The one that may get away

Sunday’s edition of Catalan sports daily, Sport, ran with the headline, ‘Deal’. It was in reference to Thiago Alcantara’s proposed move to Manchester United. And, while it is not yet official, it is looking increasingly likely that the young Italian-born midfielder could be on his way out of the Camp Nou very soon.

Recently, Thiago made the headlines with his hat-trick in the final of the UEFA Under-21 Championship that helped see off Italy 4-2. His performances throughout the tournament were so impressive that he deservedly was named Player of the Tournament.

The 22-year-old’s exceptional displays in Israel highlighted an immense talent and potential that in Catalunya had long been known. Former Barcelona Coach Pep Guardiola spoke of him as: “an incredible player, competitive and brilliant not just for his goals but for his defensive work too.”

Teammate Andres Iniesta commented that: “he has a huge amount of talent, greater than those of his age group.” Many in Spain even believe he is one of the best players to have emerged from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, and he may well just be.

Yet, despite being hyped for greatness at the Camp Nou, it seems a real possibility that Thiago Alcantara just might end up being the one that got away – at a cut-price too.

Last season Thiago was a bit-part player. Although he appeared in 36 games throughout the season as either a starting player or from the bench, the fact that he did not feature in 30 minutes or more in 60 per cent of the club’s matches he was available for activated a clause in his contract that has seen his release clause fall from €90m to just €18m until August 1. Should he leave for United before this date and at this price, it will represent a bargain if ever there was one. As for Barcelona, they surely will be left scratching their heads.

Why? The obvious reason concerns the price. Such a player could fetch a much, much higher price. And, in a season that was marred by injuries to key players, particularly during the months of February, March and April, its rather curious as to how he was not given the extra playing time required so to as avoid the risk of losing him for such a low price in the summer.

Yet, it is not only financially speaking that Barcelona may be left wondering what went wrong. Thiago has long been viewed as the natural successor to Xavi Hernandez. With the latter now 33, a long-term replacement will be needed sooner rather than later, and the young Spaniard has been seen as just perfect. A natural leader on the pitch, he could be the one to run the Barca midfield for years to come.

However, as things stand, he will not be bumping Xavi from the first team any time now. Xavi may be getting on, but, he remains the fulcrum of both Barcelona and Spain. Ironic it is that it was he who said that Thiago ‘is not a player for the future but for the present’. And, despite his recently stated love for Barcelona via Twitter, it is for this reason why Thiago may just finally opt for United. He wants to play now and, presumably, next year when the World Cup goes to Brazil.