Thiago Alcântara 21 Midfielder Barcelona
To understand where we are now with Thiago perhaps the best thing to do is to look at where we’ve come from. This time last year the football Twitterati along with the great and the good were all locked in a collective drool over a player who already looked like Xavi-incarnate. He had not so much burst onto the scene as casually played a one-two with it and then expertly rounded the scene’s keeper to finish from a tight angle. Thiago 1 Scene 0.
We were also under the same spell as everyone else, his report in last year’s 100 absolutely glowing. We gave him a B and not only described him as potentially the most exciting player in the entire list, we also felt he may make the move for Cesc Fábregas a redundant gesture in years to come. Perhaps the highest praise we gave him was that we felt he was becoming ‘…the attacking midfielder’s attacking midfielder’, a bold claim but at that moment in time a correct one. He was the outstanding prospect in European youth football and he had broken into the match-day squad of one of the greatest teams in the history of the game.
Thiago was, to use an absolutely terrible expression that we promise not to revisit any time soon, ‘the man’.
So on to 2012 and bigger and better things then? Well yes and no - he has further cemented his place as a huge part of Barcelona’s future midfield but it has also been the year realism set in. After 12 months of sensational goals, international recognition, a new contract and massive claims about his talent in 2011, this year has been more about trying to find a consistent level of form, being dogged by injury and discovering a bit about the character required to keep working through several disappointments.
Having finished last season in the first team and playing well, it was clear he was growing as a player. The sensationalism had died down a little and been replaced by a hard working footballer who fitted the Barca mold perfectly thanks to his schooling there. Just as Pep left and the succession plan was already in place in the form of Tito Vilanova, it seemed Xavi and Iniesta would one day simple step aside for Cesc and Thiago with the minimum of fuss.
In the season’s Copa del Rey final he picked up the first big injury of his Barca first team career. A knock on the leg seemed relatively innocuous but was diagnosed as an edema and needed serious attention. Recovery was monitored carefully to ensure there would be no lasting damage but he missed Spain’s Olympic campaign and all of pre-season meaning no chance to run back into form gradually.
Having been carefully bought back into the first team he then picked up another injury that ruled him out for a further 8 weeks. At the time of writing he has just made his comeback from this setback and has been plunged straight back into first team affairs. Make no mistake about it, as much as should be made of the succession plan that will see him play a huge role in the club’s future, he also has a part to play right now and Barca’s wonderful but relatively thin squad would welcome an injury-free few months ahead.
So a difficult few months but he will have learnt an enormous amount about himself during the time spent on the treatment table. The hype was all well and good but working to get back from injury will have done a great deal for his character. Throughout his career his father Mazinho has worked to keep both Thiago and his brother Rafa (also a resident at La Masia, also an attacking midfielder getting a reputation as a huge prospect for the future) grounded and so far so good. As huge a talent as he is, there is very little arrogance or entitlement on show from what we can see. He remains the player we talked so excitedly of last year despite a slightly stunted 12 months and the expectations are just as high.
The future for Thiago appears to be mapped out for him. Not only does he inherit Xavi’s mantel at Barca but he also takes it in the national team. He slips seamlessly into both roles and remains a humble genius throughout, going on to have a career played out from start to finish at the very highest levels of the game. He retires with hundreds of Barca appearances to his name, several trophies and with the minimum of fuss as the new Thiago has been playing alongside him for some time by this point.
Now on paper that seems simple but we know in reality anything can happen from serious injury to loss of form. From what we’ve seen over the last 12 months we believe his character is stronger than most and between his coaches and his family he’ll be abundantly aware that nothing comes unless he continues to work hard. Thiago is a superstar right now but the weight of expectation of his future doesn’t seem to faze him.
Injury and development may have made this year a C but it shouldn’t be viewed as a step back from last year’s mark. In 2011 he earned a B on the back of a talent few knew about before. This year he has taken being a marked man in his stride and grown accordingly. Thiago is one of the biggest talents on this list just as he was on last year’s, get used to him, he’s going to be around the highest level of the game for a long time to come.
''He's a cracking talent with a gigantic future ahead of him, just hopefully this season and next year the injuries are kinder to him. He's got what it takes to shine at this level, I don't think there's much doubt and he's already proved it to a certain extent, with a lot of hard work and determination he'll one day become Xavi's replacement within this side''– Gary Linton (Inside La Liga)
“Sharp, confident and intelligent as always few move on the Camp Nou surface with such brilliance. Given the company he keeps that's some compliment. Injuries continue to drag him down though, and it's frustrating not to see him more.” – David Cartlidge (Spanish Football Correspondent)
C A very good 2011, a more realistic 2012 for a fantastic player who’ll be around that Barca midfield for years and years
Minutes On Pitch1,100
Mins per goal1100.0
Right footed goals0
Left footed goals0
Goals inside box1
Goals outside box0
Direct free kick goals0
Shots On Target8
Shots Off Target8
Touches per game83.4
Pass Completion %92%
Pass Completion in final third %88%
Duels won %60%
Cross Completion %22%
Dribbles & Runs45
Dribble Completion %58%
Tackles Won %91%