By Mark Doyle
When asked about his Barcelona future at the tail end of last month, Thiago Alcantara mused, "Every player is used to living with rumours and you just cannot let them affect you.” It is just as well that the midfielder has such a positive attitude to the incessant transfer talk because he has had to put up with more speculation than most during his fledgling career.
Europe’s elite have been chasing Thiago since he was a teenager. In the summer of 2010, he was linked with both Manchester and Chelsea before committing to Barcelona (and their B team) for another year, with the option of a further two, after being given assurances that he would improve upon his record of just two appearances for the senior squad in the preceding two seasons.
Thiago ultimately featured 12 times in la Liga during the 2010-11 campaign, as well as making his Champions League bow, and was rewarded with a new, improved four-year deal in which his buy-out clause jumped from £25 million (€30m) to £76m (€90m).
|THIAGO'S CAREER STATS
Barcelona B (08-11)
That the Blaugrana declined shows just how highly rated Thiago was at Camp Nou at that time. Indeed, during Barca’s preparations for the 2011-12 season, then boss Pep Guardiola, arguably the game’s finest exponent of the role of the deep-lying playmaker, described Thiago as “a special talent”.
“He wants a career in this world and we’re just lucky that we have produced another player in-house," the former Spain international enthused.
The allusion to Thiago’s ambition, though, was no accident. All players want to play regular football - but Thiago is more desperate than most. That is precisely why that his future is now being debated once again.
He made a career-high 45 appearances in all competitions during Guardiola’s final year at Camp Nou, but managed just 36 last season. Injuries played their part but even when fully fit, the Italian-born Spain international with the Brazilian passport was not guaranteed a starting berth.
Thiago, for his part, is under no illusions about the quality of those ahead of him in the pecking order but his frustration has become increasingly obvious.
“I’m enjoying watching my team-mates,” he stated in February, “but obviously what I really want is to get as many minutes as I can."
Unsurprisingly, as soon as confirmation came that Guardiola would replace Jupp Heynckes as Bayern Munich boss this summer, Thiago was linked with a reunion with his mentor. However, the 22-year-old was just as quick to dismiss talk of a move to the Allianz Arena.
“I am here in Barcelona, playing for the best club in the world," he gushed, "so I don't plan to leave for Bayern.
Not Bayern, perhaps, but maybe Manchester United. Despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure as manager, the Red Devils have retained their long-standing interest in Thiago, with new boss David Moyes intent on strengthening United’s midfield this summer, particularly in light of Paul Scholes’ retirement.
|THE VIEW FROM SPAIN
“Thiago Alcantara's situation is still uncertain. The midfielder has played less minutes than he would have liked but Barcelona are aware of the quality of the player and Tito Vilanova said at a press conference that the player is ready to be a starter, perhaps in an effort to convince him to stay, because the decision will be in Thiago's hands.
"Xavi has advised Thiago to be patient, pointing out that he had to do likewise when he was young. Indeed, we must not forget that the likes of Carles Puyol and Xavi himself were linked to Malaga in 1999, when they still did not feel like important members of the team, but Louis Van Gaal persuaded them to stay.
"Thiago is happy in the team, but a few days ago he made it clear that he will make a decision after the Confederations Cup.
"The Premier League seems to be a good choice for him because he could play a lot, but we must also remember that Xavi could need more rest next season, so Thiago would be required more; this may be the key to him staying at Camp Nou.
"For now, though, there is no talk about real offers from other clubs; nothing concrete.”
- Pilar Suarez | Goal Spain
Consequently, they will be know full well whether Thiago’s release clause has, as recent reports in Spain suggest, now dropped as low as £14m (€17m).
However, while Thiago started his career at Flamengo, he is a graduate of La Masia and Barcelona would be loathe to lose another home-grown player to the Premier League, particularly one that has long been heralded as Xavi’s heir.
That is undoubtedly why coach Tito Vilanova has started making noises about Thiago featuring with greater regularity next season and why Xavi himself has had his say on his team-mate’s predicament.
"I’d advise Thiago to stay patient because he’s a player who is bound to be a success at Barca," the veteran midfielder stated.
"I think he is an extraordinary talent. Thiago is not just a player for the future, but he is someone who can make an impact right now as well."
That is the conundrum now facing Thiago: As his father and representative, Mazinho, keeps telling him, he is good enough to play in nearly any other starting line-up in Europe; but if he bides at time at Barcelona, he will become a permanent fixture in one of the finest midfields the game has ever seen.
Essentially, this summer Thiago must ponder whether in order to emulate Xavi, he not only needs to watch the veteran playmaker, but listen to him as well.