Thiago Alcantara made his long awaited departure from Barcelona last night, sealing a move to Bayern Munich for €25 million. The move represents a monumental blunder on behalf of the Catalan club's management.
Xavi's heir apparent to command the Barca midfield had grown disillusioned by the lack of playing time on offer at Camp Nou and a consequentially reduced release clause in his contract gave the Bavarian giants leverage to bring him to the Bundesliga.
Thiago's departure immediately brings into question the future of Barcelona's midfield. Moreover, it points to how inept president Sandro Rosell's management team really is.
Diabolical player management
Such was the talent and potential importance of the Spanish U20 captain that it is simply bewildering that Barcelona allowed this situation to come to pass.
Thiago's release clause was set at €90 million when he penned a new contract two years ago, but according to Marca, that value plummeted to a mere €18 million when he did not play a fixed amount of minutes in the 2012/13 season.
First off, despite a knee injury, simple rotation throughout the season would have easily avoided the 22-year-old's exit. Thiago certainly performed when called on, and yet Tito Vilanova was so against rotation he continued to play a fatigued Xavi in the youngster's place, even after the league title had already been wrapped up.
Assistant manager Jordi Roura, who has proven to be anything but media savvy, explained to Goal.com that "it is not our job to bear in mind players' contracts".
Actually, that is precisely the job.
Even if the coaching staff were not aware of the clause in Thiago's contract, surely someone on the technical staff was. Why was nothing done?
When news came out that Thiago was considering his future with the club, again Barca reacted witlessly.
Essentially, the management did very little to convince the player to stay.
Of course, it is impossible to know exactly what goes on behind the scenes, but when Pep Guardiola publicly praised and declared interest in Thiago last week, one could not help but feel the Barcelona management should have done similarly more than a month ago.
Young players need assurance and while ultimately the player chose to move, Barcelona could have done more to prevent that from happening.
The perfect fit wasted
It is not as if the Blaugrana have let any old kid go either.
Xavi Hernandez is a once-in-a-lifetime player, perhaps even a once-in-history. So when the perfect replacement is dropped off on your doorstep, you don't go and throw it away. You hold on.
You hold on tight.
Of all Barca's talented midfielders, only Thiago operates in a similar fashion to Xavi. Only Thiago can register such incredible passing numbers.
|La Liga 2012/13||Total Minutes||Total Passes||Passing Accuracy (%)||Passes / 90 mins|
To draw a comparison, Sergio Busquets, also a superb passer, only made 93.5 passes every 90 minutes in La Liga last season.
While Cesc Fabregas was initially chosen by the media as Xavi's successor at Barcelona, the former Arsenal captain has struggled to find rhythm in midfield at the Camp Nou.
It is very simple really. Fabregas' natural position and style of play is completely different to that of Xavi, and indeed Thiago. The latter had been more correctly billed by the informed as the ideal man to conduct Barca's intricate passing game in years to come.
131 – Thiago Alcantara had the most touches per 90 minutes in La Liga in 2012/13 (131). Heart.— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) July 15, 2013
So what now?
Thiago's departure casts immediate doubt on the future of Tito Vilanova's midfield.
Xavi is getting older and has been managed poorly. This season, more than ever, El Maestro could have immensely benefited from heavy rotation with the Hispano-Brazilian.
Murphy's Law would probably now have Xavi and Iniesta getting injured at some point during 2013/14.
Cesc Fabregas is not the player Barca expect him to be and Sergi Roberto is not only unproven, but also of a different technical profile.
The best solution may indeed be to slowly shift greater responsibility to Sergio Busquets and even use him increasingly in tandem with Alex Song.
While Thiago's exit to Bayern Munich is not the end of the world, it stands out as an all-too-avoidable loss.
Unfortunately, it is emblematic of management under Sandro Rosell, which has simply lost the plot and the confidence of Barcelona fans worldwide.
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