As the summer transfer window rolls into July, Manchester United continues to be linked with a number of high profile names. Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and even Edinson Cavani have all been rumored to be on their way to Old Trafford. Most Red Devils supporters would be thrilled to see any of these players in a Manchester United shirt next year, but it would be the arrival of Thiago Alcantara, from FC Barcelona, that would best serve the club.
While rumors of Ronaldo or Bale signing for Manchester United this transfer window quietly vanish in the summer sun, news of the midfielder from FC Barcelona crossing over the Channel to play for David Moyes continue to pick up steam. As excited as I was when I saw the words ‘Fabregas’ and ‘Manchester United’ in the same headline three weeks ago, I must admit my disappointment at then subsequently reading about Moyes’ interest in Thiago. At first glance it appeared that since a deal for Fabregas would probably never materialize, Thiago was the next best option.
I know now that my dismay with the Thiago news was down to the simple fact that he has not had the chance to feature for Barcelona as much as his more celebrated team mates. After all, the few times I had the opportunity to watch Barcelona this year was when they played in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League. Thiago was never going to get in ahead of Xavi, Busquets, or Iniesta against Milan, PSG, or Bayern Munich. Indeed, from the round of 16 through to the semifinals of the Champions League, Alcantara came on only in the last 25 minutes of the second leg against Bayern Munich, this when Barcelona faced a 5-0 aggregate score line. In short, the argument can be made that perhaps Thiago has not been tested at a level high enough to warrant a move to United.
However, when Alcantara scored a hat-trick in the final of the U21 European Championship last week against Italy, his potential became clear to everyone. A textbook product of the La Masia youth academy, Thiago is a supremely talented youngster with a specific set of very covetable skills:
1. Versatility. For a young player, Alcantara offers much in the way of versatility. His ability on the ball and wonderful turn of pace indicate that he could be fielded alongside Michael Carrick in a variety of formations, behind Robin Van Persie as a second striker or attacking midfielder, and on either side of a midfield diamond. Utilized in central midfield, Thiago would serve as the “free” central midfielder; his main task would be to find space, play a pass, and join the forwards in attack.
He does not possess the speed of a Theo Walcott or Aaron Lennon, but he does have what American football scouts refer to as “game speed”- the ability to pull away and create that foot or two of space that midfielders thrive in. His ability on the ball would lighten the load on whoever else was tasked with offering creativity in midfield, whether that be Shinji Kagawa, “wantaway-Wayne”, or any one of Tom Cleverley or Anderson, should the Brazilian remain a Red Devil.
If Moyes does succeed in bringing the player to Old Trafford, he will hopefully deploy him in the middle of the park, as foil to Carrick. From there he can 1) offer an outlet for his midfield partner and the defense and 2) join the attack by beating his man or running the channels to drag opposing defenders out of position.
2. Vision and Range of Passing. Predictably for a graduate of the University of FC Barcelona, Alcantara appears to prefer making that final, killer pass over scoring a goal. His aforementioned skill on the ball coupled with the ability to find the correct pass bodes well for a Manchester United front-line that already includes Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, and Wayne Rooney.
Surprisingly, of the “new Big Four”- Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City- United are the only club which has not been swept up in the “Spanish midfield” revolution taking place across the Premier League. City can call on David Silva, Javi Garcia, and recent acquisition Jesus Navas, while the performance of Arsenal and Chelsea’s forward lines hinges on the play of Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata, respectively. That United’s scouts identified Thiago as the man to jump-start their Iberian revolution should put the rest of the Premier League on alert- this lad can play.
With the retirement of Paul Scholes- he means it this time- Manchester United are now left with Michael Carrick as the one true world-class midfielder in the squad. Carrick turns 32 in July, however, and the remaining cast members have unfortunately underwhelmed. The arrival of Thiago would allow United to field a dynamic, intelligent midfield, one full of many subtle little pieces of skill. The presence of a player like Alcantara should result in Manchester United scoring more goals like their second against Manchester City in the 2011 Community Shield.
3. An Eye For Goal. All signs point to Thiago being a midfielder much in the mold of a Frank Lampard or young Paul Scholes; he loves to ignite the build-up play and sweep into the box at the opportune moment to score what is the perfunctory goal at the end of a beautifully constructed series of passing moves. His feats at the U21 European Championships, which concluded just last week, serve as proof that he can, and will, score goals. Perhaps the promise of more first team action with United will afford him the opportunity to continue doing so.
Red Devils supporters need look no further than Cesc Fabregas for proof that players of this ilk- clever and composed midfielders, graduates of La Masia- adapt quite well to the brusqueness of British football. Fabregas contributed not only to the midfield cause in his eight years at Arsenal, he scored as many as 19 goals a season for the London club. This year’s U21 European Championships can be seen as Thiago’s official letter of intent; it is no mediocre player that scores a hat-trick in the final of a major tournament.
For a club that won the Premier League so easily last season, Manchester United did so with a sub-par midfield; Can They Score gave United’s midfield an overall grade of D+ for the season. Fortunately for Carrick et al. reports today reveal an agreement has been reached between United and the Alcantara camp for a £17 million transfer from Barcelona. It has taken time, but Manchester United are finally addressing the need for a game-changing midfielder with their pursuit of Thiago.
Luis recently discovered the world of football. He enjoys learning as much as possible about British football, particularly about Manchester United. In a relatively short period of time, he has begun watching, playing, reading, and writing about the game- all to an exhausting degree. Luis lives in southern California with his wife and Rooney, their German Shepherd.