FC Barcelona's Thiago Alcantara is a player that has continually been linked with Manchester United in recent seasons. Recent reports, once again, have suggested that the English champions may be lining up a move for the talented and 22-year-old versatile central-midfielder. Because of this, and before I began to gather my thoughts in writing this, I thought it would be prudent to reach out to Arron Duckling -- friend of TBB since I've been on board here and co-editor of the excellent Barca Blaugranes -- and see what sort of thoughts he might have on the matter. I've watched Thiago play numerous times in the past few seasons, but Arron is much more of an authority on him than I am. To my delight, and to the privilege of the readers here, our old friend went out of his way to send me a wonderfully lengthy response. Here are some of his thoughts:
On the rumour:
On the rumour itself, I find it tough to believe. The whole thing appears to have originated from Marca, and of course, Marca are famous for their Madrid-tinted glasses. Certainly, I find it rather coincidental that the rumour comes out now, just a few days after Real part ways with Jose [Mourinho]-- and as Real [Madrid] appear to be close to shambles. What better way to take attention away from Madrid's troubles than to throw a spanner in the works of Barcelona's future? Not only that, but the writer (Luis Fernando Rojo) has a rather odd track-record (presumably like every other sport journalist). For instance, a while back he was on record stating that [Pep] Guardiola would sign for Chelsea -- unless a phenomenal offer came out of the woodwork, which, he could argue did in Bayern Munich -- and this interview with a Napoli blog suggests that Thiago (while there are rumours) is not for sale. (Although, again, there is a counter-argument, as the story supposedly mentions an €18m buyout clause surrounding a lack of playing time)
Thiago is a great player -- at least, he has all the talent required to reach the very top of the game, but, whether he has the attitude and mindset to deliver is a debate it itself. Don't get me wrong, as a person, Thiago seems like a great guy. Level-headed, humble, determined -- pretty much the typical La Masia attitude, but sometimes it doesn't translate onto the pitch. Again, not to say that he doesn't try or whatever, but sometimes he can make the wrong decision. I'm thinking of times where he tries a flashy pass, or tries to dribble past an opponent -- typically Brazilian things to do, which are all well and good in certain situations, but can also get the team into trouble. This is the sort of thing that more experience and time in general can eradicate from his game -- so really, it's your typical youth starlet situation: a few flaws, but nothing that time cannot fix.
I'm sure you remember from our pre-season friendly [between United and Barcelona] (what, must be a couple of years ago now?) but Thiago also has brilliant range on his shots -- which, rather ironically considering his tendency to make "poor" decisions at times, we don't see an awful lot of at Barca. Even a quick Youtube search of Thiago will bring that up though (IIRC, there was another one that pre-season against Bayern -- or maybe two, I'm not sure -- and there's a free-kick he scored from the half-way line in the last UEFA Euro Under-21 final. I'm sure someone somewhere has seen the rumour and made a link between that goal and the famous Beckham goal against Wimbledon...) and like I said, we don't see an awful lot of that at Barca (attempts or goals) so who knows? Maybe that was just a good spell of form (from long-range) for Thiago?
I figure it goes without saying that he can seriously pass the ball (we're talking Xavi levels of brilliance here) and his first touch is other-worldly as well, so this is the kind of guy that you can build and run an offense around.
On how Thiago could fit in at United (keep in mind that Arron knows United pretty well):
Typically, he's played as a centre-midfielder, but at United, I'm sure he would fit right in as your #10 behind RVP, and in that sense, he makes an awful lot more sense than Cesc [Fabregas] ever did. Equally, to be critical, he probably wouldn't get enough goals for you from that #10 position, at least, not as many as [Wayne] Rooney would get/has got, and possibly not as many as [Shinji] Kagawa would get either. And is he necessarily better at this moment than Kagawa? Assuming [David] Moyes sticks with a 4-2-3-1/4-5-1 type formation, something would have to give. Either Kagawa is pushed out wide/to the bench, or Thiago is pushed back to join [Michael] Carrick in the real engine room of midfield. I wouldn't suggest the latter is a great idea, like you've said before, [Marouane] Fellaini would be the better option there. Thiago could do it, but based on previous matches for Barca, it wouldn't be the best use of his talents (for example, watch this).
On the speculated transfer fees and buyout clauses:
Provided the price quoted is genuine, the player is interested, and provided that the buyout clause does exist, United would be crazy not to pull the trigger on this transfer -- it isn't a great amount of money for a club of United's stature, and if all went well, Thiago could easily fetch 30+m in a year or two. On the other hand, I have never heard of a clause like that, purely because of the ridiculousness of it all. For instance, his actual buyout clause is €90m (gotta love Spanish football), and the €18m quoted is obviously five times less than that amount. Given the fondness Barca et al have with crazy buyout clauses, I find it difficult to believe that this, almost realistic clause would be included in the contract. Not only that, but the whole premise is odd -- Thiago didn't merely sit out because Tito didn't want him to play, Thiago sat out a lot of games through injury. He missed pre-season, he missed the start of the season, and he missed a rather large chunk of matches after picking up another knee injury against Sevilla in September -- so by no fault of Barcelona's, we could lose him on the cheap? It doesn't add up for me, bet like I said, if it does exist, I would go for Thiago in a heartbeat.
Well, Arron made my job quite easy for this topic. The only thing I would add to his responses is that Thiago might best be served as the eventual successor to Michael Carrick -- it's important to keep in mind that the influential deep-lying playmaker turns 32-years-old in the upcoming summer and United have no like-for-like replacement lined up. The 20|13 champions, if they were fortunate enough to land Thiago at the speculated bargain price, still would do well to add a physical presence like Everton's Marouane Fellaini in order to provide balance to the squad. Carrick and Thiago, theortically, could be useful as a double-pivot with Kagawa ahead of them in breaking down deep-defending sides. However, against tougher opposition, Thiago might be somebody who would miss out on those occassions next season. Moyes, like Sir Alex Ferguson though, appreciates both youth and versatility and a result, the Spain international (of Brazilian descent) would immediately be a valuable squad member -- something he and his father reportedly desire quite a bit. The validity of this speculation is uncertain, but Thiago would certainly be a great buy for United.