Alexis Mac Allister was what the Argentineans call an ‘enganche’ when Gabi Di Noia first coached him.

A No.10. A playmaker. The glamour role.

Good on the ball, good attitude, strong family support.


Di Noia saw him progress as a 16-year-old in the Argentinos Juniors under-20s.

But he is a different player now as he prepares to start for Argentina in the World Cup final.

Di Noia is in Qatar with Mac Allister’s family and friends as they support him at the tournament.

Player and coach go back a long way.

Di Noia said: “I had him as a player in 2015.

“Good, very good. He was always talented. His body was quite different to today.

“He always had a very good footballing brain. His goal was to be a professional footballer.

“A lot of what he has achieved, apart from the talent he was, is down to his head.

“His desire to succeed has been fundamental.

“He will be 24 on the 24th but he has always been mature.

“He has adapted to a league which, for me and almost everybody in football, is the best in the world.

“Talking to other players who have played in the league, as a South American the first year in England is always one of adaption.

“To the climate, to the surroundings, to the football, to the rain.

“He managed to adapt in good time for a young boy.

“His partner has been there with him. His parents have been there.

“He is very much a family man and is also surrounded by a few friends who have been with him for a long time.

“That again says a lot about his personality.

“He’s a boy to whom a lot has happened in the last couple of years but, as we say here, he is still walking with his own people.”

Di Noia worked in Ecuador as caretaker boss at LDU Quito so is intrigued to see the midfield combination of Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo.

He believes, if anything, Mac Allister is ahead of his colleague in terms of understanding what the Prem demands.

He added: “For us, English football is very dynamic, the ball moves quickly.

“But Alexis is a player who has been an offensive midfielder and now it seems like he has played his current role all his life.

“This season, with Caicedo and the South American understanding they have, winning the ball quickly and using it really quickly has suited him very well.

“With me, Alexis had always been what we call an enganche.

“A creative midfielder. The famous No.10.

“Take charge of the ball, bring some art to the game.

“I had a year with him and it was like the year when he took off.

“He was called into our under-23s, which is like the reserve team.

“And from there he went straight into the senior team and never came back down again.

“Alexis played as a ten but as time has gone by, football has demanded more of that role.

“Before, they had more freedom. They didn’t mark, didn’t have to run.

“But I think in this year and when he went into first team, playing a 4-3-3, he became a more professional player.

“He realised football would demand of him something more than the talent he had.

“Another attribute he has was he always wanted to play.

“He got annoyed when he didn’t play or I substituted him.

“He was responsible about it, he wasn’t ill-mannered.

“He always had a strong personality but never crossing the boundaries.

“His great secret is when he has been asked to play in a certain place, he never complains.

“He says, ‘I’ll play there and I’ll do my best to do what they ask me’.

“That us why he is playing for Argentina.

“He is a player who has become very important to this Argentina team.

“He gives a breath of air to this midfield which others don’t.”

Di Noia knows Mac Allister was frustrated with a lack of game time initially in England but he felt the player tackled it in the correct manner.

He said: “He did it without saying anything.

"For sure he makes it clear when he isn’t happy - you see it in his face.

“He went there on a contract for so many years and it was to play but he wasn’t. He has cleared that hurdle now.

“He has prepared himself for this.

“It’s no accident what is happening to him now.

“Often in football you need luck, that’s true, you need something to go for you at a certain moment.

“But for me things don’t happen by accident.

“He has had tough moments.

“In the year I had him, which was his big leap, he hadn’t been a player who the club used a lot.

“Everyone knew he was from a footballing family, that he had something, but he wasn’t playing much.

“That year he took charge of the team and in two years he was already starting for the senior team.

“Everything then happened to him. He had his time at Boca.”

Di Noia believes fans in Argentina found it tough to fathom a player leaving thee famous Boca Juniors for unknown Brighton.

But he said: “He has conquered the attention of lots of English people.

“I’m happy to be here in Qatar and I hope I’ve accompanied him in the best way.

“For an Argentinean, it’s not easy to play in the national team, especially in a World Cup when the people demand you win.

“He wasn’t an unknown but people didn’t know him so well.

“Now no one doubts he should be in the XI.”