Munich - Pep Guardiola raised more than a few eyebrows on Thursday with his forthright declaration of his desire to bring FC Barcelona youngster Thiago Alcantara to FC Bayern Munich.
Not only did his unexpected openness trigger surprised reactions, but also a collective bewilderment at what the Spanish Under-21 captain could bring to an attacking midfield department already crammed with top-class talent. bundesliga.com investigates…
Already a three-time international with Spain's senior side, the most recent evidence of the 22-year-old's ability came at the UEFA Under-21 European Championships last month. Not only did he net a first-half hat-trick in the 4-2 final victory over Italy to help the Iberians take the continental title, but he was also named in the team of the tournament after a series of eye-catching displays.
While Alcantara's attacking prowess is unquestionably a huge selling point, Guardiola is also a fan of his versatility. "Thiago can play as a No6, a No7, a No8, a No10 and a No11," said the Bayern head coach. "I told [sporting director Matthias Sammer] and [CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge] that Mario [Götze] is a super, super player, but I need Thiago." High praise indeed, especially with the likes of Franck Ribery, Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos and Xherdan Shaqiri already on the books and vying with Götze for a starting berth.
The son of Brazilian 1994 FIFA World Cup winner Mazinho, Alcantara made his professional breakthrough at Barcelona in the 2011/12 season, Guardiola's last in charge at the Catalan club. The 42-year-old fielded the unpredictable youngster 27 times in that campaign, with 20 of those outings coming in the starting XI. It is therefore safe to conclude that he is well aware of the tactics and discipline required by Bayern's new strategist.
Alcantara has gone on to play 68 times in Spain's Primera Division, scoring on 19 occasions, while he also has ten UEFA Champions League appearances under his belt, providing three assists. Bayern witnessed his devastating footwork first hand in the 2011 Audi Cup, where his performances prompted then coach Jupp Heynckes to laud both Alcantara and Kroos as "the biggest talents in Europe".
Joker in the pack
Despite his contract at Barcelona running until 2015, Alcantara's decision to join FC Bayern is testament to the pulling power of the club, the league and Guardiola himself.
The player's emotional attachment to the Bayern coach is strong, after he handed him his first team debut as an 18-year-old at Barcelona in May 2009. Little did he know then, that Guardiola would seek to guide the next stage in his development too.