8. Thiago Alcântara
Heir to the Barcelona midfield. The natural successor to Xavi. The ideal midfielder for the Catalan giants. Unfortunately for his old club Barcelona, Thiago Alcântara has decided to pave his own path.
Thiago’s potential was never in doubt. Son of World Cup winner Mazinho, the Italian-born youngster enjoyed a fruitful youth career in Brazil, making his way through the lower levels of teams such as Flamengo. In 2005, a contract with Barcelona at age 14 marked a return to Spain for Thiago and a place at Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia. By the age of 18, Thiago was granted his senior team debut under Pep Guardiola against Mallorca. Over the next 4 years, Thiago’s progression only saw him secure 68 first team appearances. Unable to achieve astronomical growth at the dawn of his career, many skeptics were quick to question the maturity and determination of the young Spaniard. His lack of game time and imminent departure of Pep as manager indicated that a new era was rapidly approaching.
A lack of opportunity convinced Thiago his departure from the Spanish giants could prove beneficial to his footballing career, albeit a difficult move to stomach. The midfielder was linked with the English club Manchester United in the summer of 2013. Elsewhere, Pep Guardiola became the manager of FC Bayern Munich, and soon enough the pieces of the puzzle came together. In a simple and straightforward statement, Pep declared that “he [Thiago] is the only player I want. It will be him or no one.” A bold declaration of his confidence in Thiago’s ability persuaded the Spaniard to complete the move to the Bavarian kings. The €25M fee Munich agreed to pay would eventually be seen as one of the best bargain signings completed in the recent years, and the reunion between coach and starlet symbolized a new beginning for the Spanish prodigy. Although injuries plagued the beginning of his Bayern career (missing a total of 53 games in less than a year), Thiago has bounced back and proved to be a quintessential figurehead in Bayern’s starting 11 and a revolutionary midfielder who has made giant bounds of progress over the course of the last 2 seasons. Since 2013, Thiago has recorded 18 goals and over 20 assists in 120 appearances for Bayern.
The emergence of Thiago throughout the 2016/17 season probably has to be one of the biggest stories of the footballing year. Although the Spaniard dons the #6, it is symbolic at most. The 26-year old has evolved into a world-class talent in Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season, and has quickly become the fulcrum of the Italian’s midfield – playing with freedom as the attacking point behind Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. This season has demonstrated his mastery at a role higher up the pitch, different to the deeper midfield role he assumed in previous seasons. Dispelling any concerns about his injury-riddled past, Thiago has served as the centerpiece to an aging Bayern side. Although his 5 goals and 6 assists in 27 Bundesliga matches may leave more to be desired amongst surface statisticians, Thiago’s influence is wholly immeasurable by mere stats alone. This season, Thiago has arguably been the world’s best midfielder, as he has produced numerous world-class performances in the Champions League and has asserted himself as one of the best in the Bundesliga. His label of a “complete midfielder” is demonstrated by these three stats: most passes (2,510), most tackles won (56), and most interceptions (127). Thiago also boasts impeccable vision: his 90% pass accuracy as a midfielder in the Bundesliga is second only to Borussia Dortmund’s Julian Weigl. The metronome of Bayern’s midfield, the 4-time Bundesliga champion has averaged 119 touches per game this season, a tribute to his constant and crucial involvement. Nonetheless, as mentioned before, Thiago is a player whose overall contribution isn’t fully conveyed by stats and data. An embodiment of his fulfilled potential, Thiago has transformed into a midfielder capable of dominating every match he steps foot in. His ascent to greatness has only just begun.
By: Brandon Duran/@Alcxntara6