No matter what the clubs across the world say, few wouldn’t have signed him. Ignore the fact that the deal would have placed many clubs in a financial blackhole that would have taken them years and maybe even decades to get out of, for a few, but few would have said no, if afforded the chance.
This is Lionel Messi, we’re talking about after all. By and large, the greatest footballer in the modern era and arguably one of the greatest ever. It would be blasphemous not to even try to figure out a way to sign a six-time Ballon d’Or winner if he was ever offered to you. So, what if his combined 700 million transfer fee and astronomical wages would change the landscape of how football was played at this particular club? For decades, if not longer, down the line they would be able to claim, we had Lionel Messi.
The sheer marketability of that is enormous and then there’s the fact that this is Messi, who on his worst day is better than some of the very best. Now it would be a terrible overstatement to compare Thiago Alcantara to this majestic man but in this particular case it works because Thiago is one of the best midfielders in the world. The football he plays makes him a joy to watch and in an age of football where the number 10 has disappeared, the Spaniard keeps the hope alive.
That one day, somewhere in the near future, we’ll see the return of players who play football at a level that doesn’t just excite and engage but are so deadly, that teams are built around them. Thiago, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Santi Cazorla and a handful of others have changed the role a bit, to adapt with the times but they’re still there. Yet, with Silva now back in Spain, Cazorla joining Xavi in Saudi and De Bruyne comfortably settled in Manchester running Pep Guardiola’s midfield, Thiago is the lone man out. And his time is coming to an end and especially in Germany.
After nearly seven odd years at Bayern, having won countless trophies and now added a Champions League crown to his name, the Spaniard has realised that he wants another challenge. The Bavarians are trying ever so desperately to keep him and can you blame them? There are few players on the planet, at this moment in time that can do what Thiago does. That doesn’t just include his impeccable passing, sultry movement across the field or even the way he stands out without ever standing out but the more wily side to the Spaniard. His dark side, so to speak and it’s partly why half the world want him to grace their team sheet.
Liverpool have been the front-runners for his signature with Manchester United recently entering the race alongside PSG and Barcelona. All four clubs would effectively gain a player who would transform their teams not just for the right now but for the future. Especially Manchester United and Liverpool with them both inching towards something spectacular. And yet, no matter how transformational the Spaniard would be for both sides, he is not a luxury they can afford to sign right now.
Because for all the lack of comparisons between the third placed side in the 2019/20 Premier League and the winners, by more than 30 points over their third place rivals, the major comparison is the squad depth. Liverpool, for example, used 24 players over the course of last season with only Burnley and Wolves using fewer. Manchester United, on the other hand, used 29 but thirteen out of those twenty-nine players played less than 1000 minutes. Out of those thirteen, ten played less than 200 minutes in the English Premier League.
That is a list that includes Phil Jones, Diogo Dalot, Odion Ighalo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah with Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Axel Tuanzebe and Inter Milan’s Ashley Young in the former list. It effectively means that out of 29 players that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used, he trusted and had a core squad of only 19 players with 16 of those playing 1000+ minutes. Again, that is a list that includes someone like Andreas Pereira who played sparingly after February aka after Bruno Fernandes (ABF).
Liverpool, on the other hand, used 24 players but much like United and Solskjaer, Jurgen Klopp had a core squad of 12 players who played 1000+ minutes. The other half averaged 500.3 minutes in the league with half of the half playing well less than 500 minutes. The second half of that list includes squad players like Adam Lallana, Neco Williams, Takumi Minamino, Xherdan Shaqiri and co while the first half includes Adrian, Joel Matip, Divock Origi and such.
What do all these numbers and name dropping mean? Both sides lack depth and genuine quality beyond their starting eleven and this goes for both squads. United proved that during the semi-final of the Europa League, when Solskjaer refused to use his subs until it was too late, while Liverpool proved that when they effectively gave up on the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup. It doesn’t say much but the Reds performances in the Champions League also proves the point, that they lacked the depth to play not in one but five different competitions.
Now not every team has to be a Manchester City, where only six players played fewer than 1000 minutes with the Pep rotation at play but given the congested season ahead, things need to change. Because the next year, or so, is going to be hell for footballers and football managers in general, especially those that do their job in Europe’s top five leagues. More so for every league that isn’t the French league and that starts within the next ten odd days or so.
Things will get even worse with three more international breaks to be added onto and who can forget the Euro 2020? One extra month of football that cuts into the two odd month of break that footballers normally get. All this adds up to one hectic schedule for players, managers and fans with it far too much football stuffed into a year. And for anyone or rather any club to survive, they need squad depth and this especially applies to the two clubs with the word red in their nicknames.
That is especially the way Manchester City and Chelsea are building their teams, rather brilliantly and with a lot of money, which has seen them add a lot of depth. The Blues were already overflowing with depth and have more in their academy while Pep Guardiola simply loves having himself multiple options. Which is why with the environment the world finds themselves in, neither Manchester United or Liverpool can afford a player like Thiago. That is with his wages, the 30 odd million in transfer fees and the bonuses that come with it.
No matter how much fun it would be to watch him tear apart Premier League defenses at will and that includes everyone. Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace? Done and dusted. Sean Dyche’s Burnley? Eh, a mere afterthought. Yet, sometimes there’s something bigger at stake.