In Football, Timing is Everything!

Thiago-Alcantara-posa-con-la-c_54376110510_54374916805_576_694The timing referred to above is not the timing of a great pass or shot, but rather the timing of being in the right place at the right age.  The recent success of the Spanish under 21 team in so majestically winning, again, the UEFA championship got me thinking about how many of that team are likely to make it all the way to the full national squad.  The omens are not good for most of the players.  The one most likely to make it soon is Thiago.  He has after all already been called up for the national team.  However he is apparently himself none too sure of his chances of becoming a regular in the squad.  His clear ambition is to be with Spain at the World Cup Finals next year which will be held in Brazil.  As both his parents are Brazilian, one con understand why Thiago would want to make an impact there next year.  The slight difficulty for Thiago is that ahead of him is none other than his Barcelona team mate, Xavi Hernández, probably the best in the world in his role, creative organizer.  This is where the timing comes in.  For Xavi is 33 years old and will sooner or later hang up his boots.  But, for Thiago, that may be later rather than sooner.  So it seems that Thiago is contemplating leaving Barcelona in order to get more playing time with another team.  The hope is that this will improve his chances of getting selected for the Spanish team for Brazil.  I wonder though if moving would increase his chances.  To start with he can only move this summer due to a quirk in his contract.  As he did not play in the stipulated number of matches last season he can leave the club for a mere €18 million.  Now the reason he did not play in sufficient matches was not because he was passed over by the coaching staff, but because he missed two full months due to a serious injury.  So it is a bit of a stretch to complain that he didn’t get enough match play.  But back to the main point – what is more likely to increase Thiago’s chances of making the full squad for Brazil?  It is worth pointing out here that other Barcelona players, Pedro, Villa and Cesc have been selected for the current national squad even though they have not been automatic choices for Barcelona.   The argument for leaving is that by playing every week he will become a better and more competitive player and thus more selectable.  However, no matter how often he plays in the next year Thiago may still be regarded by the Spanish coach as still not better than Xavi.  Especially if he does move and he has to play in a slightly different role to his current one.  Thiago’s best chance of going to Brazil is not instead of Xavi, but as his natural substitute and successor.  In which case I would strongly argue that Thiago is more likely to achieve this by remaining at Barcelona, even though he does not play every week.  The reason is quite simple.  The midfield of the Spanish national team is pretty much the Barcelona midfield.  Busquets, Iniesta along with Xavi are automatic first choices, while Cesc plays just about all of the time.  This kind of club understanding is most valuable for a national team which only meets and trains infrequently.  So I would suggest that remaining at Barcelona and continuing to learn to play with the likes of Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc, Pedro, Alba and Piqué, all key players in the national team can only make Thiago’s selection for Brazil more rather than less likely.  The arrival of Neymar, the latest Brazilian superstar should also be considered.  I am sure Thiago can learn a lot from playing in the same team as Neymar.  As Thiago is only 22 years old and Xavi is 33, it should be only a matter of time before Thiago does take over from Xavi.  A bit of patience is required.

While Thiago should make the national squad whatever he decides, it is not so obvious for the other stars of the under 21 team.  Goalkeeper De Gea has three established goalies ahead of him in the pecking order.  As Iker Casillas, the number one is only 32 years old, relatively young for a goalkeeper, De Gea may have to wait a very long time to get his chance.  It is the same for Illaramendi the defensive midfield player who shone in all the games.  Ahead of him in the national team are three great players – Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martínez.  So again the omens are not good for Illaramendi’s chances of progressing.

The other star of the under 21 team, Isco, has a better chance of at least making it into the national squad.  Becoming a first choice may be much more difficult.  As ahead of him is Andres Iniesta one of the most sublime attacking midfielders in the game.  Cesc Fàbregas is another established player who can create and score goals.  Iniesta is 29 years old and can expect to remain at the peak of his game for another four or five years.  While Cesc is still only in his mid twenties.  Just to get into the squad Isco may have to oust either Juan Mata or Santi Cazorla, which will be hard enough.

What all these players, apart from Thiago, great though they are, must fear is that the timing is against them.  For it may be that the players best placed to eventually replace the likes of Iniesta, Busquets and Casillas are players in the 17 to 18 year old generation.  Players who in four to six years time may burst onto the scene much in the way that Isco has done this summer.  Isco may never become as good as Iniesta and may have to start worrying about much younger players, none of whom he or we will have heard of as yet.  Players who may emerge onto the scene just at the right moment when an established player is about to retire.  Timing is everything!

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