Thiago Alcantara recently sat down with The Guardian for a lengthy interview in which he discussed how he’s had to adapt his style of play based on where he’s been playing during his career. The 27-year-old midfielder has already built an impressive résumé having played for Flamengo, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and the Spanish National Team. Born in Italy to Brazilian parents, Thiago had big shoes to fill, as his father, Mazinho, was a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994.
At a young age, Thiago revealed, paying close attention to detail when watching professional matches is a big part of what made him decide he wanted to be a footballer:
I always loved football so much and I knew from a very young age I was going to be a footballer; I used to watch the way they did everything really closely. I lived with it.
He’s the type of midfielder that has just about everything in his locker: vision, pace, close control, precision passing, shooting, stamina, and endurance. Playing for different clubs throughout his career, he’s had to adapt his style of play to fit what’s expected of him from any given manager and system. The style of play in Spain, he admits, is a bit different from that in Germany:
Barcelona’s football education has concepts different to the Brazilian game and at Bayern you grow physically. I have my own way of playing but I showed from the start I could handle it. Physically I’m strong. What there is less of in Germany is technical quality, so that allowed me to make the difference. And I’ll always play according to the team’s needs. In Spain everything’s more tactical, more technical, with more possession. In Germany it’s more physical; it’s about the runs you make, the counterattacks and the German mentality is unique: whatever the score, you go to the 90th minute.
Playing under Pep Guardiola at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich has helped Thiago establish a style of play that’s conducive to both Bayern and the Spanish national team. Midfield control is the primary emphasis for Guardiola, as well Vincente Del Bosque, Thiago revealed:
Spain started to generate a very good playing style from Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Barcelona. Vicente del Bosque is intelligent and he takes the footballers that have that grounding with Pep and instils that: the way we train, the way we see football, and from there you see a style. He adds Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, players with quality to adapt. They start to have more of the ball, to lose that fury, which hadn’t been much use to them anyway.
He also admitted he’s fond of the English Premier League, especially for its strength and physicality compared to the Bundesliga:
In England it’s as physical as Germany but it’s about the duels you win: defender against forward, midfielder against his opposite number. There are more long balls, more players arriving in the area too. It’s not so much speed as strength. I love watching English football. It’s the league I most enjoy. And the [English] national team have undergone a good transition: they have a very good team.
When asked about how midfield play differs in England, Germany, and Spain, Thiago highlighted Liverpool’s success in the Champions League:
...look at Liverpool’s midfield: Henderson, Milner, Chamberlain, they pressed like animals in the Champions League. They ate up the midfield. They were fantastic.
Thiago will face Russia on Sunday in round of 16 with the Spanish national team. There has been intense speculation that Bayern Munich is willing to sell Thiago. He has been heavily linked to both Barcelona and Real Madrid.