Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Barca Connection ; United's Enthusiasm for Thiago Has Echoes of Their Pursuit of Xavi in 1999

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

Barca Connection ; United's Enthusiasm for Thiago Has Echoes of Their Pursuit of Xavi in 1999

Article excerpt

UNITED identifying a young Barcelona playmaker to be the creative centre of the Reds midfield is nothing new. The Reds are keen on luring Thiago Alcantara from the Catalan giants this summer - and the player who is currently blocking his path at Barca almost became a United star.

Thiago is a product of Barca's famous academy but the 22-year- old's path to the dream team and a regular first team berth is thwarted by the presence of Spain's illustrious engine room artist Xavi.

Thiago made just 15 starts in Tito Vilanova's XI last term and, though he made his debut in the 2008-09 campaign, he's only played just over 100 matches in the famous blue and red stripes.

His appearance figures forced his escape clause to be reduced to around Pounds 16m.

This fee may rise, however, after he scored a first hat-trick for Spain against Italy yesterday in the final of the European Under 21 championships.

Before that game, the relatively low fee and quality of Thiago, who has shone at this summer's tournament, alerted United new boss David Moyes to the scoop. And that's exactly why Sir Alex Ferguson came close to successfully raiding the Nou Camp in '99 when Xavi was a 20-year-old who was being kept out of the Barcelona picture by the then midfielder Pep Guardiola.

Elite Xavi was frustrated that he couldn't make the breakthrough and the Old Trafford door was opened up to him.

And one of the famous Barca trio, with Lionel Messi and Andreas Iniesta, almost made the journey to Manchester and the Premier League.

But for injury to Guardiola, that managed to prise open entry for Xavi into Barca's elite, the Spaniard could have been forming a part of United's midfield with the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. Hard to believe now but around '99 Xavi was hitting his head against a brick wall at the Nou Camp.

"People initially drew constant comparisons between me and Guardiola - I struggled to shake that off," he has said. …

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