From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 17, 2011
Barcelona have a rich recent history when it comes to bringing players through their famed academy, La Masia. In the last 10 years they have produced some of the best players in the world, with Lionel Messi the most obvious example, but they also nurtured the spine of Spain's World Cup-winning side in the form of Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Xavi.
Barca's commitment to developing young talent is something that clubs all over the world are trying to emulate.
Now there is a new kid on the block, Thiago Alcantara. The son of Mazinho, the 1994 World Cup winner, has played more than 50 games for the Barcelona B side, which is where the Catalan giants blood their youngsters ready for the pressures of first-team football.
It is a time in these young players' careers when they can hone their skills and learn football the Barcelona way, so that when they step out at the Nou Camp in front of 90,000 screaming fans they are ready for the challenges ahead. Just like Alcantara has.
Alcantara made his senior Barca debut during a Spanish Primera Division clash against Mallorca in May 2009 and the midfielder scored his first goal against Racing Santander nine months later. In total, he has made 13 appearances in all competitions for Pep Guardiola's men and big things are expected of the 19-year-old.
And it is not just in the domestic game that the youngster, who was born in Italy but represents Spain at international level, has been making a big impression. Alcantara has risen through the ranks of the Spanish national youth teams at a rapid speed, going from the under-16 side to the under-21s in just three years.
Alcantara's breakthrough on the international stage saw him help Spain's under-17s win the European Under-17 Championship on home soil in 2008, netting twice in the tournament including one in the final.
The Bari-born starlet was also a key part of the team that finished runners-up to France in the 2010 European Under-19 Championship.
A string of fine performances for Barca this season have drawn praise from Guardiola, who has also fast-tracked other academy products such as Bojan and Jonathan dos Santos into the first-team squad.
After an impressive display in the Copa del Rey against Ceuta, Guardiola said: “He is a daring player and has the capability of unbalancing any opposition with his great natural talent.”
Alcantara's ability to dribble at pace and pass with precision has seen him make 10 appearances for Barca's first team this season. He has drawn comparison with the likes of Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, another product of La Masia.
Both Arsenal and Manchester United have been linked with Alcantara, but rumours were put to bed recently when he signed a new two-year contract. With his future sorted, Alcantara will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the other notable La Masia success stories.
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