Thiago Alcantara is one of the most talked about young players in football right now. A few months ago, his name was mentioned sparingly but since he captained the Spanish U21s to European success, nobody can stop talking about him.
He has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United and a move to Old Trafford has been installed as his likely destination if he is to leave Barcelona this summer.
But how good is Thiago? Let's find out a little bit more about the 22-year-old midfielder.
Who is he?
Although Thiago is a Spanish international, he was born in Italy to 1994 Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho. Growing up watching his dad winning World Cups, he learnt the footballing trade easily and at the early age of five, Alcantara was signed up by the lower levels of Flamengo.
He spent a year developing his natural football talents in Italy before he and his father moved to Spain where he played with Ureca. He was at the Galician club for five years before Kelme CF snapped him up as his father played for Elche CF.
After five years in Spain, Thiago moved back to Flamengo aged just ten and his second stint at the club grabbed the attention of Barcelona. By the age of 14, he was a member of the their famous youth academy La Masia.
Thiago developed massively at La Masia for his first few years and earned a call up to the Barcelona B team in the 2008/09 season, making 25 appearances. Following that, he made another 34 appearances in two seasons.
Pep Guardiola was impressed by the player he’d once coached in the Barcelona B team and gave Alcantara his first senior appearance on 17 May 2009. He replaced Eidur Gudjohnsen in a 2-1 loss away against Mallorca.
By this point, Thiago had been labelled as one to look out for yet he had to wait for his chance to showcase his talent with the senior side.
When the 2010-11 season had come to a close, Pep Guardiola had named Thiago in his match day squad 23 times in La Liga. He’d scored his first senior goal in a 4-0 thrashing of Racing de Santander and started six games for the La Liga Champions at just 20.
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Pep Guardiola often showed faith in the young players from La Masia in his time at Barcelona and now he has departed, you realise his importance to the make-up of Barcelona was, from the ground up.
The classic case of Guardiola and Barcelona is Lionel Messi. He had the natural talent and Guardiola not only spotted that but believed in him and was willing to risk his job to play the Argentinian as an 18-year-old despite his medical complications.
It’s the same case with Thiago now. He was given a huge confidence boost being named in the match day squad. Thiago has been given his opportunities and at 22, he already looks like an established star because he was given them at such a young age.
Style of play
Thiago took the European U21 Championships by storm. After seeing him in a few matches, it was obvious that he was world class. He was stylish. He cantered around the pitch like it was his own. He was the artist, the pitch was his easel.
He knew when and where each pass was going before he even had the ball at his feet and combined with seemingly endless levels of stamina, he was indomitable and spearheaded Spain's successes.
As with all Barcelona players of the current day and age, he is eager to bring the ball forward as much as possible and although Barcelona are one the best teams in the world, Thiago stands out like a beacon. He plays just in front of the defensive midfielder and adapts his role to wherever he needs to be, and that versatility is a trait that would make him so deadly at United.
There were a few things you instantly notice about Thiago’s style of play. There are the one’s that the statistics show (like the 93% accuracy of his passing in the final).
However, he adds a lot more to the game than that. He is a composed midfielder who isn’t scared of receiving the ball. He can control the ball with such ease with both feet, it’s brilliant to watch. His calmness on the ball is much like Xavi and Iniesta.
As football fans, what excites us is the goals and Thiago isn’t just the silent midfielder making the sly pass for someone else to score. When he hasn’t got possession of the ball, he’s making the run into the box waiting to pounce.
In the final of the U-21 European Championships, his text book hat-trick epitomised that. A header, left foot goal and penalty. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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The end of the season has passed and it wouldn’t be a footballing summer without all of the world’s top players, young and old, being linked with all the top clubs in the world.
It’s been Thiago’s turn this year with the Spaniard being heavily linked to United. He has a release clause of a fee of around £15 million until July 31 and should United activate it, it will be down to him.
Rumours have strongly suggested that the 22-year-old has already accepted an offer and official confirmation will come when he returns from his holiday.
On paper, Thiago is the perfect signing for David Moyes' side. A dynamic, versatile, young and clinical midfielder is precisely what United have lacked and the addition of Thiago could be Moyes' springboard for success.
All we know is, Thiago is world class. Barcelona are doing everything they can to hold 0n to him but United fans are certainly hoping that Thiago will become Moyes' second signing of the summer.