Shanghai - Until the last few weeks, Thiago Alcantara has not had the chance to enjoy a full pre-season as an FC Bayern München player.
Signed two years and six days ago, his preparations in 2013 were curtailed by involvement in the UEFA European U-21 Championship, before the knee ligament injury, which has limited him to only 23 Bundesliga appearances since joining, ruled him out of the entire pre-season in 2014.
"I haven't had the easiest time so far because the knee injury put a real strain on me," he told fcbayern.de. "I missed almost a year of action and for that reason it feels as if I'm only just starting my second season at Bayern, really. I'm back 100 per cent fit again now and I have big plans for this season."
'It gives you goosebumps'
The injury, however, caused Thiago to miss last summer's tour of the USA, meaning the current trip to China is his first with the club. "This is the first time I've ever been to China," explained the 24-year-old. "The people are unbelievably affectionate and full of emotion. You notice how much they love football."
While citizens of the world's most populous country may love football, it is the German record champions for whom they have fallen head over heels. Indeed, not having witnessed first hand the pulling power of Bayern in the USA last season, if Thiago had any doubts about the club's stature worldwide, then this trip has dispelled them, with legions of fans flocking to airports and open training sessions for a glimpse of their heroes.
"Obviously we're one of the biggest clubs in the world," explained Thiago. "These trips are part of that. [The welcomes] at the airport were great moments. I hadn't thought it would be anything like that. I was pretty tired after the flight and so you're not thinking about what's waiting on the other side and suddenly there are thousands of screaming fans. It gives you goosebumps."
Off the field, the tour has already been an enormous success. On the field, with Thiago at his impudent best in Saturday's 4-1 victory over Valencia CF, things are running just as smoothly. The Spaniard found the net just after half-time in the win, his second strike of pre-season after scoring against FC Augsburg in the Telekom Cup.
The goals were carbon copies of each other, both cool finishes from close range created by new signing Douglas Costa (r.). "He is a very, very good player who gives us lots of options," continued Thiago. "He's strong on the ball, quick and powerful. As a person he fits in perfectly with us and we're all helping him settle in as quickly as possible."
If Costa's signing is anything to go by, then the champions mean business this season - both on a domestic and a continental front. Already reaping the benefits of a full pre-season for the first time in a Bayern shirt, Thiago is also a central cog in Pep Guardiola's three-pronged hunt for trophies. "I'm only part of this great team and it's not about me," the midfielder insisted modestly. "But I am here to win games and lift trophies. We really want to go for it again this season and of course I want to help the team do that. Bringing the UEFA Champions League to Munich would be a dream."