Barcelona are notorious for producing talented, young and ambitious players that are eager to make it to the top level, and with their latest protégé stepping into the limelight, it seems this trend is set to continue. Thiago Alcantara is currently turning heads in Europe as he demonstrates his talent in pre-season, scoring four goals in as many appearances for Barca from midfield. But does this hot prospect have what it takes to make it as part of the furniture at Barcelona, or does he join a list of players to look elsewhere after failing to break past the seemingly immovable midfield linchpins of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and company?
The coaching staff at the Nou Camp seem eager to take the pressure off the 20 years old’s shoulders and keep him in his fruitful development, without making too many promises of regular football this season. It is understandable that Tiago will want some time on the pitch after impressing in the run-up to the start of the 2011/12 La Liga campaign, but there is competition even for rotational and substitute appearances.
With the addition of Alexis Sanchez, the inclusion of players such as Afellay and Mascherano who may not make the first eleven every week and ongoing speculation over the further addition of Cesc Fabregas which won’t go away, it seems that Thiago will have to put in the work on the training ground.
Interest in Thiago did appear in the form of generic rumour-mill speculation this summer, with Manchester United linked at one stage with a potential £15million bid and Arsenal inevitably mentioned in connection with a swap deal for Fabregas. However, no-one really seemed to push anything further and Thiago ended up signing a new contract until June 2015, with an ominous buyout clause of 90 million Euros seemingly intended as ‘shove off, he’s not for sale’ message. But to me it seems a little strange that he doesn’t want to put his talents on show somewhere this season, maybe on loan, where he can prove his consistency in midfield.
One thing he doesn’t have at the moment is game time. He hasn’t played week in, week out at a side where he can become a stable part of a midfield, and he isn’t going to get this experience at Barca yet. For all his technical ability and attributes such as quick movement, pinpoint passing and excellent long range shooting, I think it will be a couple of years before we can be in a position to judge whether he has what it takes to become the heart of a Barcelona midfield.
On merit, yes it seems that he would fit in well with the current squad and is obviously held in high regard by the coaches at the club, but it could be that the best thing for them to do now is to send him away for a year or so to gain experience at a decent level and then bring him back to integrate into the team. He seems to have a way of dictating the game from midfield and controlling the tempo, which is a great trait to have at Barcelona, but there are other big names like Xavi who already do this and Guardiola wouldn’t want to upset the balance by bringing in a new influence at the moment.