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Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and the footballers you miss while looking at your phone

You know when a game of football is on television but you’re not really watching it?

We are all guilty of this from time to time. If the game doesn’t enthrall then it’s easy to reduce it to background noise while scrolling through Twitter or Instagram; only looking up when Martin Tyler changes the inflection of his voice to indicate a goalscoring opportunity, or when Gary Neville’s trademark ohhh signals a match-defining referee decision.

When we do this, we effectively self-edit the game, morphing it into an inefficient highlights package. Passive viewing has its benefits, most notably, it spares us the dull monotony of drab matches — think Jose Mourinho’s Spurs without Amazon’s packaging.

But when we partially disengage with a game, we are likely to miss the best work of some truly joyous players.

Enter Thiago Alcantara.

Are you watching closely?

Are you watching closely?

Liverpool’s newest signing doesn’t waste his art on those who are not prepared to give their full attention. What would you have seen of the Spanish midfielder if you watched Bayern Munich’s treble-winning campaign in the passive mode of a phone checker? Not much.

Thiago registered three goals and zero assists in the Bundesliga last season, a stat that is sure to be wielded by ignorant fans of other clubs in an attempt to diminish Liverpool’s transfer. To focus on these seemingly underwhelming numbers would be a misinterpretation of Thiago’s purpose.

As a deep-lying playmaker, the 29-year-old is often the man who plays the pass before the pass, but even that’s beside the point. He is blessed with the ability to make the simplest things look beautiful: a ten-yard pass, taking the ball down with his thigh, opening his body to access another area of the pitch.

Such alchemy is rare but not wholly unique to Thiago, fellow Spaniards David Silva and Andres Iniesta possess the same gift, as did Zinedine Zidane and Andrea Pirlo. Xabi Alonso is also wise in such ways and is perhaps the most fitting comparison given he shares not just a nationality with Thiago, but links to Bayern and Liverpool as well.

Brothers in arms

Brothers in arms

Perhaps these players make routine elements of the game look expressive because they insist on doing them perfectly – while maintaining an effortless demeanour – even though the impact on the result of the game is virtually non-existent.

Players of Thiago’s clan have a transcendent quality. When you watch them attentively, you are invited to forget the object of football is to get the ball into the goal, you are encouraged to consider the sport as something more meaningful with artistic merit.

Ultimately, football is entertainment and players like Thiago and Alonso – who make a difficult a game played at an elite level seem easy and fun – are entertainers in the purest sense.

Football aesthetic

Football aesthetic

Of course, waxing lyrical about Thiago does not guarantee his success at Anfield. The Premier League has become a hostile environment for languid midfielders in recent times. It has chewed up Mesut Ozil and spat him out with consider disdain.

Though perhaps it is unfair to describe Thiago as languid as he does not shy away from defensive work, his composed manner is deceptive in this regard.

Whatever the case, Thiago is a reason to leave your phone in your pocket during even the dullest games.

Such players should be treasured.


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