With Xavi fading, Barcelona must convince Thiago to stay this summer

The 22-year-old midfielder is close to a move to Manchester United but, given the decline of his senior team-mate, could feature much more for the Catalans if he stayed at Camp Nou
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

As Brazil battered Spain in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday, Thiago Alcantara will have been an interested spectator.

Born to Brazilian parents but raised in Spain (the country he has chosen to represent at international level), the Barcelona midfielder has set his sights on next summer's World Cup. And on Sunday's evidence, he has every chance of being there.

Thiago is on the brink of leaving Barcelona as he seeks more first-team opportunities in 2013-14 to impress Spain boss Vicente del Bosque, but Sunday showed Xavi to be a fading force and the midfielder may not need to leave Camp Nou at all in order to achieve his World Cup dream.

Xavi was overrun against Brazil and with his persistent Achilles tendon problems, is no longer the mobile midfielder he once was. Still a wonderful passer, the 33-year-old can no longer press or run as before and takes longer to recover between games. In fact, he undergoes only light training work between matches these days and his influence is greatly reduced when he is made to play twice in quick succession - which is exactly what happened in Brazil.


Barcelona spokesman Toni Freixa revealed on Tuesday that the Catalan club have yet to talk to Thiago over his future at Camp Nou, although the Spanish champions have been in contact with the player's father, Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho.

Barca still hope to convince Thiago to stay, but believe privately that the midfielder will look to leave as he seeks more minutes in 2013-14 in order to win a place in Spain's squad for next summer's World Cup.

United have tracked Thiago for two years and are close to a deal. The midfielder is available for €18 million until August 1, when his release clause returns to the phobiitive figure of €90m. New manager David Moyes hopes the signing will go through over the next few days.
Thiago, who recently starred for Spain's Under-21 side in their European Championship triumph and hit a hat-trick in the 4-2 final win over Italy, is seen as a long-term successor to Xavi at Camp Nou. But he appeared in only 36 of Barca's 60 official games in 2012-13 and failed to feature for 30 minutes or more in 60 per cent of the club's matches, activating a clause in his contract which has seen his price drop from €90 million to a much more attractive €18m until August 1.

That has alerted the attention of many of Europe's top teams, with Manchester United leading Bayern Munich in the race for his signature. Barcelona, meanwhile, have not given up hope he will remain at Camp Nou - and convincing Thiago to stay should be their top priority in the coming days.

Club spokesman Toni Freixa revealed on Tuesday that Barca are still looking to recruit defender Thiago Silva and said three more players could arrive this summer. And on Alcantara, he simply said: "Thiago has not communicated any decision to us. He is a player who is under contract."

Thiago loves Barcelona. The 22-year-old midfielder posted a picture on his Instagram account earlier this week with that very message as he was seen sat in a swimming pool with a friend on a rooftop terrace in the sun. He also loves playing for the Catalan club, but was left unconvinced by initital talks with coach Tito Vilanova at the end of the season.

"Thiago is the future, he is the present - we would like him to stay but the decision is his. He is a player who could be a starter," Vilanova explained after Barca beat Malaga in the last game of La Liga at the beginning of June.

And although Neymar has arrived since then, making competition for places even more fierce at Camp Nou, Xavi's ever more fragile frame means minutes will be available for others at Barca next season.

The 33-year-old has reached the point where he will need to be rested sensibly and often for the club to carry on enjoying his talents in 2013-14 and beyond. So the opportunity may have finally arrived for Thiago after all. But time is running out and Barca must move quickly to convince the midfielder that he can be the present as well as the future at Camp Nou, just as Tito claims.

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