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 U-16 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 Munich, 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, 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.
8) Bad Luck Thiago
Despite finding his best level in Germany, Thiago's Bundesliga career has been compromised by his health. The talented midfielder has sustained at least one major injury every season since arriving in Munich. The 2017/18 campaign sadly did not buck the trend and Thiago picked up a serious thigh strain in a Champions League match against Anderlecht, which kept him on the sidelines until February.
The most serious injury of his career happened during his first year in the Bundesliga, as an ACL tear against Hoffenheim in 2013/14 that initially saw him sidelined for 12 matches eventually led to a relapse that put him out of action until April 2015 and cost him a spot in the Spain squad for the 2014 World Cup. In 2012, he suffered a similar upset, as a late-season injury with Barcelona prevented him from joining the team that eventually took the Euro 2012 crown.
9) At home in Munich
Through ups and downs, Thiago feels comfortable at Bayern. Not only has he found the form of his career and established himself as an indispensable piece in one of Europe's top teams, but the city itself has captivated him. After renewing his Bayern contract until 2021, the midfield ace made it very clear that he intends to join the Bayern pantheon of greats one day. Not only did he swear fealty to the Bavarian giants, he did so in German. That's commitment.
Watch: Thiago on life at Bayern!
10) 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 finished the 2016/17 season with a 90.2% pass-completion rate, the highest in the Bundesliga.
Watch: The Best of Bayern's Thiago!