By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Europe's elite watch with interest. Thiago Alcantara enhanced his growing reputation on Tuesday evening as the midfielder hit a hat-trick to steal the show in Spain's Under-21 European Championship triumph in Israel against Italy. Now he could be set to leave Barcelona this summer for a cut-price €18 million - and the Catalans can only have themselves to blame.
Barca boasted about Thiago's release clause rising to €90 million when the Catalans renewed the midfielder's contract in 2011, amid similar speculation about a possible departure. However, failure to participate for a stipulated amount of minutes in 2012-13 has now seen that clause plummet from the previous prohibitive total to an attractive €18m. And Thiago will consider his options.
The clause, which was insisted upon by the player's agent (Pep Guardiola's brother Pere) after talks with Thiago and his father, Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, stated that the midfielder must feature for 30 minutes or more in 60 per cent of Barcelona's matches last term. And although he did play in exactly 60% of games (Thiago featured in 36 club fixtures in 2012-13, out of a possible 60) and average well over half an hour per match (with 1904 minutes in total), he failed to complete the required amount in 15 of the 36 matches.
|THIAGO'S STATS AT BARCELONA
Barcelona B (08-11)
Catalan daily Sport claimed on Tuesday that the player wants to leave Barcelona after talks with coach Tito Vilanova failed to convince the midfielder to stay at Camp Nou next season. However, Thiago has not expressed a desire to depart the Catalan club and still hopes his future lies at Barcelona, with more talks with Tito planned once he returns home from Israel.
Asked about a possible move in the lead-up to the European Championship, Thiago replied: "We will see after the Euros." And although he has been told to be patient by team-mate Xavi, it is the Spain star and Andres Iniesta who have restricted the younger man's appearances at Camp Nou. With Cesc Fabregas also around and Lionel Messi omnipresent in the Barca line-up, plus Neymar to come into the team after his summer signing, the midfielder may find it even more difficult to play in 2013-14.
It is not a case of being unhappy at Barcelona, but of wanting to play first-team football. Thiago harbours hopes of making Spain's squad for next year's World Cup in Brazil, but knows he must feature much more regularly to have any chance of joining the senior team next summer.
On Tuesday, he played as the 'focal point' in attack for Spain's Under-21 side and headed home unchallenged following an Alvaro Morata cross to give la Rojita the lead. He then controlled and volleyed to make it 2-1 with his left foot and sealed a 'perfect' hat-trick in just 40 minutes by converting a penalty with his right. Later, when Spain won another spot kick, he handed the ball to Isco instead of going for a fourth.
The midfielder is not yet the finished article and he frustrated fans by losing the ball too often at times last season, while he was previously and persistently told by former coach Guardiola to minimise the tricks and keep it simple during games. At only 22, however, he has the vision and technical ability to blossom into one of the world's best ball players.
|We have to convince Thiago that Barca is the best place for him. Players like Xavi were patient and ended up defining an era
- Gerard Pique on Tuesday
Guardiola's Bayern Munich and Manchester United are both interested in signing the Spain star, while Manchester City may fancy pairing the 22-year-old with another successful Spaniard, David Silva, and a number of other clubs will also watch and wait for developments.
Barca, meanwhile, will try to convince Thiago to stay and fight for his place as the midfielder returns to the Catalan capital this week. Had they given him more game time last season, however, the player's release clause would have remained at €90m and there would have been no question of him leaving the Camp Nou club for such a price. That was poor management and someone else may now benefit from Barcelona's blunder as Tuesday's Most Valuable Player is now available for the next six weeks at a cut-price €18m: the bargain of the summer.
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