As one of Europe’s brightest young talents, Thiago Alcantara of Barcelona is attracting the attention of some of Europe’s leading clubs, and Manchester United appear to be in pole position to capture the 22 year-old’s signature.
Those who didn’t already know his name were forced to sit up and take notice on Tuesday evening as Thiago hit a perfect first half hat-trick to help Spain’s U-21s overcome Italy in the European Youth Championship final. Indeed this was not a one-off display of quality, and it is only a lack of opportunity at Barcelona that has prevented him from driving his reputation into the global light.
Now Thiago is available for a fee of £15million (18 million Euros) due to a release clause in his contract. There aren’t enough exclamation marks in the world to emphasise what a steal that would be, and unsurprisingly he is attracting attention from the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and even Real Madrid. Usually when something seems like it’s too good to be true, it is too good to be true, but Barcelona have allowed the situation to get out of hand, and now any club meeting that fee will be free to talk to the player.
How did Barcelona allow such a fantastic talent to become available for such a small fee? Well upon renewing his contract in 2011 his release clause was meant to be £77 million to prevent interest from other clubs. However, that was dependent on Thiago playing in 60% or more of Barcelona’s matches, and in those matches he had to have played at least 30 minutes. Now, he did play in (exactly) 60% of Barcelona’s matches and he comfortably averaged more than 30 minutes per match. However, in 15 of the 36 matches he was involved in he played less than 30 minutes, and since the clause was not concerned with his average minutes on the pitch, that £77 million has dropped to £15 million.
That clause will rise back to £77 million after July 31st, but any club dedicated to signing him won’t allow that to happen.
Barcelona must have been aware of this technicality in his contract of course, but perhaps they allowed it to happen because they didn’t expect the player to have any desire to leave. If the player doesn’t want to leave then there isn’t a problem, because it would still be his choice to sign for another club. Indeed, the lowered £15 million release clause was not a problem; that was until it was revealed that Thiago could indeed be tempted by a move.
When asked about a move away from Barcelona prior to the European U-21’s competition, he replied “We will see after the Euros”. The impression is that his first choice is to remain at the club and compete for a place in the team. The problem is that his competition is most directly with Iniesta, Xavi and Fabregas, not to mention a whole collection of other stars. His situation with Barcelona is very similar to his affiliation with the national team: he would walk into almost any other side in the world, but unfortunately there is an abundance of quality at a more mature age ahead of him.
Thiago’s problem is not that he is impatient though; he has never indicated that he is not happy in Barcelona. It is rather that he will be fighting to get into the Spanish squad in a season that precedes the World Cup. If the past year’s events were to repeat themselves then he would be left unlikely to make that squad since he will need consistent football at a high level. Manchester United (among other clubs potentially) can offer him this.
In truth a World Cup year provides a convenient get-out for any player that wants to be playing more. In many ways it legitimizes their decision and makes it more understandable in the face of the media and those players and fans that he leaves behind. Pique has admitted:
[quote]There is a possibility that he could leave but we have to convince him that the best place for him is Barcelona. Players in his position like Xavi were patient and they ended up defining an era.[/quote]
A plea for patience would often be deemed reasonable, but with such fierce competition within the national team it is also reasonable for him to throw patience to the wind on this occasion.
Spanish news outlet El Mundo Deportivo has claimed that Thiago and his father have already held talks with Manchester United, and if he is to look for a move it seems as if United is the most likely destination. Sky Bet make it 4/9 that he will be a United player, with Bayern Munich second favourites at 5/1 and Manchester City and Real Madrid both on 8/1 to sign him.
Interestingly it is understood that David De Gea wrote on Thiago’s man of the match ball “Nos vemos en Manchester”, translated: “See you in Manchester”. This has led many to celebrate this as a signing all wrapped up. Realistically though you can’t read into this too much, because it is more likely to be a friendly jest made by the United keeper than anything else. What it does imply, though, is that there has certainly been talk of him joining Manchester United and that the possibility is certainly there.
Moving onto his stats, it is more useful to analyse his performances in all competitions, including the Euro U-21s competition, since his chances in the league were limited and often off the bench.
In all competitions in 21 starts he has scored 4 goals and managed 6 assists, which means he was directly involved in a goal in almost every other match when on the pitch from the very beginning. From his 13 appearances off the bench he scored 1 goal with no assists; not particularly an impact player, and he certainly seems more motivated when given his chances in the starting line-up.
As a central midfielder, and with his passing stats, he is a player that runs the core of the team and links defence to attack. Holding on to the ball is a key element to his game with a pass success of 91.9% and making on average 67.6 passes per match. He has also averaged 1 key pass per game over the season.
Statistically speaking, Thiago is stronger than any other of Manchester United’s central midfielders. Michael Carrrick, who was shortlisted for PFA player of the year almost purely on his range of passing, had less assists (4) and a lower pass success of 87%. He plays in a deep role for Manchester United though, giving him fewer chances to attack, and of course Thiago plays for Barcelona whose team is built on passing. That said, out of all the central midfielders at Barcelona who do not have a primary defensive role, only Xavi has a better pass success percentage than Thiago (94.8%).
The bookies seem to think that it is very likely Thiago will become a Manchester United player in his search for first team football. It would be one of the opportunistic signings of the decade, and if United want to make sure that they get their man then they should try and wrap the deal up soon. Before additional clubs throw their hats into the ring.
Thiago Stats via WhoScored.com