He was eligible to represent three countries, but chose to play for Spain. He was forged in Barcelona's academy, but chose to make a name for himself with Bayern Munich. Thiago Alcantara is a man of big decisions.
bundesliga.com discovers everything that makes one of the best midfielders in modern football tick.
1) Three men and a baby
Thiago might as well have been born with a ball under his arm. His father Iomar do Nascimento, better known as Mazinho was a member of the Brazil squad that won the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Although he played in every game of that tournament, he would be remembered more for something other than his exploits on the field.
In the quarter-final match against the Netherlands, legendary striker Bebeto scored Brazil's second goal in a 3-2 victory. Overcome with emotion, he ran to the side of the pitch where Mazinho and Romario joined in on a choreographed celebration that became a viral sensation at a time when the internet wasn't even a thing: the three men swung their arms in unison to honour Bebeto's recently-born baby, who grew up to become a footballer himself.
2) International man of mystery
It would be fair to describe Thiago as a multicultural person. His upbringing was bound to his father's playing career so he moved around A LOT. He was born in San Pietro Vernotico, Italy. He got his start in football in Rio, Brazil, in Flamengo's academy. He then moved to Spain and later returned to Rio before signing for Barcelona in 2005 aged 14.
He would've been able to represent Brazil or Italy at international level, yet he opted to pledge allegiance to Spain despite his father's wishes. Thiago started playing for La Roja at U16 level and never looked back. "I have lived and grown up here in Spain", explained the talented midfielder when asked for an explanation.
3) Why always him?
Did you know that Mario Balotelli almost signed for Barcelona as a youngster? The mercurial Italian striker had a trial with the blaugranes in 2006, where he quickly befriended Thiago. Although Super Mario did not sign for the Catalan giants, he clearly kept a good impression of his friend.
After Thiago's debut for Spain in a friendly against Italy that ended in a 2-1 defeat, the Spanish press were talking to their newest international. Balotelli spotted the cameras and decided to "videobomb" the Spanish midfielder to tell everyone watching on live TV that his friend was "el más grande", the greatest.
4) Made in La Masia
Thiago's steel was forged in the same fire as midfield giants Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. He made his first team debut in the 2008/09 season, during Pep Guardiola's first (and arguably most successful) season at the Camp Nou, but he really established himself with the senior side only three years later.
Although he was living up to his potential by the 2012/13 season, he shocked everyone by choosing to sign for Bayern, where a certain Josep Guardiola was due to take charge the following year. Even after leaving Catalonia without looking back, he remains close to former first-team and academy teammates like Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Marc Bartra, who also played in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund.
5) Blaugrana Brother
Another former Barcelona teammate who Thiago certainly remains close with is his brother Rafinha, who's still under the contract with the Catalans. Although the younger of the Alcantara brothers also plays as a central midfielder, he represents Brazil at international level. Their mother Valeria must have a really hard time staying neutral when the World Cup comes.
6) A golden debut goal
Thiago's first goal for the Bavarian giants came in the final of the 2013 Club World Cup against Moroccan side Rabat Casablanca. His strike ensured a 2-0 lead that stood until the end, giving Pep Guardiola his second trophy in his opening six months in charge after beating Chelsea to the European Super Cup earlier that year.
7) Guardiola's legacy
Despite the Catalan coach that brought him to the Bundesliga left for Manchester City in 2016, Thiago stayed at Bayern. Even though he lost his mentor, the Spaniard's progression was not halted; quite the opposite. Under Carlo Ancelotti in 2016/17, Thiago had arguably his best season in the Bundesliga. He played a total of 2,291 minutes throughout the year, almost double the previous campaign, and managed a career high of six goals and five assists. Guardiola may be gone, but the seed he planted turned into a tree that will keep producing world-class football moments.
"What can I say about Thiago? He’s a coach's dream," said current Bayern boss Niko Kovac at the end of the club's 2018/19 double-winning campaign. "We’ve got a massive pool of exceptional midfielders, but he’s the heartbeat of our midfield, a player who can do everything with the ball."
8) Mad Skills
Thiago's footballing prowess relies on his incredible skills with the ball. Not only is he an acrobatic dribbler, but as we've seen time and time again throughout, Thiago never runs away from bold decisions to set up plays that end in the opposition's goal. No wonder then that he has finished every one of his six seasons in the Bundesliga with a pass completion average of at least 90 per cent.
Watch: How Thiago pulls the strings in the Bayern midfield
9) Santa's little helper
Thiago is known the world over for his passing range and no-look passes, but even the greats get their wires crossed. In a Bundesliga match against RB Leipzig on 21 December 2016, the Bayern No.6 collected possession in midfield before turning into space and playing the ball out wide just as an image of Santa Claus (wearing red) appeared on the electronic advertising board on the left side of the Allianz Arena. Juan Bernat scampered back to keep the ball in play and save his teammate's blushes, but that didn't stop Bayern's social media channels using the footage and jokingly announcing the signing of St. Nick.
10) Alcantara foundation
Along with his brother, father, mother and wife, Julia, Thiago is an active founding member of the Alcantara Family Foundation, which uses football as a way of educating and integrating young children in Brazil, Germany and Spain. "The values of sport can be extended to many areas of life," writes Thiago on the foundation's official website.