Thiago Alcántara at El Mundo Magazine
The cover story of this week’s edition of El Mundo Magazine speaks about how parents can help their children to become successful athletes while keeping the family intact. The message is that for every Arantxa Sánchez Vicario or Jorge Lorenzo, there is a Thiago Alcántara.
Mazinho, during his time at Valencia, feeding young Thiago in 1993.
A baby in diapers, playing in the waves, a sky full of stars and a ball all form part of the tattoo on his right arm. Thiago got this tattoo as soon as he turned 18. This drawing on his skin is an indelible tribute to an old photograph that his parents took of him on a beach in Italy when he was 14 months old. This image helps him remember where he comes from, as well as the warm and prudent environment that his family has achieved for him on his way to the elite. “The first thing we taught him was that everyone is equal: from the president of the club to the woman who cleans the restrooms of the stadium. And that if he wants something, he’ll have it with effort. He has suffered a lot. He left home at 14 to achieve his dream, and although he’s made it, he has a long road left to walk. We help him, but he has to carve out his own future,” explains Valeria Alcántara, mother of Thiago.
[That’s all the Thiago-related parts from the first article, and then there is an interview.]
Blood of a World Cup champion runs throughout his 172 centimeters. He’s also inherited the feline and agile musculature of a volleyball player. He was born in Brindisi, Italy in 1991, since his parents had emigrated there for sports. The mixture, the crossings of roads have functioned to perfection. Twenty years later, Thiago Alcántara is predestined to relieve Xavi Hernández. Thiago has had two models at home who have helped his career along without pressuring or forcing along his natural progression, Mazinho (former Valencia and Celta player) and Valeria (former volleyball player for Botafogo, Fluminese, América, Potable, Xuvenil Teis de Vigo). His career has skyrocketed despite the fierce competition in Barça and the national team. He’s already played two games with Del Bosque’s senior team and he could play in the upcoming Olympic Games.
In two years time, if he’s called for the World Cup that will be played in the country of his parents and if he’s lucky enough to get the Cup, he and Mazinho will go down in history as the first father-son pair to win World Cups. Meanwhile, his brother Rafa, 18, is doing well with Barcelona B and has chosen to play for Brazil if he is selected. Thaisa is the younger sister. At the age of 13, she’s making baskets for Celta Deportivo’s basketball team.
When asked where exactly he considers his home, Thiago does not hesitate in responding “Galicia.” He’s self confident and attentive with everyone, he shakes hands firmly and under the watchful eye of his girlfriend, he’s enjoying the road he has yet to walk. “Many flowers adorn the road, but this voyage still lacks goals,” says the tattoo that adorns his torso. Nike, which sponsors him, adorned its flagship store on the Paseo de Gracia with his images. He responds to questions with smiles and a Pontevedran accent.
What are your favorite childhood memories?
My first memories are from Vigo, playing with Nigrán and after that in Ureca (now Val Miñor), which was my last team before Barcelona. I played on a dirt field with the mythical ball made by Mikasa. When you headed it, you didn’t know if it would break or not (laughs).
All boys look up to their fathers. How long did it take you to realize that yours was a world champion with Brazil in 1994?
It was in Valencia, when we moved from Italy to Spain. I remember the replica of the trophy that they gave him, and my brother and I would play with it. At home, we were always scolded because we broke many things while playing football (laughs). Until I was 10 or 12, I believed that players didn’t earn salaries, that they played because they liked it.
How much of an impact has your mother, a former volleyball player, had in the way you are?
Although she wasn’t a big star, she transmitted to me the energy, character and responsibility you need towards sports or towards anything you have to do in life.
What principles did you inherit from your parents that allowed you to not go off course in life and football?
Above all else, to be respectful and honorable. And to work, work, work as well, that’s fundamental and essential.
What advice did they give you, something that you should never forget?
To be happy.
How do you detach yourself from the pressure of playing with Barcelona and the national team?
By spending time with my family and my friends.
Up to now, have your coaches been like second fathers?
We can say that they’ve been professional fathers, because they were more on a professional level than personal. They know when you’re doing well or badly, but it’s with your friends, family, girlfriend or wife that you discuss those small things.
Did having an elite athlete at home help to shield and take care of one’s career?
Yes, you can see all the good things he did during his career, and correct the errors or try not to make them in your own. Moreover, since the time I was a kid, I’ve been familiar with and accustomed to the atmosphere of a locker room, like that of Celta or Valencia. That’s why I wasn’t so impressed when I made it.
Do you feel that you have added pressure to make your parents happy?
No, never. They always told my brother and me that we should be honorable with what we decide and to have respect for the sport.
What will you do if you win Olympic gold?
I don’t know, I remember that when we won the U-16 Euro, we shaved off a bit of our eyebrows. Let’s see what you all propose for me!
In 1992, the year that we won Olympic gold in football at the Camp Nou, some of the Olympians got a tattoo of the date, of the Olympic rings, of Cobi…
No, no, my girlfriend wouldn’t be very happy if I did that.
What goes through your head when people say you are Xavi’s heir?
We have nothing to do with each other. As a symbol? Since we’re both canteranos and we play the same position, people want to find the heir, but it’s not like that. I hope to continue playing for a long time alongside him. The best thing that could happen to a boy from the cantera is to play alongside his idols. Xavi is one of them, Andrés Iniesta is another… Right now I see myself more of a complement than as an heir.
What would you like to be doing if you weren’t a footballer?
I would like, although at times I don’t have too much time, to continue studying business administration or combining it with marketing.
Do you see yourself surrounded by kids in the future, now that your girlfriend is no longer listening to us?
Like almost everyone, I see myself forming a good family in the future. You reach the achievements you pursue with a good woman by your side and with your parents and siblings always close to you. Good friends are also important.
What advice would you give to a boy that wants to get to the top of the football world?
To enjoy it. Sometimes it appears that the world of football is tilted towards the business end, but the important thing is the essence and to enjoy what you do without losing your virtues.
What would have to happen this year for 2012 to be a good year?
For us to win all the titles, gold in the Olympics and the Champions League. The Eurocopa? The more achievements, the better. If one can’t win everything, it won’t be a mediocre year, but it will be a less happy year.