TOLexis Mac Allister is struggling to finish her sentence. The idea of wearing Argentina’s No. 10 jersey is so absurd as to leave the Brighton midfielder in a fit of laughter. The 22-year-old is the latest in a long line of Argentine playmakers, but he’s unwilling to let his ego get the better of him. “I could use the number 10 in the U23,” he says. “But I don’t want to use it in the first team. Hopefully Messi wears that number for a long time ”.
It’s an answer that sums up Mac Allister’s love for soccer. It is about a player who came on loan to Boca Juniors in 2019 because “my heart told me I had to do it.” There is an innocence in Mac Allister, who felt shy when he met Lionel Messi on international duty, and a romanticism in the way he puffs out his cheeks when he remembers playing at La Bombonera, Boca’s atmospheric field.
Mac Allister, who has impressed Brighton in recent weeks, takes a sip from a cup of mate. “Maybe it’s a bit strange for another country,” he says. “But we drink a lot in Argentina. I drink it every day. I always try to keep my roots, with mate or Argentine TV. It doesn’t have to be summer to have a barbecue. I did it two weeks ago when we almost had snow ”.
Mac Allister has brought an Argentine touch to Brighton, who signed him from Argentinos Juniors in January 2019. His adaptation to English football was challenging, however. Unable to get a work permit, he returned on loan to Argentinos Juniors before a brief stint in Boca and had to wait a year before arriving in England. He made his Premier League debut against Wolves on March 7, just before the pandemic plunged Britain into lockdown and caused the season to be suspended.
“My mother came with another friend and they couldn’t go back to Argentina,” says Mac Allister. “They stayed maybe two months. It was difficult, I wanted to play. I couldn’t play with the fans in the stadium; maybe he couldn’t feel English football. English football is with the fans. Mentally it was difficult, I couldn’t train, but I’m happy to be here. I love the city. My girlfriend loves it too. “
Mac Allister watched the Premier League growing up in Buenos Aires, focusing on Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero at Manchester City. “I knew the hardest part to adapt would be physically,” he says. “That was my concern. I tried to improve my English and then my physique. Not many players came directly from Argentina to England. The difference was there, I felt it. “
It hasn’t been easy for Mac Allister, who was substituted at halftime during Brighton’s loss at West Brom last Saturday. Although it helped Brighton avoid relegation after Project Restart, this season got off to a slow start. He contracted Covid-19 in November and was not a regular on the team. He scored a last-minute draw against Crystal Palace, but Mac Allister considered another loan before getting a chance in a loss to Manchester City in January. “The gaffer [Graham Potter] trust me, ”says Mac Allister. “I feel happy because I am playing more.”
Soccer is in Mac Allister’s blood. His father, Carlos, was a left back who lined up alongside Diego Maradona for Argentina; his uncle Patricio played professionally; and his brothers, Francis and Kevin, play for Talleres and Argentinos Juniors respectively.
Mac Allister’s father even asked him and his brothers to help him with the scan reports. “He was an agent a few years ago,” he says. “He used to give us paper and we would write down how many passes or shots or crosses a player has made. My uncle and my father are always trying to give us experience ”.
Mac Allister, who could represent Argentina in the Copa América and the Olympics this summer, had a ball from a young age. When he was five years old, he went with his brothers to the Club Social Parque, a famous academy in Buenos Aires. “A lot of players played there,” he says. “Tevez, Esteban Cambiasso, Juan Román Riquelme. I was a child but I learned a lot.
“We train twice a week and they gave us a love for soccer. The difference is not in thinking about money. There are parents who just want their child to play for money. That’s not good. When you grow up it may be normal because it is a job. You play for money and it’s okay. But the most important thing is to enjoy football.
“That is the beginning. So every day you train technically. You play on a small field, five against five. So physically you can improve. When you have the technical skills of childhood, you can do whatever you want. “
Mac Allister matured after temporarily moving to Boca, playing well enough that the team he supported as a child caught the attention of Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni, who called him in August 2019. Boca loved Mac Allister, whose ancestors came to Argentina from Ireland. He played alongside Tevez, who spoke to him about English football, and scored in his debut against Atlético Paranaense in the Copa Libertadores. But disappointment struck when Boca lost in the semifinals to River Plate, their biggest rival. “Boca-River is like the end of the world,” says Mac Allister. “If you lose, you are the worst. If you win, you are the best. “
Mac Allister, born in La Pampa, has not experienced a similar environment in England. However, he did taste defeat in the derby when Brighton lost to the Palace last week. Brighton had all the ball but their finishing is poor and they are four points above their last three before hosting Leicester on Saturday. “Two counterattacks and they score twice,” he says. “We are confident in the way we play, but we have to improve.”
Trust in Potter is key. “He’s very talented,” says Mac Allister. “We are in a bad position, but this is the way to achieve great things.”
Mac Allister is ready to dump. He was kicked as a teenager in Argentinos Junior and responded by helping them win promotion to the top flight. Now under pressure to help Brighton survive, think about the spirit of Tevez. “He has a great connection with the Argentines because he plays with his heart,” says Mac Allister. “He came from a poor area and achieved many things. He is an example for all the players ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism