Thiago Alcantara’s career got off to a rough start with FC Barcelona, but now that he has recovered from his knee injuries, the Italian-born midfielder is an integral part of one of the best teams in the world. The La Masia graduate can lead his club to a Champions League victory and his nation to a World Cup win.
Seven years ago, Thiago Alcantara‘s international decision was one of the biggest storylines in all of football. The midfielder was born in Italy to Brazilian parents, but moved to Spain at five-years-old and played there until he turned 10. He comes from a true footballing family: his father, Mazinho, won the 1994 World Cup with Brazil and his younger brother, Rafinha, plays for Inter Milan, on loan from Barcelona. He returned to Spain at 14 and joined FC Barcelona, where he made his senior football debut.
As a 19-year-old, Alcantara made his debut for the Spanish national side and therefore committed himself to the Spanish flag for his international career. It was a coup for La Roja: the addition of the midfielder gave them a ready-made replacement for Xavi or Xabi Alonso, who were exiting the primes of their careers at the time.
Unfortunately, the playmaker’s development did not go as smoothly as he or his club wanted it to. In the summer of 2012, injury took away his chance to shine in both the European Championships and the London Olympics. Just one year later, Barcelona dumped him to Bayern Munich for a cut-price deal worth €25 million. Pep Guardiola, who had just joined Bayern, recommended that the team bring in Thiago.
“He is the only player I want. It’ll be him or no one. We the need the special quality that Thiago brings.”
Before he tore a knee ligament in the early spring of his first year at the Allianz Arena, Thiago added a consistent passing presence to his new club, who went on to win the Bundesliga by 19 points, losing only two games on the season. He averaged a 7.9 rating in his 16 league appearances that season, 11 of which he started.
Despite multiple injuries, the 26-year-old blossomed into one of the world’s best midfielders, yet in a team stacked with talent, the media tends to overlook the Spanish international. Statistically, Alcantara is one of the best passers in football and his dribbling skills are some of the best out of any central midfielder in the world right now.
The midfield dynamo only really lacks in his end product thanks to his deep-lying role but luckily for him, he plays some of the best attackers in the world for both his club and country, which lets him focus on building up the play and breaking down his opponents’ midfield lines.
Bayern’s no. 6’s passing accuracy stands out above the rest of his statistics. In his 17 appearances this season, he has completed 90.8 percent of his passes in the midfield. He completes 5.6 long balls per game, the fifth-most out of any outfield player in the Bundesliga. He averages 68.3 passes per game, the third-most among any player in the Bayern Munich squad.
So far this season, Alcantara has scored just one goal and not contributed any assists. That probably stems from Bayern’s measured attacking play, but for such an offensive-minded player with superb passing ability, he needs to create more goals and chances for his teammates. He makes a respectable 1.6 key passes per game, but if he increases his assists tally in the Ruckrunde, he will ascent to global recognition as a bona fide superstar.
The diminutive midfielder stands at just 5-foot-8, but his defensive contribution is surprisingly strong. His 2.8 tackles per game sit behind only Arturo Vidal’s 3.2 for most in the first team. Additionally, his 1.6 interceptions put him in fourth-place on his team, and he makes the most out of any midfielder in Jupp Heynckes’ squad.
Thiago’s mesmerizing skills are the most best-recognized part of his game, and he beats an opponent once per game on average to reflect that. His skills help him to create space for himself so he can find a teammate with an accurate pass and act as a catalyst for intimidating Bayern attacks.
The technical multinational missed a big chunk of time in the middle of the season with a thigh injury, meaning that he has only made 11 appearances in the league, but he made the most of the few matches he’s played this year. His average 7.42 rating statistically indicates that he is the fourth-best player on the team this season, and he won a Man of the Match to reward his good play.
Present and past Bayern Munich managers all viewed Thiago as a vital cog in the Bavarian giants’ machine, and Alcantara has paid back their faith by acting as the puppetmaster in Die Roten’s midfield.
When fit, Thiago goes straight into the first XI of his club, but managers never select him consistently for the Spanish national side. He has just 23 caps for the nation he has represented since 2011, but if he stays healthy until the World Cup, he could play a vital role in La Roja’s bid for their second World Cup win.
His brilliant football mind and ability to find his teammates make him a great general in the deeper areas of midfield, but Thiago needs to focus on creating shots for his teammates and himself. He certainly has the dribbling ability to separate from defenders around the box, but so far in his career, he has mainly flaunted his prowess to beat defenders in deep areas where efforts at goal do not threaten ‘keepers.
If Jupp Heynckes lets the Italian-born roam more in midfield and make runs into the box, the best team in Germany could improve even further, if that is actually possible. Thiago has the potential to become the world’s best midfielder, and the World Cup gives him the perfect platform to remind the planet that La Masia actually has produced a superstar since Lionel Messi’s graduation.