Chelsea are contemplating an offer for Thiago Alcantara, ESPN has learned, although Manchester United remain in the lead for the playmaker’s signature.
The Stamford Bridge club’s interest comes after a sparkling Under-21 European Championship from the midfielder, who scored a hat-trick as he captained Spain to a 4-2 final win over Italy. Although Chelsea have made initial contact with Thiago’s representatives, United’s attempt to bring the player to the Premier League is far more advanced and it is understood they have been in repeated contact with both the player’s camp as well as Barcelona.
Thiago is said to be available for just €18 million due to a clause in his contract under which the figure dropped temporarily when he played less than 60% of Barca’s games last term. This opportunity, which has alerted a host of European clubs, runs out at the end of July when his price will return to €90 million.
Thiago himself repeatedly declined to talk about his future during the Under-21 Championship, but speculation only escalated after “see you in Manchester” was written on the player’s match ball from the final. 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.
One United source did tell ESPN that the club have been "quietly confident" of securing the player, but Chelsea’s interest has concerned them. Like the Premier League champions, the Blues are intent on significantly enhancing their midfield this summer.
Thiago’s first choice is understood to have always been linking up with Pep Guardiola again at Bayern Munich, but the Champions League winners have as of yet shown no real interest beyond mild enquiries.
Despite not wanting to talk about his future, the player did stress to Catalan radio station RAC1 on Wednesday 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 under-age 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."
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."