History maker, world champion, Brighton player

The first World Cup I remember was the 1978 tournament in Argentina. Like Qatar, it has been the subject of enormous criticism and controversy. The reason for this was the actions of the military dictatorship which had seized power in Argentina four years earlier and which four years later would go to war with Britain over the Falklands.

None of this really registered with me and my fellow 10 and 11 year olds exchanging Panini stickers in a sunny playground in June, marveling at the exotic hairstyles and mustaches of gamers around the world… and d ‘Scotland.

England had again failed to qualify, and with the exception of Archie Gemmill and Kenny Dalgleish, our domestic league was unrepresented.

For us, the triumph of 1966 and the heartbreak of 1970 were not part of our lived experience. The “years of suffering” were firmly ahead of us.

1978 was a tournament halfway around the world, played in huge stadium bowls where cascades of confetti and streamers rained down two or three tiers.

Even in the background of the crackling commentary from the phone line, the noise from the Argentine fans was otherworldly. The atmosphere and the passion for football are something else entirely.

It was about as far as you could get from the three hangars and a Goldstone Ground terrace. 1978 was of course the summer before the season Brighton would gain promotion to the First Division.

But even with Alan Mullery and his Seagulls poised to soar to heights never seen before, this World Cup in Argentina, featuring Kempes and Passarella, Van De Kerkhof and Rummenigge, Rossi and Zico, was incredibly glamorous, foreign and distant.

One of those Argentine medalists, Osvaldo Ardiles, along with compatriot Ricardo Villa, would be among the first to play in the English top flight the following season with Spurs.

It would be over a decade before such players were commonplace in what became the Premier League. Five years after Argentina 1978, Albion’s legendary FA Cup final squad had no players who were not from the UK or Ireland. Surprisingly for the modern fan, even Manchester United have only fielded one, Dutchman Arnold Muhren.

Much has been said about what Albion fans who lived through the club’s two-decade decline and near-demise would have made of where we are now.

Comfortably in the Premier League’s top 10, an exciting Italian coach, a recruitment system that is the envy not only of the ‘Big Six’ but also of Champions League sides across Europe.

And an incredible number of eight players at the World Cup, a number greater than that sent by Liverpool. It could have been more if Jakob Moder had been fit, or if Hansi Flick had had the good sense to bring in Pascal Gross. And of course if Lewis Dunk had traveled with the England team.

As I wrote two weeks ago at the end of the group stages, Kaoru Mitoma, Moises Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan and the others have made their mark on the world stage.

They will have added several tens of millions of pounds to their value and possibly hundreds of millions to the overall value of Brighton’s current squad.

Today, Alexis Mac Allister wrote club history as the first Brighton and Hove Albion player to not only make a tournament final but return with a World Cup winner’s medal.

A commentator said he was in a privileged position to succeed team-mate and captain Lionel Messi – now arguably the greatest player of all time – as the holder of Argentina’s legendary number 10 shirt.

Mac Allister’s recently extended contract may not be an obstacle to a departure at the end of the season and Moises Caicedo may not be around for very long either. Liverpool, Chelsea or Newcastle will continue to turn like sharks.

As we’ve seen, new rising stars are always in the sights of Albion’s much-admired scouting and back office teams.

This World Cup will have made the Amex an even more attractive destination for young players from countries in South America, Africa, Europe and the Far East.

If we can keep our World Cup stars through the January window, the possibilities are exciting because if an Albion player can win the World Cup, suddenly everything seems plausible.

Qualification for the Europa or the Champions League could, should be, within our reach. All beyond the wildest and wildest dreams of those kids swapping Argentina 78 stickers 45 years ago.

But first, let’s all savor this moment as World Cup winner Alexis MacAllister steps onto the Amex pitch on his return. History maker, world champion footballer, Brighton and Hove Albion player.

Warren Morgan @WarrenBHAFC

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