The transition from Sir Alex Ferguson to David Moyes at Old Trafford this summer looks increasingly likely to be marked by a move for the talented midfielder Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona. The promising Spaniard represents a bright future with an education garnered from the exceptional production line of La Masia and would bolster a Manchester United midfield in need of a overhaul following the retirement of Paul Scholes.
The potential deal, believed to be to the cost of Thiago’s release clause of £17 million, would be as much as a blow to Barcelona as it would be a supremely shrewd addition to Moyes’s United. The Spaniard currently earns £30,000 a week so the English champions would face no hurdle in increasing his salary, representing a clear bargain when it is considered the Iberian talent he will inevitably bring to Manchester.
However the Italian-born prodigy has had to wait until the under-21 European Championship for the platform to show his true potential after being limited to just 15 starts under Tito Vilanova over the course of the last campaign. It is believed that Alcantara’s switch to Manchester is in line with his ambition to play more regularly than the sparse appearance record afforded him by Vilanova. The lack of faith shown in the 22 year old over the past year will cost Barcelona greatly, with his release clause dropping from €90 million to €18 million as a result of not clocking a required amount of starts.
He appeared for less than 30 minutes in 60% of Barcelona’s games last season, a statistic not good enough for a player who harbours realistic ambitions of travelling with Spain to defend their World Cup title in Brazil next summer. Instead of being allowed free-reign to demonstrate his talents in La Liga, Alcantara has used Israel and the under-21 European Championships to showcase his majestic ability, scoring a hat-trick in the final as Spain strolled to yet another international success
Manchester United have been in for Alcantara before, coincidentally after winning his first European Championship with the Spanish under-21s back in 2011 with a goal against Denmark in the final. That season, he’d started 14 times for the Catalan giants who were set to bring in Cesc Fabregas.
A poll of Barcelona fans revealed 80% didn’t want Fabregas if it meant Alcantara’s progression would be blocked, but Pep Guardiola signed the Arsenal man and tied down Thiago to a new four year contract, claiming he was was vital to his plans. He went on to play 28 times that season, 21 of them starts, and appeared in 13 cup games, Guardiola had noticed his exciting potential, witnessed first-hand from his time with Barcelona B, and had duly tapped into it.
Following the passing of Guardiola to Vilanova in the Barcelona hot-seat, Thiago’s progression seems to have regressed as the new coach has stuck with the tried and tested axis of Xavi and Iniesta, stifling Thiago not only at the Nou Camp but also with the national team.
The 33 year old Xavi is being increasingly hampered by injury but was still trusted with 24 starts, plus another 6 appearances as a sub, as Barcelona won the title, indicating Vilanova’s reluctance to stray too far from those who have the experience to supplement the sublime talent.
It is Xavi who Alcantara has the unfortunate trouble of competing with for a starting spot in Barcelona’s side and his compatriot has urged him to show patience in his quest for regular playing time. “I think he’s an extraordinary player”, he said, “Thiago is not just a player for the future, but he is someone who can make an impact right now”, and whilst it is believed Thiago’s preference is to remain in Catalonia, it would require Vilanova to heed the same belief for him to rebuff Manchester United’s opportunistic advances.
With 2 caps for the all-conquering full-Spanish side to complement his success with the youth sides, there is no question of the calibre of player United will be bringing in should they manage to lure Alcantara away. A player who can lie deep and spray passes, or even carry the ball forward by beating players with fine technical skill, he will add much-needed brilliance to a midfield that currently only houses Michael Carrick as its sole established player. There will be question of how he will fit into the direct style of Moyes’s United but that will be secondary to Alcantara’s priority aim of just wanting to play.
Whether that will be with Barcelona or Manchester United it remains to be seen, but if it is the latter, it will be a catastrophic loss to the team that has seemingly chose to mishandle his potential in favour of the ageing genius of those who have proven it before.
Football’s move into modernity has seen an increase in importance on the squad, Alcantara’s possible departure is indication of what can happen when superb ability is overlooked.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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