From Barcelona to Bayern Munich: Thiago Alcantara takes the road less travelled

Young midfielder left Barcelona, followed Pep Guardiola to Bavaria and finds himself in a position where Tuesday night’s result could shape his immediate future, writes Andy Mitten.

Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara, right, returned from a serious knee injury to become a regular fixture in the midfield. Christof Stache / AFP
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The rumours about Pep Guardiola’s verbal agreement to join Manchester City raised eyebrows in the Camp Nou press box on Saturday.

Guardiola is a Catalan and the influence of his various compatriots at City is significant, but sources who had known the Bayern Munich coach most of his adult life did not trust the story, which originated in Qatar.

They maintained that he is enjoying life in Bavaria, even during the recent downturn in form that has seen them lose four games in succession.

Guardiola, who many Barcelona fans would like to see return to the club, confirmed that he will be at Bayern next season to see out the final year of his contract.

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He did so after receiving a kicking in the Spanish media following his side’s 3-0 Uefa Champions League semi-final defeat last week.

Those who felt insulted by his 2012 departure, or those who took it as rejection, delighted in Bayern being taken apart by Luis Enrique’s charges. Guardiola is Barca’s most successful coach, but his ghost looms at the club where he spent most of his career.

Barca were football’s pre-eminent force under him and have been a mixed bag since, but the 3-0 win ushered in even more confidence for Enrique’s Barca.

Away from the criticism, there is admiration for Guardiola for having the confidence to try something different by starting with three defenders for the first 16 minutes at Camp Nou.

Bold, but the move did not work, although Guardiola’s team were level until the 77th minute.

It went badly wrong at the end, but Bayern played well in the second half and their manager no doubt hopes for a repeat of that performance tonight at the Allianz Arena – without the concession of three more goals.

They have a history when it comes to mounting stirring fightbacks; the injury-hit German champions lost the first leg of their quarter-final 3-1 in Porto before winning the second leg 6-1 to set up a last-four showdown with Barcelona.

With wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery out for the season and defender Holger Badstuber and full-back David Alaba also absent, Bayern are clear underdogs, but Guardiola has been able to welcome back Thiago Alcantara, the delightfully skilful midfielder who played for him at Barcelona.

The 24-year-old Spain international of Brazilian parents moved to Munich in 2013 for €20 million (Dh81.9m) after preferring to be reunited with his former coach rather than another interested party, Manchester United.

Barca fans were sad to see him go, especially for a relatively low fee, but he had Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets ahead of him in the Barca midfield.

Alcantara is so talented and can play in the same role as any of those; though he featured in 29 of Barca’s league games in 2012/13, he started just 15 of them.

He had seen how good Bayern were in their 7-0 aggregate win over Barca in the 2013 Champions League semi-final and Guardiola promised he would be central to his plans in Bavaria.

Things could have gone better in his injury-interrupted first season, which came to an end in April last year when he ruptured his cruciate ligament against Hoffenheim. That caused him to miss the World Cup for Spain and all of this season until he started a league game at Borussia Dortmund six weeks ago.

The son of Mazinho, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994, and brother of Barca midfielder Rafinha, Thiago has since featured in every Bayern game. He came face-to-face with his younger brother who played the last three minutes in Barca’s victory.

Maybe when he sees how good Barca are now and ponders the imminent departure of Xavi, he will wonder whether he made the right decision to leave. A storming performance in Munich will reaffirm that he did.

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