As a player famous for delivering passes that no one else can see, Thiago Alcantara is talking about exactly what he sees when he is on the ball, “in the midst of madness”. It is a point of view that must certainly be all the more obscured between the speed and intensity of a knockout draw in the Champions League. Just like many of Thiago’s passages, however, his explanation isn’t quite what you expect.
“In the center of the pitch, you don’t have time to identify which player is on your team,” explains the Bayern Munich director. “If you can’t immediately get past his movements, you may not know.
“So, first of all, you get an overview of a game; where will be the spaces from where you are and which players are around you. So it’s a mix of a panoramic view and your team’s knowledge.
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“It is an instinct that derives from the position in the central midfield and from knowing where to play the ball. From years of experience, it becomes second nature.”
The following is often a first-class delivery, such as the recent foiled off-foot game against Borussia Dortmund, that Chelsea will have to be so careful about in the Champions League this week.
What really elevates Thiago’s elegance as a player, however, is not exactly the ability to open a game in a single moment. It’s the way it keeps the whole team so fluid during a game.
The 28 year old begins to talk about the concept of “appreciation of the passage”. This is when players know their teammates so well that they also understand innately what speed and foot area they prefer to receive the ball. When all eleven players know each other and are synchronized, it can prove exponentially beneficial for a team, due to the speed with which it makes everything.
Obviously Thiago tends to do it faster than most.
“You have to understand who you are giving the ball to, whether it is left or right, and secondly know the move. If it is a move in which the defense is very high and you are going to open the game, it must be faster and more in the middle of the court. They are two things, read the player and read the game.
“I think every team understands that the intensity of the transition is essential. Other than that, you don’t just have to give a pass for the sake of it. Give a specific passage for the game and the game. “
Does it have to be so much easier, say, when it comes to a striker like Robert Lewandowski?
“You don’t think of the name. You think of the player who he is for what he is. So, you interpret him as a chess piece that you have in front of you, that you know how he can move.”
Once again, that panoramic view. It makes Thiago’s vision even more impressive since it is evidently an instant fusion of Marcelo Bielsa’s spatial perception and specific knowledge.
Things are definitely going very well for Thiago at Bayern. It has found shape, the team has found shape.
The two feel interconnected because Thiago is so central in the way the side team acts as the team’s pivot. This role was occasionally interrupted during his time at the club, due to an unfortunate long-term injury or questionable short-term managerial decisions such as that of former boss Nico Kovac. Thiago has however become a modern Bayern totem since he signed for Pep Guardiola’s team over six years ago. It has become home, almost as much as Barcelona.
“My son is Bavarian. He was born here, so feel the ties and roots here.
“More than an international club, it’s a family club. You can move easily here, make friends with everyone who works here in Sabenerstrasse. It makes it feel like home.”
Comfortable because Thiago is in Monaco and speaking of the team, you have the feeling that he is much more comfortable in discussing how football works. Suddenly he becomes much more animated and involved, quickly talking about the complexities of the game.
But just as he does not see his home completely as Barcelona the city, he does not see his role fully defined by the Barcelona club. This is perhaps curious, given that Thiago has long been regarded as the one who fled, the successor of Xavi who left before his time. It seemed like the perfect signature of Guardiola, but maybe that’s the point. Thiago is much more than just an Academy prototype.
“My style is not only due to Barca. There is also the Brazilian idea of a pin.
“Barca gives you the philosophy to understand the game of Barca. The rest you collect along the way.
“For me there are so many variations in football. It’s not necessarily about controlling the game. It’s about controlling your action. Is that your actions are well trained and performed in the best possible way, against the opposition. This is control. If it is a long ball, it must be checked. Dominate a rival through execution. Make every play with the target in sight.
“This, for me, is control – that everything you have trained comes out.”
This is all the more pronounced in the Champions League, because a recent competition theme has been for the games to go completely out of control. Thiago has been involved in some of them, from the two hoarse ties with Real Madrid, to one of the first big rebounds: a 6-1 from 3-1 down against FC Porto in 2014-15.
The draw with Chelsea seems to have potential for this, given how much both sides attack.
This promises to be fun for anyone who watches, but Thiago also surprises in this regard. He doesn’t really like playing in these games. It almost seems that they have lowered the level
“It shouldn’t be that there can be so many goals,” he says, showing some irritation. “It’s a knock-out. It’s about the little details. Going away with a goal is so dangerous. There shouldn’t be so many goals, because it’s a knock-out.
“I’m not a big fan of those crazy games. I’m more of a fan of the beautiful games, the exact games. It may be a 2-1 or a 4-3, but it is controlled. Not crazy. Because later on you are there thinking “where we were at that moment” that you don’t remember. “
Thiago remembers what it is like when “madness” – “the locura“, In Spanish – swallow one of those matches. It happens naturally before you even realize it, and therefore it means nothing it can happen.
“You just got blown away. At that moment that gets out of control, you’re in madness, the locura. Nothing is under control. It is as if I was only experiencing the game, the maximum effort, but the least control. It’s when you get these crazy scores you’re talking about: 5-3 or 5-4.
“I’d rather do what Ajax did in the Champions League last season. That’s how I’d like to play. Ajax controlled all the games. I’d rather do it than madness and be in the Champions League semifinal because you know how. you want to play.
“It’s a logical consequence of something, he’s trained. The security you need in football comes mainly from the way the team plays. It’s when you know every move – every automatism – so well that you don’t have to think on the pitch.
“This is how it should be.”
You can certainly feel Guardiola’s influence in Thiago. No manager value checks anymore. No manager punctures players more.
“Of all the coaches we had here, and Barca, he was the one with the greatest intensity and concentration. You had the same tension training as playing. You are in tune with the learning and refinement of your game. With other coaches, training sessions can be a little lighter, but with Pep it’s always concentration. “
Thiago looks as if he could have a similar streak when he eventually retires. It was Guardiola who first attracted him to Bayern, between the interests of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson before he retired.
One of the great successes of his career goes away, although Thiago insists that only Bayern will go. The midfielder could have gone to a United basket that suffered one of the worst eras in their history. Instead he went to a club enjoying the most successful era of its history – with one thing missing: that trophy they are playing for on Tuesday, the Champions League.
He predictably doesn’t see it that way.
“I see it season by season. And right now I don’t have the championship, the cup or the champions. This is my goal. It’s not that I miss you. “
So no pressure to finally win it?
“I don’t feel pressure. It’s football. If you told me I had to operate on someone, it’s pressure. But playing football isn’t pressure.”
That’s how he sees it.