How was your summer? Quiet? Thiago Alcántara's was a little bit busier and a touch more successful than most...
'Thiago is currently going through a phase where everything he touches turns into gold. Every shot he takes seems to end up in the net at the moment' – Pep Guardiola
What a summer the lad from San Pietro Vernotico, Italy has had. Thiago Alcántara started the summer with a point to prove, that he could be a starter for Futbol Club Barcelona. The Italian-born, Spanish international whose father is non-other than Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho has done just that and given Josep Guardiola a selection headache that other managers would kill for. Let’s walk through the lad’s summer and see just what all the fuss is about.
Our first stop finds us up in the fair land of Denmark for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship - Final Tournament. Thiago joined a squad laden with experience including two World Cup winners in Juan Mata and Javi Martínez. This did not faze Thiago who was one of, if not the standout performer for Spain as they went on to win the tournament. He put on a passing master-class reminiscent of his Spanish and Barcelona team-mate Xavi. For every 90 minutes he was on the field, Thiago averaged 120 passes. Every build-up, and inevitable attack, seemed to go through him, and some of the passes he made were truly magnificent. He lead the tournament in passes by a wide margin, but it was a moment in the final that had Europe,and the world truly buzzing.
Thiago scored a remarkable long-range free-kick goal in his side’s 2-0 win against Denmark to bring yet more glory to the seemingly unstoppable Spanish winning machine. He won the Carlsberg Sport Man of the Match Award for the final game, his second of a possible five he could have won over the length of the tournament. He was also named the tournament’s best player, accentuating his dominance. Even more telling is the fact that Barcelona, who had delayed in re-signing the 20 year-old throughout last season, extended his contract for another two-years, only days after the tournament in Denmark.
Moving on to Germany where the Audi Cup took place at this year’s UEFA Champions League Final stadium, the Allianz Arena, in Munich. Thiago was given the opportunity to impress Guardiola in both of Barcelona’s games in the two day tournament. And impress he did, Thiago did not only score three goals in two games (including both goals in Barcelona’s 2-0 win against Bayern Munich in the Final) but he dictated play in the midfield and conducted a Barcelona side that has seemed to pick up where it left off, winning while playing some brilliant and imaginative football. Oh, he also won Man of the Match in this second consecutive Final.
This leads us to a match only a few days ago in Washington, D.C. The rematch of this year’s UEFA Champions League Final (in which Thiago was an unused substitute) between Manchester United and FC Barcelona. Of course many of the major players for each side were used sparingly, if at all, however, Thiago showed the world that there is life after Xavi. In a 2-1 Barcelona loss, the Spaniard completed 131 passes at the FedEx Field; even more impressive was that 95.4% of the passes that left his feet found their mark. He also managed to make the highlight reel yet again with a stunning long-range effort that seemed to have a mind of its own. Anderson and Tom Cleverley may not be midfield juggernauts but Thiago has shown a penchant for being able to perform in big games, regardless of the opposition.
Not a bad summer if you are trying to show your manager that you can compete with the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi for a spot. He has shown to be a cerebral dictator on the pitch but more importantly he has revealed that he has some different skills to offer than his compatriots. He has shown a distinct flair and a nose for the goal that Xavi seems to lack (if he lacks anything). Four goals in eight matches this summer is a record that David Villa would be proud of and the manner in which they were scored, three long-range shots and a header, shows immense talent and confidence in his own ability. Last season there was worry that he was still too immature, that he would hold on to the ball for too long, and give it away cheaply. He has shown that he has learned from Xavi, while keeping his Brazilian roots close to the surface. He reminds me of a tempered Ronaldinho, more than capable of the sublime, but willing to put that aside to play his role for the team.
Not only has Thiago given Guardiola some much welcomed difficult decisions going into a new La Liga season, but his form has made Cesc Fabregas even more “surplus to requirements” than he was before. This season Barcelona are slated to play over sixty games, Thiago has matured at the right time for Barcelona. Watch for him to feature for the remaining games of Barcelona’s American tour and then to show regularly for the Blaugrana in the coming season.