- Premier League
Barca & Utd wait as Thiago ponders future
Barcelona say they have done everything they can to persuade Thiago Alcantara to stay at the Camp Nou, but the midfielder himself will decide his own future this summer, according to reports in Spain.
The highly sought-after playmaker, 22, is understood to be available for just €18 million (£15.4m) due to a clause in his contract under which the figure dropped temporarily because he played less than 60 per cent of Barca's games last term.
This bargain opportunity, which has alerted a host of clubs reportedly lead by Manchester United but including Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Tottenham, runs out at the end of July - when his release clause will return to €90 million (£77m).
Thiago himself repeatedly declined to talk about his future during the recent European Under-21 Championships, at which he underlined his value by captaining Spain to the trophy and scoring a hat-trick in the 4-2 final win over Italy.
The situation is quite embarrassing for Barcelona, who have come in for criticism in the Catalan media for allowing the situation to develop so far. A source from the club stressed to AS that coach Tito Vilanova, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and various board members had done all they could to try and convince Thiago to stay, but the issue was now out of their hands.
"We did everything," the source said. "The directors, Tito and Zubi all spoke with the player, to explain the evolution of the squad to him. He is a sensational player, among those we do not doubt, he has a contract and we hope he does not go."
Speaking on Catalan radio station RAC1 on Wednesday, Thiago said he did not want to speak directly about his club future, but he did stress that playing first team football next term was important if he were to impress Spain's senior boss Vicente Del Bosque enough to be chosen for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"I have always had patience," he said. "There are no more underage teams left so now we are thinking about the senior side. To play a World Cup would be a dream, my biggest aspiration. I must play games with my club and show in the day to day action that I can be with the senior side."
Into this uncertainty media storm broke on Wednesday when it was spotted that the hat-trick ball he took away from Tuesday's Under-21 final had a message written in Spanish which said "see you in Manchester".
Amateur sleuths in both the Spanish and English media quickly concluded the message must have been written by United goalkeeper David De Gea, and meant the two were sure to be playing together at Old Trafford next season.
The controversy brought back memories of Cesc Fabregas being forced into a Barcelona jersey by Spanish senior team colleague Pepe Reina during celebrations after La Roja's World Cup 2010 victory.
Fabregas remained at Arsenal that summer, but did move back to the Camp Nou 12 months later.