Thiago Alcantara has signed a two-year contract extension at Barcelona – subsequently warding off any potential suitors. After impressing in Spain’s European Under-21 Championship triumph, speculation had arose that interest from Italy and England had surfaced. However, the Blaugrana have moved swiftly to quash any such talk with the extension of his contract to 2015 and the implementation of an £81million release clause.
Son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, the young Barca prodigy has inherited a bundle of his father’s attributes and much more. Like his son, Mazinho spent a number of years in La Liga with Valencia, Celta Vigo and Elche. Operating as a defensive midfielder, his duties were more dependent on breaking up play in the middle of the park and distributing basic passes to his teammates. Thiago is different in the sense of having more attacking flair and technical superiority.
He spent a large chunk of his development in Brazil having been born in Bari, Italy. He spent a year with Flamengo before moving to Spain for a five year period where he played for Galician side Urece. He later returned back to his father’s native country with Flamengo (again) for a four-year stint, before finally settling in Catalonia with Barca in 2005.
Growing up in Spain opened up the avenue to the national team. Despite being born in Italy and having Brazilian roots, the transition to his new adopted nation came naturally.
“At first it was something that happened naturally because I’ve always lived here and I started moving up the ranks of the Spanish youth national set-up. That said, when it came to choosing who to play for at senior level, it was tricky to decide [between Spain and Brazil].” he told FIFA.com.
Moving up the ranks at the infamous La Masia, he made his debut in the spring of 2009. He came more to the fore last season as head coach Pep Guardiola began to blood him into the first team fold, although his contribution was minimal. Nevertheless he immediately orchestrated his wealth of talent to the glaring eyes of the Camp Nou support. A stand-out performance in particular came just at the turn of the year as he made a substitute appearance at home to Levante. Operating in central midfield, having replaced Javier Macherano, he gave his team more attacking impetus. Neat one-two’s with the prodigal sons Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, bamboozled their opposite markers and his diligent play made him look right at home in a tantalising trio of technical superiority.
In regards to his attributes he is ever so accomplished with a ball at his feet. Although his education through the Barca ranks has been imperative, he has inherited a wealth of natural ability. He has great awareness whilst in possession with a bullish nature to keep hold of the ball whilst being pressed. He is not afraid to use his initiative to weave into little pockets of space, much like Iniesta, before executing a fruitful pass that can slice a defence in two. He has everything in his locker to be an absolute world beater. The conundrum for him of course is that Xavi and Iniesta are two of the game’s starlets, so imposing himself into Guardiola’s first eleven ahead of them looks doubtful – considering Sergio Busquets has rubber stamped the final central midfield position as the anchorman.
Nevertheless with Xavi, unfortunately, not getting any younger, the Barca hierarchy are adamant that the likes of Thiago can fill that void when it needs addressing. His performances in the Under-21 Championship illustrated his capabilities of being an integral figure in a standard 4-3-3 formation, playing on the right-hand side of a trio in central midfield. He earned a man of the match performance against England in the opening game and in the final against Switzerland. There he scored a 40-yard stunner having spotted goalkeeper Yann Sommer drifting from his goal line and tamely chipping the startled Swiss to seal a 2-0 win and yet another trophy for Spanish football.
It will be interesting to see how Guardiola utilises him next season. He has a player on his hands that only looks to get better with an education that is far from complete. The dilemma of course is finding a position to accommodate for such a prospect. Thiago may just need to bide his time and take heart from Pedro Rodriguez’s late emergence back in 2009 – now a pivotal member of the Barca orchestra.
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