According to the local press Barça could be on the point of losing one of our most promising youngsters, Thiago Alcántara. It is well known that Thiago has a release clause of only €18 million due to him not playing in 60% of last season’s games. Now, having shone in Spain’s Euro under-21s victory including a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over Italy in Tuesday’s final, Thiago has Europe’s top clubs chasing him, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich leading the race.
I don’t think anybody could have been very happy with Thiago’s 2012/13 season for Barça. He started the season injured and then after just three appearances in September, totalling 127 minutes, he injured a knee ligament which put him out for another two months. By the time he returned at the start of December Tito Vilanova had more or less settled on his best XI, his once de gala, and the team was setting records in La Liga. When Thiago did get an opportunity to start he was guilty of a poor mistake which gifted Malaga a goal in the Copa del Rey. This may have affected his confidence, or indeed Vilanova’s confidence in the player, but I think it’s fair to say that when he played he wasn’t at the level we saw from him in the second half of 2011.
It may well be that he was inspired in the summer of 2011 both before and then after the signing of Cesc Fabregas. Many people were against the signing of Fabregas because they believed Thiago would see his progress blocked. However, Guardiola showed faith in Thiago and found many ways to give him opportunities, very often playing him alongside Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi as in the brilliant 4-0 destruction of Santos in the Fifa Club World Cup Final in December 2011.
It has been reported that Vilanova spoke to the player before the Euro under-21s tournament, presumably to try to persaude him that he was an important part of the squad and that he had a great career ahead of him at Barça. It is quite possible that Thiago didn’t want to hear the old stuff about needing to be patient. He may well have his eyes set on the 2014 World Cup and he may feel he needs to play more to convince Vicente Del Bosque of his qualities. Whether he would get the playing time with United or Bayern is another question, but if he wants to take the risk then he deserves a shot at it and I can understand his desire to make Spain’s squad.
For Barça there is the chance to act now and do something more to persaude the player to stay. It’s not possible to guarantee players playing time as everybody should be aware that they need to fight for their place every day. An improved contract is a possibility but the problem with late reactions of this type is it encourages other players’ agents to flirt with other clubs with the intention of pushing for more money from Barça. If Vilanova wasn’t able to convince him before, then there seems little we can do except curse whoever agreed to the release clause in the summer of 2011.
Thiago may not have had the best season for Barça but he has shown his potential in the past, and now once again for Spain’s under-21s. We are going to look pretty stupid letting such a talented young player leave for such a low price, and there will be questions again asking why Tito Vilanova wasn’t even aware of the conditions of Thiago’s contract. It also goes to show there are more reasons to rotate all the players besides just keeping the best players fresh. The youngsters need to be given more encouragement and more first team opportunities or we will lose plenty more promising youngsters before they reach their full potential.