Son of a FIFA World Cup winner, born in Italy, schooled in soccer in Brazil and then Spain – at FC Barcelona’s famous La Masia no less – it was quite the upbringing for FC Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcântara.
One of the most comfortable and effective ballplayers in the world game, the Spain international is the metronome in whichever team he plays.
At his best he sets the tempo and dictates the game, spraying passes around to team-mates in the right moments, allowing them to work their magic while also producing some of his own.
A soccer player who moved from place to place as a boy has now found a home in Munich with FC Bayern, and he is set to be one of the star attractions of the International Champions Cup this summer.
Emerging in a Bayern side coached by Pep Guardiola helped him recapture some of that La Masia spirit, and he is one of the club’s most important players under Niko Kovač.
Bayern are currently undergoing a rebuild, and this season have found themselves recovering following a poor start to emerge as favourites for the title.
This seemed highly unlikely at the beginning of the campaign as Die Bayern were in transition and Borussia Dortmund surprised everyone with their impressive start to the campaign.
However, even in a transition season Bayern have proven they are a force to be reckoned with.
Thiago will emerge as one of the more experienced heads and a key player for the defending German champions going forward. By the time the International Champions Cup comes around he will be one of the leaders of the side.
Leadership roles will soon be vacant at the club, and even if Thiago doesn’t take the armband, he will be the tactical lynchpin of the side who sets the tone.
The International Champions Cup is known for showcasing the future stars of the world’s biggest clubs, and 2019 could be a big tournament for Bayern.
The likes of Alphonso Davies, Serge Gnabry, Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman, and new arrivals for the 2019/20 season such as Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández will give the team a new feel.
Players like David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich will be important for continuity but, given his position and influence in midfield, Thiago will be the most important.
Thiago’s career has repeatedly been interrupted by injury, but when he is able to take to the pitch there are few better in his position.
Thiago has only once played more than 2,000 league minutes in a season, which came in the 2016/17 campaign when he was arguably one of the best midfielders in Europe.
During that season, under the watchful eye of Carlo Ancelotti, he led the league for passes completed and, more importantly, passes completed in the opposition half, while also coming second among Bundesliga midfielders for interceptions attempted with 4.91 per 90 minutes.
He finished that year with six goals and five assists from 26 starts, and he has already matched that assists total this season.
Now closing in on 2,000 league minutes for just the second time in his career, Thiago is again leading the way for passes completed in the opposition half, and is second among Bundesliga midfielders for tackles per 90 minutes with 2.56.
The probing passing he is known for is always complemented by some surprisingly impressive defensive numbers.
At international level, the Spain side he is part of are also going through something of a transition, making it another stage where Thiago could be about to play a leading role.
Having been included in Spain’s provisional squad for the 2014 World Cup, he had to withdraw due to the serious knee ligament injury which saw him miss more than a year of action.
Despite the occasional niggle, he now appears to be more reliable on the fitness front, and hopefully for his sake, and for the sake of supporters who like to watch good soccer, he can play out his peak years relatively injury free.
In an alternate universe Thiago would still be at Barcelona where he'd be one of the players helping provide a seamless transition from Xavi and Andrés Iniesta.
In reality, he is a key player for another of the biggest names in club soccer, and one which over recent years has seen its own injection of total soccer.
Thiago is a player who makes this brand of soccer flow, and we could yet see the best of him in 2019/20, beginning with the International Champions Cup.