Munich - When Pep Guardiola claimed FC Bayern München’s star-studded line-up “needed 's qualities in midfield”, many wondered whether the Bavarians’ summer signing would be able to live up to expectations.
Shades ofder Kaiser?
Fast-forward eight months and those questions have been emphatically put to bed by the young Spanish maestro, who has slotted seamlessly into the record title-holders’ set-up, playing a pivotal role, figuratively and literally at times, in Bayern clinching a 24th national title, their 23rd in the Bundesliga era.
Despite having his first-team opportunities limited by injury in the first half of the season, so impressive have Thiago’s performances been since, that some have drawn comparisons between the Spaniard and club icon Franz Beckenbauer. “It’s an honour for me,” said the 22-year-old in interview with kicker magazine. “He was crucial to the evolution of football, but I don’t think I play like him.”
Boasting an uncanny composure in possession, the ability to cut through opponents with refined elegance and the guts to go for glory, it’s not hard to spot the similarities. However, while the legendary libero was charged with providing spectacular incursions from a deep-lying position - often combining to devastating effect with the prolific Gerd Müller - Thiago’s qualities are most apparent when he's orchestrating the entire ensemble in the final third.
He may have shared string-pulling duties with the likes of Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger this season, but that does nothing to detract from the Spanish international’s impact on Bayern’s unprecedented success. Whether with a straight-forward drop of the shoulder, a spectacular scissor kick or a record-breaking performance, Thiago has left a lasting impression in every outing.
Like a world-class Spanish matador, his enviable aptitude at making risky situations look exquisitely easy has been a defining characteristic of his in an imperious campaign, and the 22-year-old believes his decision-making is what sets him apart. “Lahm is an excellent player, but he rarely takes any risks,” said Thiago. “Taking risks is part of the way I play. It can look fantastic or turn out horribly, but those risks are great for football.”
“Barca will never be Bayern”
Many believed Guardiola had thrown the dice by singling out Thiago as his sole summer transfer target, wondering whether a youngster who had failed to displace Spanish stalwarts Xavi and Andres Iniesta at FC Barcelona would be worth the punt. In this case, though, Barca's loss was very much Bayern’s gain. “At Barca, I never had the feeling that they believed in me,” he explained. “I came here to feature in as many games and win as many titles as possible.”
Naturally, much has been made of Bayern’s supposed resemblance to the Spanish giants since Guardiola took over, but Thiago was quick to stress that parallels with Barcelona’s style of play comes down to the record title-holders executing “Pep’s idea of football”.
“The way he wants football to be played is new for the players and perhaps the whole of German football,” the Spaniard elaborated. “When you neared the opposition’s area with Barca you had players darting into space all around you. It’s similar at Bayern, but here we also have the option to shoot from distance." Ultimately though, "Barca will never be Bayern and Bayern will never be Barca”.
Domination far from over
With Bayern playing one of the most dominant brands of football witnessed in recent years, Thiago’s unerring love of the game, demonstrated by his admission that he’d “happily play in goal if that was the only way for me to feature”, continues to develop in a similar fashion to the individual quality Guardiola referenced back in July.
Even emerging victorious in his first 14 appearances - a Bundesliga best-mark - has done little to diminish his hunger for success in a new league that has posed a fresh challenge. “It’s impossible to be bored in the Bundesliga. The fans are incredible and truly live for football,” he said. “I love being able to play in Germany. Here it’s more physical and there’s more space to exploit, while in Spain there’s more technique and short passing.”
Alongside compatriots Guardiola and Javi Martinez, Thiago, affectionately known as ‘The Peacock’, has successfully added Pep’s desired Spanish flair to the Bavarians’ German efficiency, helping to forge one of the most formidable sides to ever grace the Bundesliga. The youngster, however, believes "you can always improve in every department”, which just goes to show that Bayern's Spanish star still has plenty of room to manoeuvre both on and off the pitch.