FC Bayern – Miasanrot Advent Calendar, Door 6: Thiago
At the sound of the name “Thiago”, there are really only two different reactions among Bayern fans. Some nod respectfully, having seen Thiago as nothing more than a flair player and only, if at all, made their peace with him at the very end in Lisbon. And then there are the others, for whom a nostalgic, slightly sad smile immediately flits across their lips.
When Pep Guardiola brought Thiago to Munich in 2013, he was still regarded as an attacking number eighth who should rather not be allowed to engage in direct duels. Naturally, trained in Barça’s famous talent factory La Masia, passing was drilled into him from the start. As the new Xavi or Iniesta, he was supposed to work magic. But he was more a German player.
How different everything turned out. He experienced his most difficult years at FC Bayern under his once greatest sponsor. He constantly had to fight injuries and subsequent problems with his form. Moreover, at the beginning of Thiago’s time at Bayern, there was a kind of luxury problem in the team that they have unfortunately never had since: a sheer oversupply of creative midfielders. But with the departure of the coach and a whole host of players, Thiago became almost the only creative actor left in midfield. Quite inevitably, FC Bayern ultimately became a Thiago team. He was the boss of the team without really being a bossy player. But every attack went through him.
In Ancelotti’s time, he was still an extremely classic number 10, the kind that had actually been extinct in football for over a decade, but later Bayern’s questionable transfer policy – year after year, new dynamic players arrived instead of playmakers – forced him more and more to the back.
At that time, a kind of “us against the rest of the world” conviction arose to no small extent among many a Thiago connoisseur. For there were quite a few who simply did not want to admit that this little miracle technician had meanwhile mutated into a real fighting dwarf. Whenever something wasn’t going well at FC Bayern, the call was quickly heard that the midfield was lacking in tackling proficiency and toughness. At one time, even Javi Martínez’s greatest admirer – Jupp Heynckes – benched the strong Basque, knowing full well that a lone Thiago would suffice against Real Madrid’s midfield supremacy.
Often – too often – compared to Xavi and Iniesta, Thiago became something else entirely. No less technically gifted – in fact, rather higher in this area! – but paired with skills without the ball that the old masters never possessed.
But of course, his most obvious qualities were still in the game with ball and Thiago was able to lead it as hardly any player ever did in the scarlet red shirt of Bayern before him. Possibly the only player in Bayern’s history who can match Thiago’s technique is the great Franz Beckenbauer.
Thiago regularly made opponents look like schoolboys which his magical first touch. He has his own signature move, in which in one fluid, lithe movement he accepts a seemingly harmless pass in midfield, turns a good 150° past a stunned opponent, and sets off towards the goal at pace. There is a moment like this in almost every game and he never loses the ball.
Thiago was unlucky that his own prime coincided with more than a few coaching miscues on the Bayern bench. With Ancelotti and especially Kovač, he almost single-handedly held together a dysfunctional playing system. It was only under Hansi Flick that player and system joined to form a symbiosis.
With a move to Liverpool already on his mind, the Champions League final tournament in Lisbon was Thiago’s very own last dance. Often failing just before the end, he wanted to bring the trophy to Munich this time. As a brain on the six position, he absorbed everything, attacks by the opponents as well as balls of the teammates. If a teammate came under pressure, he simply gave the ball to Thiago. Even when he was double marked, no one could wrest the ball from him. Thiago was the one-man answer to every pressing trap. An unpressable god.
His performance in the final – as legendary as his last words as a Bayern player: “Fight with life, hermano!” the magician shouted to Coco Tolisso as he left the stage for the last time in his Bayern shirt. By then, at the latest, even the last person understood that the simple magician had become a magical warrior. In his last game, Thiago could finally, finally vindicate himself. The ignominy of remaining unfinished was averted. In the end, everyone was united in praise of Thiago. And not a few understood who was shouting “goodbye” to the club: Bayern’s best midfielder of this not-so-young century.