Wouldn’t all teams like the problem Barcelona have at present? Not only are they the best team on the planet, play the best football and have a plethora of the best players in the world on their books, they also have one of the best, if not the best, youth development systems that produces talent by the truck-load. The list of graduates from ‘La Masia’ is long and distinguished – they have developed and harvested half the Spanish national side in Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Bojan, Busquets, Pedro and a certain Mr Fabregas (who may be plying his trade at the Camp Nou again shortly) and that’s not mentioning the likes of other graduates Messi or current manager Josep Guardiola.
Breeding the best for club and country is part of a long heritage at the club, but successfully integrating them into the first team is what they seem to do best. Barcelona reserves, aptly named ‘Barcelona B’, could give most teams in the world a good game and it now seems they have struck gold again with the emergence of Thiago Alcantara do Nascimento or Thiago for short.
Born in Italy on the 11th April 1991, he is the son of the former Brazilian footballer and 1994 World Cup winner Mazinho and was destined for great things from a young age having started his youth career at Flamengo at just 4 years old. In 1994 he moved to Spain after his dad signed for Valencia and continued his development at Galician team Ureca in Nigran. He returned to Flamengo aged 10 and eventually moved back to Spain and signed for Barcelona when he was 14. He broke into the Barca B team in 2007, so far making 59 appearances and scoring 3 goals. Since 2009 he has seen some first team action as well, making 14 appearances and scoring 4 goals, effortlessly fitting into the team like he has been there for years – a mark of the culture that flows through all age groups at the club. At 5ft 8in this central midfielder not only has similar physical characteristics to Xavi, the boy can play like him as well. He has sublime skill, fantastic passing range, football intelligence and an eye for goal…this kid is the business for sure.
His profile has taken a rapid rise recently; you may have seen him ripping up the pitch as he starred in this summer’s UEFA European Under 21 Championships, where he was ever present for Spain as they went on to lift the trophy. He was undoubtedly one of the best performers on display at the tournament, as he oozed wizardry, scoring the second goal (40 yard free-kick) in the final and was given the man of the match award. He was part of the triumphant Spanish team that also included such players like Juan Mata of Valencia, David de Gea of Manchester United, the captain Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao, Diego Capel of Seville and fellow Barca youth system player Jeffren Suarez.
Thaigo looks to be following in the footsteps of Xavi, having represented Spain at every age group from under 16’s to present day in the under 21’s. He has made a total of 33 appearances in the Spanish youth ranks scoring 11 goals. Surely senior recognition is not too far away if he can get in! At club level, the same way Xavi was bred as a replacement for Guardiola, Thiago seems to be a perfect replacement for Xavi. The maestro that is Xavi has ongoing injury problems and the club know, as he ages, he will play less and less games. But surprisingly the future is not so clear for Thiago as rumours of Fabregas’ arrival intensify.
With Fabregas set to make the switch back to his spiritual home this summer, at worst next summer, this could slow the development of Thiago, who could arguably occupy a birth in the first team now. There is no doubt he will only benefit and learn from training with players of Barcelona quality day in, day out but needs to get top level game time also. He could operate as Xavi did, moving in between Barca B and the first team but such talent deserves more than that. When Fabregas does move, he will play understudy to Xavi, elsewhere he would walk in to any other team-so Thiago would therefore be understudy to him. He could come in and out for Iniesta as he can play in advances positions, but at only 27 years old, Iniesta has a lot of game time in him.
Therefore could Thiago be set to become the next Fabregas and be forced to leave the club to aid his development. But with such a talent on their hands, do Barcelona really need Fabregas? Thiago has been in red hot form this pre-season on Barca’s tour of America and also in the Audi Cup so why not promote him to the first team squad full time so that he can become the long term successor to Xavi rather than Fabregas? Whatever Barcelona do they have one of the most talented youngsters in the world on their books that will shine for years to come and I for one hope that Barcelona’s gain in Fabregas, isn’t their loss in Thiago.