Contrary to the evidence we might have seen, Barcelona’s beleaguered La Masia has indeed produced the longed-for heir to Xavi. The problem for them is that he’s playing for Bayern Munich.
Barca have made some bad decisions in the transfer market in recent seasons but the one they surely regret the most is losing Thiago Alcantara. For now, there is no question that Thiago is currently the best midfielder in the world and the fact he doesn’t play for Barca – after being raised at the club – should be a source of constant shame at Camp Nou.
It is no exaggeration to say that this season the man who on Tuesday celebrated his 26th birthday has personified Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern. The manner in which he dictates matches – with his ability to set the tempo, win the ball back and dribble past opponents – has set Bayern apart not only in the Bundesliga but also the Champions League.
He was majestic in the brutal dismissal of Arsenal – scoring twice and adding another assist in the home leg of the round of 16. That night – along with his impact in front of goal – Thiago completed 36 passes into the Gunners’ final third – only one fewer than the north Londoners as a whole team managed to put together. He is going up against a higher calibre of opposition in Real Madrid on Wednesday night but is equipped with the skill and discipline to eclipse the Champions League holders.
While Barca still scrabble around for a long-term Xavi replacement they are left to rue a situation which allowed their most promising academy graduate since Lionel Messi to depart for well below his real value.
Barca were negligent in allowing Thiago’s buyout clause to drop to a paltry €25m after Tito Vilanova failed to play him in 60 per cent of their matches during his last season there. Pep Guardiola was permitted to swoop and make Thiago the centre-piece of his new-look Bayern in 2013.
It has taken until now – however – for Thiago’s best form to be showcased on a weekly basis. He is having the season of his life.
The first half of his Bayern career was interrupted by a series of debilitating knee injuries. He missed a big chunk of his first season – first through the winter and then through the period when Bayern tumbled out of the Champions League to Ancelotti’s Real Madrid.
It was speculated at the time that Guardiola’s Bayern were suffering a lack of motivation after sealing the Bundesliga title so early but the truth is they were never the same once Thiago was ruled out.
It took him the best part of a year to reach full fitness and – arguably – Pep’s Bayern were never truly Pep’s Bayern because of Thiago’s absence.
“Thiago or nobody,” said Guardiola when demanding his signing in the first place as he marked him out as the man to carry out his vision on-field.
He liked him well enough when the two were together at Barca but insisted on him at Bayern. It never came to pass that Thiago was truly Pep’s dictator-in-chief in the centre of the field but he has been supreme under his successor.
In the league he has had the most successful passes (2025), the most interceptions (110) and the most touches (2707). He also has four goals and five more assists. Thiago is part-Busquets, part-Iniesta and already looks a more rounded player than Xavi ever was.
Bayern are said to be preparing a record contract offer in order to ensure Thiago sticks with them for the long term. As it stands Barca have no chance of securing the signing of a man whose pathway to greatness they themselves should have prepared.