So Liverpool finally have their man.
Thiago Alcantara is a Red.
It’s some signing; a world-class player joining a world-class team. And at an initial £20m (€22m/$26m), it represents something of a coup for Liverpool and their owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG).
It also brings to an end a saga which began not in 2020, pre-Covid-19, but all the way back in 2013.
It is more than seven years since a delegation from Anfield, led by Dave Fallows, the club’s head of recruitment, met with Pere Guardiola at a waterfront hotel in Barcelona.
It was an important meeting. Liverpool were, at that point, trying to keep Luis Suarez at the club – this, remember, was the summer of Arsenal and the infamous ‘£40m plus £1’ bid. Guardiola, the brother of Manchester City boss Pep, was Suarez’s agent, and was keen to secure his client a move, if not to London then to Madrid or, as turned out to be the case, to Barcelona.
Suarez, naturally, was discussed at the meeting, but it was another of Guardiola’s clients that Liverpool were really interested in.
Barcelona, the club he had joined at the age of 14, had messed up. They had given him a contract extension in 2011 with a release clause of €90m (£82m/$106m), but had failed to fulfil a series of clauses in that deal, relating mainly to playing time.
Thiago’s minutes in the 2012-13 season had fallen below the threshold, meaning the release clause had dropped to just €18m (£16.5m/$21m).
Europe’s top clubs were on red alert.
Discussions with Liverpool, it is understood, were positive. Thiago was said to be open to the move, and a deal to take his younger brother, Rafinha, to Merseyside as well was mentioned. Rafinha, a Brazil international who is still contracted to Barca but spent last season on loan at Celta Vigo, would have cost an additional €3m (£2.7m/$3.5m).
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It was.
With a deal in place, Liverpool hesitated. Brendan Rodgers, the manager, voiced concerns over spending more money on a midfield controller. The Reds, at Rodgers’ request, had spent £15m (€16m/$19m) on Joe Allen the previous summer, and with concerns over the future of Suarez, as well as the need for at least one new centre-back following Jamie Carragher’s retirement, it was decided that the money would be spent elsewhere.
And so Liverpool bought Mamadou Sakho, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Tiago Ilori, they loaned Aly Cissokho and Victor Moses. Suarez stayed for the season, while the Reds missed out on the likes of Diego Costa, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to support him.
They went close to the title in 2013-14, leading the table with three games to play only to fall short.
Thiago, meanwhile, headed for Bayern, managed of course by the other Guardiola. Manchester United, too, had made a move, but their new manager David Moyes chose instead to go after another Barca midfielder, Cesc Fabregas, and instead ended up with Maroaune Fellaini. It wasn’t a vintage summer, it has to be said, for English football’s two most successful clubs.
United were linked, briefly, with Thiago again this time around, but it was always Liverpool who had the player’s eye. As early as May, reports in Germany were stating that Thiago wanted to play for Klopp, and that he was eager to link up with the newly-crowned champions.
He arrives as a winner. His last game for Bayern was the Champions League final win over Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon last month, and there are few players in the game with the CV he has. Since making his debut for Barcelona as a teenager in 2009, Thiago has won no fewer than 24 major club honours, including nine league titles, two Champions Leagues and two Fifa Club World Cups.
He should fit in pretty well with this Liverpool side, then. It has been hard to see ways for Klopp to improve a team which in the last 20 months has achieved European, World and English glory, but the addition of a genuinely top-class midfielder, a player of vision, touch and unrivalled footballing intelligence, should do the trick.
Klopp has long been an admirer, speaking publicly about Thiago when signing Naby Keita from RB Leipzig in 2017. Those two, he said, were the best two midfielders in the Bundesliga at that point. Now they will be lining up alongside each other at Anfield – a mouth-watering prospect.
As for FSG, well this represents a step away from their long-established transfer policy. Their modus operandi since arriving on Merseyside a decade ago has been to target young, up-and-coming talents. They don’t buy stars, they make them.
Only twice since 2010 have they paid a transfer fee for a player over the age of 28 – and Rickie Lambert and Ragnar Klavan, between them, cost less than £9m (€10m/$11.6m).
Thiago is different, a player who will improve the starting XI as well as the squad, someone who can help the champions stay champions.
According to Wayne Rooney, his capture means this season’s title race is “done”. Forget Chelsea, forget Manchester City, forget Rooney’s former club United.
“It’s a better signing than [Lionel] Messi going to Man City,” the former England captain said.
Liverpool will hope Rooney’s prediction is correct. They’ve waited long enough to ‘announce Thiago’, now it’s time to enjoy him.