London (AFP) – Liverpool have signalled their intent to build on a first league title for 30 years with the signing of a serial winner in Bayern Munich playmaker Thiago Alcantara.
At 29, the Spanish international fits a very different profile from the young and hungry transfer targets of recent years that have helped transform the Reds’ fortunes under the watchful eye of Jurgen Klopp.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson Becker and Andy Robertson are among the smart signings to have blossomed at Anfield, helping Liverpool to become European champions and then English champions.
But Thiago has been brought in to bring another dimension and prevent a hugely successful side going stale after two years without a major signing.
Before the start of the Premier League season, Klopp pointed to the fact that, unlike rivals Manchester City or Chelsea, Liverpool do not have the backing of an oil-rich state or a Russian oligarch to be able to spend freely while the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic hangs over football.
But at an initial cost of just £20 million ($26 million), the former Barcelona midfielder represents another good deal negotiated by the Liverpool hierarchy for a hugely regarded player.
City boss Pep Guardiola made signing the Spain international his first priority when taking over at Bayern Munich in 2013, telling the board: “Thiago is the only player I want.”
When rumours of Liverpool’s interest in his former pupil emerged, Guardiola said he had no doubts that Thiago’s “exceptional” skill-set would convert easily to the more physical style of English football.
Former Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney went even further, claiming the title race was already over and labelling his arrival at Anfield as a “better signing than (Lionel) Messi”.
Liverpool have collected 196 points in the past two Premier League seasons and reached the Champions League final in 2018 before winning it a year later.
Yet if there is one ingredient Klopp’s side have lacked, it is a creative passer in midfield.
The dynamism offered by captain Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita suit their manager’s demand to press relentlessly and allow the front three of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino to shine.
Added to those formidable resources, they now have one of world football’s most technically adept midfielders, with the vision to open up defences and the positional sense to sit deep to deny space in behind.
The son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, his father’s playing career meant Thiago and brother Rafinha, who plays for Barcelona, grew up in Spain.
A product of Barca’s famous La Masia academy, he broke into the first team during Guardiola’s glorious four-year spell as manager despite fierce competition from Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas for a place in midfield.
After winning two La Liga titles and the Champions League in 2011, Thiago grew frustrated at having to wait to be Xavi’s successor and joined forces with Guardiola once more in Munich.
Bayern won the Bundesliga in all seven of his seasons in Germany and he leaves after winning the Champions League in his final game for the club following a series of semi-final disappointments.
“‘Kloppo’ is getting a top player and a great person,” said Bayern boss Hansi Flick.
For the rest of the Premier League, taking Liverpool’s crown just got a lot tougher.
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