It’s official. Thiago Alcantara will this week leave Barcelona and become a part of Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. It is no surprise really, that he has chosen to leave. The writing was always on the wall with this one after that peculiar clause in his contract – that had him available for €18m – became activated. It is even less surprising that he finally opted for the European champions, snubbing Manchester United – who it seemed he would join not a week ago – in the process. That’s football, as they say.
But, what is rather surprising about this whole affair is Barcelona’s handling of it. Not even the Catalan Press are quite sure what to make of it. Was it all done intentionally by the club? Was it just plain bad management? Many have suggested the latter.
It is hard to know exactly. But, what is clear is that more than any other player waiting in the wings at Camp Nou, Thiago was the pick of the bunch. Supremely talented, intelligent, able to play in several positions and a natural-born leader, the 22-year-old was very much seen as the future at Barcelona.
But this was just the problem. He did not want to be the ‘future’. He wanted to play now. He wanted regular first team football. Given his talent, age and with the World Cup just a year out, who could blame him.
His departure has now left Barcelona, as Albert Masnou of Catalan sports daily, Sport, put it, ‘without a star of the future’. And it is true. More importantly for a club that prides itself on the players it produces, this star was homegrown just as the likes of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were – it’s a fine tradition.
The loss of Thiago has inevitably raised the question, who will replace him? And, make no mistake, he does need to be replaced. He may have been a ‘bit-part’ player, but, he did make 36 appearances last term with more than half being as a starting player. And, with Xavi turning 34 before the end of the coming season, more chances would surely have been coming his way.
But, do not expect the club to go out a splash the cash on new midfielder. Buying a new defender is their main objective and with Thiago Silva as their target, there will not be many euros left to spare should he arrive.
Hence, naturally, the word is that the club will promote from within. Sergi Roberto is expected to be brought into the first team as Thiago’s replacement. As an alternative, Ibrahim Afellay may even be given another chance.
Neither options are hardly going to appease fans who have been left disappointed by the club to allow one of the brightest young talents to emerge from its youth academy in recent years to leave.
Should Thiago go on to fulfil his promise then Barca will just have to hope that Roberto comes good too. Or that another gem arises out of La Masia. If not, this may just be one player they may never quite replace.