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Thiago at 30 – Guardiola’s demand and Klopp’s “rubbish” claim

There are plenty of reasons for celebration in the Alcantara abode this weekend.

After coming off the bench to help Liverpool clinch a first victory at Anfield in four months on Saturday, Thiago turned 30 on Sunday.

The Spanish maestro reaches the milestone having spent a glittering career at the pinnacle of the European game with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Thiago’s overflowing trophy cabinet includes nine La Liga or Bundesliga titles, two Champions League winner’s medals and a host of individual honours including spots in the 2020 UEFA and FIFA teams of the year.

One man who has had an unparalleled impact on the midfielder’s career is Pep Guardiola, who handed him his senior Barcelona debut in 2009 and insisted on bringing him to the Allianz Arena four years later.

Now competing against his former mentor in the Premier League, Thiago has shown glimpses of his immense quality but it’s undoubtedly been a challenging debut season with Liverpool.

Here, Mirror Football takes a look at Thiago’s journey so far.

Guardiola’s golden boy

Guardiola had his heart set on a reunion with Thiago at Bayern Munich

With Thiago pulling the strings in central midfield, Guardiola led Barcelona to the Champions League-La Liga double in 2011.

The pair also won the Copa del Rey the following season before Guardiola called time on his Camp Nou tenure and jetted off for a sabbatical in New York City.

And upon his appointment as Bayern Munich manager in 2013, Guardiola’s demand was a simple one: Thiago or nothing.

“I spoke to club about my concept and told them why I want Thiago,” said Guardiola at the time. “He is the only player I want. It’ll be him or no one.”

The Spaniard was insistent on bringing his compatriot to Bavaria and had his way, with a £25million fee agreed with Barcelona.

Thiago’s involvement during his first two seasons with Bayern was limited due to a knee ligament tear he suffered in 2014, but that did not stop him winning three Bundesliga titles and collecting two DFK-Pokal winners’ medals during Guardiola’s reign.

While his manager would move to Manchester City in 2016, Thiago stayed on at the Allianz Arena for another four years and, last season, clinched the honour which evaded his former manager in Germany: the Champions League.

He made a total of 40 appearances last season as Bayern Munich won a stunning continental treble – before pursuing a new challenge.

Klopp’s unwavering backing

Klopp has stuck by the midfielder through thick and thin
Klopp has stuck by the midfielder through thick and thin

Thiago has won silverware in every season for the last decade and likely expected to continue that run with reigning Premier League champions Liverpool.

The Spaniard moved to Anfield after the Reds agreed an initial £20million fee with Bayern Munich and dazzled on his debut – the 2-0 win at Chelsea last September.

But Thiago suffered a serious knee injury in the Merseyside derby the following month after a horror tackle by Everton forward Richarlison, which sidelined him for over two months.

His return to fitness at the turn of the year coincided with Liverpool’s drastic decline in form, with the Reds losing six consecutive games at Anfield to leave their title defence in tatters.

There were doubts over Thiago’s ability to keep up with the pace in the Premier League, but Klopp remained fiercely loyal to his player throughout his side’s torrid spell.

“I assume when you all look at Liverpool from Germany, people say it’s (the problems) to do with Thiago or whatever – that’s rubbish,” said the Reds boss.

“For the players who were new, they always needed time to get used to our game plan but Thiago doesn’t have that.

“But he improves week on week. It is not a short-term project, it is a long-term project and it was good.”

What the future holds

Thiago faces a busy run-in with Liverpool and summer with Spain
Thiago faces a busy run-in with Liverpool and summer with Spain

There has been a noticeable improvement in Thiago’s performances since since Fabinho – who had been filling in at centre-back – returned to his berth in defensive midfield last month.

This has freed-up the Spaniard to focus on playmaking and driving the Reds forward, rather than defending and covering for his teammates.

Thiago is still waiting for his first goal or assist in a Liverpool shirt but, as Klopp said, the midfielder is part of a long-term plan and will continue to take on a more important role over the next three seasons of his contract at Anfield.

With Gini Wijnaldum likely to depart at the expiry of his deal this summer, Liverpool will look to Thiago for inspiration and grit in midfield, and his partnership with Fabinho could form the spine of Klopp’s side.

In the meantime, Thiago will hope to start against his old rivals Real Madrid on Wednesday as Liverpool aim to overturn a 3-1 deficit with a spot in the Champions League semi-finals on the line.

The midfielder – who won multiple European Championships with Spain at youth levels – is also targeting a major role for his country at this summer’s tournament.

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