ARLINGTON, Texas — Saturday’s 2-0 World Football Challenge win over América wrapped up an FC Barcelona preseason that will be remembered as the coming-out party for the Blaugrana’s newest midfield ace: 20-year-old Thiago Alcántara.
For an FC Barcelona side that lined up all its starters for the opening whistle at Cowboys Stadium, it was Thiago who once again stood out from the rest and generated plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from the 60,807 in attendance.
“We are so, so pleased,” manager Pep Guardiola said when asked about his No. 4 in his postgame press conference. “Thiago didn’t play just one game, he played all the [preseason] tour — even in the first game in Croatia and after in Germany — he played all the games at a good level.”
Vicente del Bosque, manager of world champions Spain, has also taken notice. He’s called up the Italian-born son of former Brazilian international Mazinho to his 22-man roster to face Italy in a friendly on August 10 in his birthplace of Bari, Italy. It’s the first senior call-up for the Spain Under-21 player.
“It was marvelous news,” Thiago said after Saturday’s match. “I didn’t expect it [the call-up] at any point in time and I can’t wipe the smile off my face in these last few days. The first message I received was from my dad, and then I got a call from my mom and then they called [from the federation] to certify me.”
The player’s quickness, inventiveness and one-on-one dribbling skills were among the top highlights of the win against América. But it wasn’t all for show. The tricks he pulled off on the field caused havoc for América’s defenders and invariably led to dangerous chances for his teammates.
Although he'll want to forget his audacious back pass that nearly resulted in an América goal, it’s his unpredictable trickery that just might make Barcelona even tougher to beat this year as their foes game plan to try to foil and frustrate the catalan side. Thiago's creativity is also complemented by an ability to score, which he has done four times this preseason.
After a season in which he was a spot starter in just six La Liga matches, Thiago has already started that many games as a regular during each of the club’s recent preseason matches, including three World Football Challenge games. In his postgame press conference, Guardiola confirmed that Thiago would become a permanent part of the first team in 2011-12.
“He’s a player on our team,” Guardiola said of the player who started in Barcelona's world famous youth academy at the age of 15. “Last season, he was between the first and second team. Now he’s on the first team and he played very, very well.”
The main story line for the catalan media this week will surely revolve around Thiago. Will he start against Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa on Aug. 14?
“What’s for sure is that over all these years, with Barcelona there is a great rivalry [against Real Madrid] and we really want to be able to win this game," Thiago said.
“I don’t know what will happen in the future. I’m going to work and if I go to the bench, I go to the bench. If they send me to the stands, I’ll go to the stands. And if I they have me play, I have to play. Whatever the coach asks of me."