The moment matters turned more than a little pear-shaped for the apparently unsettled Thiago Alcantara was way back at the end of the season before last. It was April 2012, when the Barça midfielder scored his club’s fifth strike in a 7-0 win against Rayo Vallecano in Vallecas—a working class suburb in Spain’s capital city.
Instead of the more traditional handshake and trot back to the halfway line, the 22-year-old decided to launch into a dance routine with Dani Alves in front of the livid Rayo supporters.
Both footballers should have known better.
Rayo Vallecano are a much respected and much loved club in Spain. This was not a time for taunting. The Barcelona captain, Carles Puyol, made this feeling quite clear with a clip round the ear for Thiago followed by a shove on the head as he pushed the miscreant away from the baying Bukaneros—Rayo’s passionate Ultras.
A cut-away TV shot to Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova showed what the pair thought about the footballer’s antics. Puyol was not alone in his disgust. It was not exactly a case of "if looks could kill" from that season’s management team, but "if looks could stick the Hispano-Brazilian on the transfer list straight away."
The issue was not only Thiago showing a lack of respect to Barça’s cash-strapped opponents on the night, but that the midfielder wasn't in any kind of position to show a lack of respect. At the time, Thiago was on the road to becoming a new Bojan—a promising footballer failing to live up to early career hopes.
Last season should have been a breakthrough campaign for the Spain U-21 international. Instead, it became one of frustration for Thiago, who made just 15 league starts for the club. It was not as if the footballer could not have found more opportunities by possibly giving the aging knees and ligaments of Xavi Hernandez or Andres Iniesta a break from time to time over a long, demanding season.
However, Thiago all too often showed a lack of consistency to warrant more trust from Vilanova.
This, in turn, has led to a situation where Thiago is at the heart of the summer transfer rumour mill over the possibility of moving elsewhere to find first-team football to ensure that the footballer can be a part of Spain’s squad for the 2014 World Cup.
Ironically, it was last season’s lack of first-team football that made Thiago a tempting prospect for rival clubs—with the player’s clause dropping to a very tempting £15 million.
Whilst stories over the past few weeks of Thiago making a move elsewhere to reboot his career have made waves in the Barcelona press, they certainly are not of the panicked variety. Instead, there is a stoicism and understanding over the reasons for the youngsters desire to move on.
After all, even footballers of the experience and quality of Cesc Fabregas have found it difficult to find a niche in the current Barcelona starting lineup.
Nevertheless, the possibility of Thiago leaving the club puts Barcelona in a sticky spot. Barcelona’s stretched squad needs all the quality it has at its disposal. Thiago’s good form at the tail end of the last campaign, and a hat-trick in the final of Spain’s victorious European U-21 Championship show what the Italy-born, creative midfielder is capable of.
What’s more, the relatively low cost and high regard of the footballer still held amongst Europe’s top clubs sees the possibility of Thiago moving to a Champions League rival.
However, Barcelona will find it hard and potentially damaging to keep hold of an ambitious footballer who wants to move on—due to a lack of promise that more first-team action will be available this season.
The best hope, perhaps, for the Catalan club is for Vilanova to persuade Thiago that the footballer’s development is best handled at the club where he was born and bred, and that patience and hard work is going to be required.
The big question, though, is whether the footballer possesses the former and is willing to put in the latter to become a key part of the next 10 years for Spain’s league champions.