoid the drop this season, those expectations of Almiron are slowly being met. In a struggling side, he has shown his fighting spirit - winning possession in the attacking third more often than any other team-mate, while creating his side's most chances during the course of the league campaign.
Without a goal in his last eight appearances, however, and without an assist since the opening day of the season, the player acknowledges he must provide greater attacking output despite it not playing on his mind.
"It's not something that I think too much about," he insists. "I'm working hard to improve and the most important thing is that the team are performing well."
Almiron has worked tirelessly to put himself in a position where he could afford to buy his family a home, and so becoming accustomed to the physicality of the Premier League despite his slight frame is a comparatively minor challenge.
The forward has never forgotten his roots, citing the legendary Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert - renowned for his free-kick prowess - Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria as his footballing idols.
"They're all players I've taken inspiration from, whether that be their skills on the ball or strength of mentality. I always played with the intention of one day moving to Europe. It was always my goal when playing at Cerro Porteno and God gave me the path to Lanus [Buenos Aires-based club in Argentina's top division].
"That was a very good experience, as was my time with Atlanta. Newcastle felt like the next natural step, and I'm extremely happy here."
Almiron has taken previous setbacks in his stride. Slowly but surely, he is meeting them head on.
Listening to the player speak about his visible passion for the sport, it is impossible for it not be viewed in the context of a turbulent fortnight in which attempts were made to rip the game of its soul.
Newcastle were one of 14 Premier League clubs involved in a meeting to discuss the response to breakaway plans, amid the European Super League row. But given the club's size, its passionate support base and enviable stadium, the potential for growth and success under a heavily-invested ownership is easy to imagine.
The government's roadmap to fully lifting lockdown is on track, and the future is looking far brighter for both Newcastle and Almiron. He and his wife Alexia are expecting their first child, and the player is eager to be back playing in front of supporters at St James' Park - possibly before the end of the season.
"I've missed playing in front of the fans tremendously," Almiron says. "Hopefully with a bit of luck, they can return in some capacity for our final home game [against Sheffield United]. I'm not sure if this will 100 per cent happen but it would be amazing to have them back inside the ground as soon as possible.
"In the short term, the focus is fully on keeping Newcastle in the Premier League and finishing the season well. We want to reach as high as we can in the league and right now, I'm not looking too far beyond this."
The next challenge for the diminutive winger is to put another dent in Arsenal's troublesome domestic season. A victory over the Gunners would move Newcastle onto 39 points, all but guaranteeing their stay in the top flight.
"It's going to be a really difficult game. I know Arsenal have had problems but it'll be another hard challenge. Everyone knows the quality their squad possesses. Like always, we will focus on our own game with the intention of trying to seal a big three points."
Newcastle vs Arsenal will be shown live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.