El Centrocampista

ONE TO WATCH – Thiago Alcântara


One of the most iconic images from the 1994 FIFA World Cup came when Brazil scored their second goal during the 3-2 quarter-final victory over the Netherlands in Dallas.

Bebeto’s ‘baby’ celebration with team-mates Romario and Mazinho captured the imagination of the watching world and no doubt the striker’s son, now 17, has had to live with it throughout his formative years.

There is another offspring of those three smiling members of the Seleção however, who has the potential to make on even bigger impact on the beautiful game.

Thiago Alcântara do Nascimento was born three years earlier in San Pietro Vernotico, a town nestled in the heel of southern Italy.

His father, Mazinho was playing for Serie A club Lecce at the time but later moved north for a spell at Fiorentina.

He returned to Brazil with his young family just one season later.

It was in his father’s homeland that the young Thiago first began playing the game, getting a pair of football boots just before his fifth birthday.

Mazinho failed to settle in Brazil however, and flew back to Europe to sign for La Liga outfit Valencia.

It was to be another two years until Thiago and his younger brother Rafael joined their father, who had recently made a switch to Celta Vigo

The siblings resumed their fledging footballing education at Galician side Priegue, Thiago playing with children two years his senior when he was just six-years-old.

Finally, five years later, and after a brief stay at Elche, Mazinho took his young family back to Brazil, where they settled in it’s capital Rio de Janeiro.

Thiago, now 10-years-old, joined the youth ranks at Flamengo and began to blossom into one of the outstanding youngsters at the club.

Despite his positive progress however, it was decided a return to Europe would offer him the best opportunity to further his career and by the age of 14, Thiago was playing for the youth team at Ureca in the town of Nigrán.

The midfielder flourished in his new surroundings and soon a whole host a La Liga clubs were clambering to get him into their youth academies.

“I guess I did something really good,” he says, “since lots of several top teams showed a strong interest in me, including Valencia CF, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. I think you guys already know what was my decision.”

In 2005 Thiago Alcântara packed his bags and moved to Barcelona, where he took up residence at the famed youth academy at La Masia. He was 14-years-old.

There were soon glimpses of the ability that brought him to the club and he quickly established himself in the Barça Cadete B side.

Thiago progressed to the Juvenil team and then forced his way into the club’s B team, coached by Luis Enrique.

It soon became apparent that Thiago was a special talent, even among a side brimming with technically gifted footballers, and he was soon on the verge of breaking into the first team squad after earning rave reviews as Barça B strolled from victory to victory at the Mini Estadi.

Despite his fantastic progress, the young player was under no illusions as to the main contributing factor in his rapid development, saying:

“Growing up in the Barça cantera is great, not only for what they teach you about football but also for the values and behaviour they transmit you.”

On 17 May 2009, Thiago made his senior debut for Barcelona when he replaced Eidur Gudjohnsen during a league clash against Real Mallorca, impressing with his composure and maturity.

Frustratingly for the player however, further chances were few and far between as Pep Guardiola looked to keep his new starlet under wraps, and it was almost a year before he scored his first senior goal against Racing Santander.

The majority of his appearances came as a substitute, and the season finished with Thiago still a relatively unknown quantity.

It was during the summer however, that he really announced himself to the watching world.

Capped at under 16, 17 and 19 levels for his adopted homeland of Spain, Thiago was the star of under 21 side that won the European Championships in June, and went on to have a fantastic pre-season with Barça as they travelled to the United States among other places.

This impressive form was soon recognised at senior international level, and he was called into the Spain squad by coach Vicente del Bosque.

This finally put to bed any lingering hopes Brazil may have had of getting him in to a yellow shirt, and

Thiago made his debut against Italy on 10 August 2011 and won his second cap in the UEFA Euro2012 Qualifying match against Lietchenstein three weeks later.

The 20-year-old is now a fully established member of Barcelona’s squad and is, along with his younger brother Rafael (Rafinha), seen as the future of the club for the next decade.

Thinking back to that 1994 World Cup image and there is something slightly prophetic in the famous goal celebration.

Thiago surely seems destined for great things and we may just see this Italian-born, son of a Brazilian, Spanish international make an even greater impact than his father and two team mates did 17 years ago.

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