Watching Liverpool at Anfield is a joy, an occasion and a pilgrimage for many, but watching Thiago at Anfield, that was a privilege.

The Spaniard will go down as one of the most talented players the club has ever seen, but the style and aura he emanated, sadly, didn’t blossom into silverware to match.

Though, that does not mean we can’t appreciate one of the best players of his generation.

 

A different kind of signing

LISBON, PORTUGAL - Sunday, August 23, 2020: FC Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara celebrates with the European Cup trophy as Bayern win it for the sixth time after the UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain at the Estadio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. FC Bayern Munich won 1-0. (Credit: ©UEFA)

When Thiago moved to Liverpool in the summer of 2020, the Reds had just won the Premier League and fans were ecstatic with the position of the club.

It felt like things couldn’t get any better, how could we improve a team that won the league on 99 points and the Champions League a year earlier?

Thiago was one of the very few players who could make this Liverpool squad better, and Liverpool went out and bought him.

This was a statement signing, but not in the same way as Virgil van Dijk was, or going back further, Fernando Torres.

This was an opportunistic transfer and a player that the club simply couldn’t say no to, at just £20 million from Bayern Munich.

At that point, Thiago could lay claim to winning eleven league titles already in his career, and he was only 29 years old.

Having learnt from Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona, Thiago reached his peak at Bayern Munich, where he was the key man in their 2020 Champions League victory.

Liverpool were signing one of the best in the world, but not everyone was quite convinced.

 

The outside noise

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 20, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara, makes his debut as a substitute, during the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by Propaganda)

While Liverpool supporters were thrilled to have Thiago on Merseyside, some parts of the national media were questioning how he would adapt to life in the Premier League.

From day one, there seemed to be an agenda set that his silky style of play simply wouldn’t fit, and anything Thiago did had to suit this pre-determined thought process.

The notion that he couldn’t adapt was nonsense, and Thiago went out to prove the doubters wrong.

When the midfielder started with the Reds, he would often fly into reckless challenges in a bid to prove himself and had to be reined in to prevent an inevitable red card.

He still had energy to burn and while he wasn’t a PFA Player of the Year contender in that first behind-closed-doors season, he was far from “a massive disappointment,” as BBC chief football writer Phil McNulty labelled him.

 

Chasing the quadruple

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 16, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara celebrates with the supporters after the FA Cup Semi-Final game between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Liverpool won 3-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 2021/22 season was the campaign in which any doubts about Thiago‘s ability to improve Jurgen Klopp‘s side were properly put to bed.

He was pivotal in a year that saw Liverpool go agonisingly close to winning the quadruple, only to miss out by a goal in the Premier League and Champions League.

Following a disappointing campaign that saw them scrape into third place despite an injury crisis of titanic proportions, Liverpool began the second half of 2021 in good form, but not form that would place them in a title fight.

As defensive injuries cleared up, Fabinho could return to his proper defensive midfield position, allowing Thiago to advance further up the pitch and minimise the risk of him losing the ball inside his own half.

It was after Christmas when the Reds really kicked on. Sadio Mane returned from the Africa Cup of Nations as a winner and Klopp decided to play him at centre-forward and place new signing Luis Diaz on the left.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 29, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcântara celebrate during an open top bus parade around the city after the club won the Cup Double, the FA Cup and the Football League Cup. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This proved a masterstroke, with Thiago also profiting thanks to his incredible vision and passing ability making him the perfect man to feed the attacking runners.

Across the whole of the season, the Spaniard was in the top one percent of comparable players for progressive passing, managing 12.56 per 90 minutes.

Thiago made the pass before the assist, not the final ball.

And if anyone doubted his aggression as a box-to-box midfielder, well he ranked in the 84th, 85th and 88th percentile for his tackles, interceptions and aerial duels won respectively.

Thiago played 39 times across the course of the season, and it was no coincidence that Liverpool almost achieved something unprecedented in the English game.

 

What could have been

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 6, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcântara (C) is consoled by team-mates after sustaining a hamstring injury during the FA Premier League match between Fulham FC and Liverpool FC at Craven Cottage. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It can be possible to both appreciate Thiago for being a great player and also acknowledge that his Liverpool career didn’t reach the heights it could have.

Injuries are the simple reason why he won’t go down as a legend.

Across his four years at Anfield, Thiago missed about 123 games through injury which, given he played 98 times for Liverpool, is a shocking record.

This, of course, isn’t his fault, but it does leave a feeling of ‘what could have been’ lingering over his retirement.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 9, 2022: Liverpool's Thiago Alcântara looks dejected as Arsenal score the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Had he been fit for Klopp’s last season, could Liverpool have won the league, and might they have had that little bit extra experience and quality to avoid implosion?

When Thiago returned after nine months out, for a five-minute cameo against Arsenal in February, there was hope he could produce one last burst of magic to help Liverpool in their hunt for silverware.

Instead, the tale ended in frustration as niggles persisted and they proved to be his final five minutes of professional football.

 

Thanks for the memories

It was a joy to watch Thiago play football. He is surely one of the most aesthetically pleasing footballers to ever grace the Anfield turf, and he scored one of the most beautiful goals to go with that elegance.

The way the ball hovered above the ground while moving goalwards when he struck against Porto in November 2021, seemed to defy the laws of physics.

He made basic actions look graceful, evidenced by his famous ‘turn’ with which opposition players simply couldn’t deal.

The way he could pluck a ball from the sky then nonchalantly ping a pass 70 yards to the feet of a teammate was remarkable. It became normal for a player who was anything but.

He didn’t just mesmerise with the ball, though. He had bite and passion to go with his natural ability.

Of all his standing ovations, the applause after his performance in Liverpool’s thumping 7-0 win over Man United was arguably the most warranted.

That day, even the most ardent of Man United supporters admitted he was a special player. Anyone who had the privilege to see him play live would say the same.

Farewell and good luck, Thiago.