It was a welcome home befitting a world champion. Having landed from Buenos Aires at London Heathrow at 7.30am on Monday, Alexis Mac Allister walked back into Brighton‘s training ground at 10am to cheering colleagues and two confetti cannons spraying blue, white and gold.
‘It’s not as heavy as the real one,’ said Mac Allister after lifting a replica World Cup trophy bought by his proud Premier League club, who also draped the entranceway in Argentina flags.
Mac Allister looked awkward at first, as if embarrassed that this had all been arranged for his return as he embraced his Brighton team-mates. But the 24-year-old midfielder from Santa Rosa will need to get used to it. Everyone wants to shake the hand of a World Cup winner.
Alexis Mac Allister was a key part of Argentina’s recent World Cup victory in Qatar
He smiled sheepishly when asked by Sportsmail if he likes all the attention. ‘Not really, I’m a shy guy,’ replied Mac Allister. ‘I don’t like to be in the centre.
‘In Argentina I couldn’t go out. The people were crazy, ringing the doorbell at my house. There were some moments when I signed some shirts but I couldn’t go out every five minutes!
‘I cannot believe I won the World Cup. It was mad, that day and the day we went out in Buenos Aires, five million people in the streets, 36 degrees (97°F). We got emotional, of course.
‘Even one month before the World Cup I didn’t know if I was going or not. But I will keep it in my mind for ever. I’ve got my shirt, the medal, a replica of the World Cup. Not many lift that cup. It was really nice and heavy!’
He has admitted to not knowing if he would be at the tournament a month before it started
Mac Allister has not watched the final – one of the greatest ever as Argentina drew 3-3 with France before winning 4-2 on penalties – but promises he will over the coming days.
He is humble when asked about his assist for Angel di Maria, which Mail on Sunday chief sports writer Oliver Holt this week compared to Pele’s pass for Carlos Alberto’s goal in the 1970 World Cup final.
‘It was a very good ball but Angel did 90 per cent of the goal,’ Mac Allister said modestly.
There was no tension on the day, either. ‘I didn’t feel pressure,’ he explained. ‘I didn’t feel nervous. The day of the final I slept two hours of siesta. We knew it was maybe going to be the best day of our lives and it was.’ The reason Mac Allister was back at Brighton’s training ground on Monday, straight after a 14-hour flight, was not for this warm welcome.
He claims he did not ‘feel pressure’ or ‘nerves’ on the day of the World Cup final
It was because he told manager Roberto De Zerbi he wanted to train so he can face Everton at Goodison on Tuesday night, the ground where he scored twice in a 3-2 Premier League win last season.
‘Roberto knows I want to play,’ said Mac Allister. ‘But he has to decide. The most important thing is I’m here. I’m ready to play.’
De Zerbi had two questions for Mac Allister when they met for the first time on Monday. The first was: ‘Why didn’t you take a penalty in the quarter-final shootout against Holland?’ The second was: ‘What is your best position on the pitch?’
Brighton know there will be attention on Mac Allister from Premier League rivals. There is already talk of Graham Potter’s Chelsea lining him up as an alternative to Enzo Fernandez if the Benfica midfielder is too expensive.
Mac Allister is now back at Brightin, a club he is ‘focused on’ and ‘happy’ to be at
Yet Brighton had the foresight to tie their Argentine down to a new long-term deal a month before the World Cup. That contract lasts until 2025 with the option of another year. Chelsea would have to spend a considerable sum – similar to the £60million they paid Brighton for Marc Cucurella – to get Mac Allister in this transfer window.
Even so, De Zerbi sounded resigned to losing Mac Allister on Monday, but urged him to stay until at least the end of the season.
‘I am happy if he wants to stay with us until the end of the season and I think it is better for him,’ said De Zerbi. ‘For us, for sure, but also for him because in this moment changing team in January can be a problem.
‘To start again after you won the World Cup is not so easy. The last game he played was the final of the World Cup. For him, Brighton is his home and to play another six months at home is very important for him.’
‘I’m focused on Brighton,’ said Mac Allister. ‘They know how grateful I am and I don’t have any rush to leave. I’m really happy here. I enjoy every day. It will be an important achievement if we can get into Europe.
He received a Happy New Year message from his legendary Argentine teammate Lionel Messi
‘The staff, team-mates, everyone at the club helped me to be a better player. When I was not playing I was a bit p***** off but then I understood I had to help my team-mates as well.
‘This club gave me the opportunity to improve my game. I am really grateful.’
Mac Allister received a message from Lionel Messi on Sunday, thanking him for everything and wishing him a Happy New Year.
And Brighton’s No 10 hopes Argentina’s No 10 does not follow through on his previous promise to retire. ‘We don’t want that,’ he said. ‘He knows it.’
With that, Brighton’s shy, smiling, super World Cup winner has to go. Even after a long day which started in Buenos Aires, Mac Allister is ready for his next journey – to Everton.