Thiago Alcantara is in a unique position. Unable to get a regular place in the Barcelona team and unproven in senior international football, he is wanted by two of Europe's finest clubs.
Of course it's no surprise that Manchester United and Bayern Munich are battling for his signature – he's a future superstar and a very accomplished midfielder. The esteem in which he is held by Bayern coach Pep Guardiola became apparent this week when the latter boldly stated that Alcantara was his number one target - and that, for him, it was Alcantara or bust.
"I want Thiago Alcantara," Guardiola said in a press conference on Thursday. "I have told [chief executive] Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and [sporting director] Matthias Sammer that I want that player. I don’t know what will happen next. We will have to wait and see.
"It is either Thiago or no one. I know him very, very well. He is a super player. He can play three, four, five positions."
Barca purists always saw Alcantara as next in line to take over the role of midfield general at Camp Nou, inheriting the mantle first passed from Guardiola to Xavi. So Barca's apparent willingness to let him go for £18million - the release clause written into his contract - has caused some discontent.
There is a legitimate argument that Alcantara's time has already arrived and that Xavi, for all his brilliance in recent years, should no longer be first choice in that position. But the player himself, no longer a sprightly teenager but a rapidly improving 22-year-old, feels he is outgrowing the bench.
His desire to get the first team football his talent deserves is understandable, but he must tread carefully. In a year in which he hopes to break into the Spain squad in time for next year's World Cup – a realistic aim if Spain's dismal Confederations Cup final display is anything to go by – he needs regular playing time. He needs, in other words, to choose Manchester United.
In Germany, he would have to break up the Bastian Schweinsteiger/Javi Martinez partnership. Simply put, that isn't going to happen. Even then, Guardiola has Toni Kroos and Luiz Gustavo - two more excellent central midfielders - at his disposal.
United need a new Paul Scholes and they will struggle to find a player so perfectly suited to the job. Thiago can be the player to liven up the side's midfield, ending the revolving door selection policiy involving the likes of Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Anderson. Thiago could be the heartbeat of the side for the next ten years.
His signing would also make sense for the club. With Alcantara at Old Trafford, David Moyes would have a real opportunity to create a dynamic passing side, with the Spaniard playing alongside Shinji Kagawa. Moyes has been chasing the Spaniard for a long time and should pressure the United board to splash anwhere up to £25 or £30 million on a player who has the ability to make his first season in charge a title-winning one.
Alcantara has many fine years ahead of him, but while the chance to work with Guardiola is tempting, he should think long and hard before turning down the chance to join Manchester United.
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