Thiago Alcántara at DT
La Roja hasn’t been much in the news recently, but things should start picking up next week (Feb. 24), when Vicente del Bosque announces the list of players called up for the friendly against Venezuela on Feb. 29 at La Rosaleda in Málaga, as our coach will use this game to test out players for the upcoming Eurocopa. One of these players will be Thiago, who was recently interviewed by DT. Here’s what they said about him, and what he had to say.
He’s 20 years old and he’s spent most of those years playing football. Before, he would imitate his father, a Brazilian who triumphed in the Liga in the 1990s. Now, he’s part of the elite and surpassing himself each day to earn a place for himself in the best club and best national team in the world.
It’s obvious that football is in his blood, since he’s the son of a world champion with Brazil – and a volleyball player. The history of football is filled with sons who weren’t as successful as their famous fathers. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. For everything that Mazinho was, his son appears to have even more art with the football. Before shining in Europe, Mazinho was formed as a footballer in that prolific pernambucana cantera. Thiago had the luck of playing for the best football school in the world, Barcelona’s La Masía. It appears that the fortune was mutual, because when the coaches signed him as an adolescent, they surely could not have predicted that Thiago was going to become the biggest promise in our football. It was an ideal situation, although the boy had a hard time in the beginning: “the arrival was super difficult. It’s clear that you’re so excited to be part of Barça, but everything was completely different. It was tough being apart from my family, having to live alone, make new friends… that’s why I believe footballers mature before others.”
The forging of a champion
Thiago speaks about maturity, but he was only born 20 years ago in San Pietro Vernotico in the province of Brindisi, Italy. He came into the world there, as his father was playing for Lecce back then. Three countries and three very different styles of football have combined to make a unique player: “from Brazil, I believed I learned how to play one on one, the quality and el desborde. In Spain, I realized that everything was a bit more serious, more tactical, stronger. I learned from those two countries. And as I grew up, I saw that Italian football is different, more defensive and with a focus on counterattacking.”
Alcántara has soaked up all the football he’s seen, played and shared in the two decades of his life. But above everything else, imprinted on his retinas is the image of his father, whose impressive 50-meter passes, elegant dribbling and professionalism are still remembered in Valencia and Vigo. These are characteristics that his son Thiago tries to emulate now. “If you want to be the best or try and get to where the great players are, first you have to make a small sacrifice. You have to give up doing things that people your age do, you can’t spend so many hours going out, you can’t play a lot of football while studying in school because you’ll be tired for the game during the weekend…”
Between the patio of his school and Camp Nou, Thiago passed through the fields of La Masía: “I remember when we played on field 6, which was an artificial field, we would look at the Mini Estadi and think about how big it was. You look at it and you say, ‘I want to play there.’ And of course, Camp Nou was immense.” But it hasn’t been as easy as some may think: “it has been super complicated, with ups and downs. You believe you’re ready and they make you wait a bit longer. Everything the club has done and the advice of my parents have been vital for me to be able to endure and gain more experience. Now I’m more conscious of where I am, and everything I had to go through to get here.”
A meteoric career
The progression of Thiago Alcántara has been unstoppable. In the 2005-06 season, when he was only 14, he joined the Cadete B team, from where he was promoted in 2007 to the juvenil team. During that season, he was often called up to Barça B. He played the entire 2008-09 season with the filial, which was in the Second B division and coached by Luis Enrique. Near the end of the season, on May 17, 2009, Pep Guardiola debuted him in the first division against Mallorca. It was his first contact with the league of the stars, although he would still be part of the second team the next season, which was promoted to the Second A division. Thiago won’t forget that season (2009-10) for another reason: he scored his first goal in the first division, on Feb. 20, 2010 against Racing. “I can’t say that it was like scoring any other goal because for me it wasn’t, for me it was… I don’t know, I couldn’t believe it. I scored the goal and I hugged the first person I saw, and then I thought about a player that was on the bench, Jonathan Dos Santos. He and I had spoken when we played in the juvenil team, talking about how it would be to score a goal in the Camp Nou…”
Thiago Alcántara has quickly achieved his objectives. He’s been a part of the first team since September, with his own ficha, and he lives a reality of fantasy each day, training with the best footballers in the world in what many consider the best team in the history of this sport. “In the beginning, it’s a bit scary to have those players around you, but they make it easy for you: the complicity that they have with you, the friendliness, the humility… all that helps a lot and comes out on the field.” That is the key, because Thiago is an uninhibited player, despite his youth, when it counts: “when I’m on the field, I forget all the problems and everything around me. I just like to do new things, different things, things that both my teammates and I like, which has a purpose: to get to the goal and win games.”
One of the big challenges of Alcántara in this moment is to make a space for himself in the starting XI of Barça, a complicated objective due to the quality of his teammates, although it’s not impossible, since a generational transition is expected: “I don’t think that will happen just yet. The actual team has a lot left to give, but it’s true that La Masía and the cantera are full of quality players. Bit by bit they are promoted to the first team but it won’t be a brutal change,” he forecasts. The other great challenge is to secure his position on the Spanish national team. He’s passed through all the lower categories since the U-16 team, winning European championships with the U-17 team (2008), and last summer in Denmark with the U-21 team, where he was chosen as the best player in the final and one of the members of the ideal team of the tournament. He then committed to play for Spain (he has double nationality, Spanish and Brazilian), something he always knew he would do. Vicente del Bosque debuted him in a friendly last August against Italy, and made his commitment to La Roja official on Sept. 6 against Liechtenstein in a qualifier for the 2012 Euro.