Born in the Italian city of Bari, raised in Vigo in the Spanish region of Galicia and currently thriving at FC Barcelona, Thiago Alcantara certainly has as an interesting background. Adding further spice to the mix is the fact that both his parents are Brazilian – his mother a volleyball player and his father the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™-winning ex-Seleção midfielder.
“They call me Willy Fogg,” says the Barça starlet with a grin. “I’m lucky enough to have experienced so many things which make you grow as a person. The worst part [of moving around so much] is that you’re always leaving loved ones behind.”
His full name is Thiago Alcantara do Nascimento, but if the surname is not familiar it is because the Spanish U-21 international’s father, Iomar do Nascimento, went by the name Mazinho. “My dad’s Brazilian through and through but he’s resigned to the fact I’m playing for Spain. He can see that my career is progressing here and he understands that this is what’s best for me,” explained the 20-year-old midfield man.
“At first it was something that happened naturally because I’ve always lived here and I started moving up the ranks of the Spanish youth national set-up. That said, when it came to choosing who to play for at senior level, it was tricky to decide [between Spain and Brazil].”
The future is certainly looking bright for the youngster, who has been gradually making space for himself in the Barcelona first-team squad this campaign – a progression rewarded by winners’ medals in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. “It’s been a fantastic year. When you’re first called up to the first team you think you’ll just be making up the numbers for an easy game.
“But then you realise that the coach keeps calling on you even for tough matches, which boosts your confidence. I want to have even more opportunities to show what I can do and to help the team. I’m having the time of my life,” he continued.
A packed schedule
Despite coming off the back of a hectic club season, Alcantara will have to wait a while longer before taking a break. Having gone straight from the Champions League final at Wembley to join up with La Rojita’s squad for the UEFA European U-21 Championship, which offers three passages for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, the player is also in line to appear at July/August’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.
“With this national squad, we’re going to try and sweep the board,” said Alcantara who, with uncertainty surrounding his immediate future at Barça, is focusing on his multiple international commitments. “We’d love to win this World Cup because it’s about time Spain won another global youth tournament.
“The best teams in the world like Brazil, Argentina, France and the Netherlands will be there. It’ll be tough and fiercely contested but we’ve got a chance. This is an incredible, really good generation of players, one of the best in recent years,” he continued, referring to a Spain squad which qualified for Colombia 2011 after finishing runners-up to France at last year’s European U-19 Championship.
“That was incredibly hard to take. We were confident we’d win but didn’t manage it. We’d love to set the record straight at the World Cup, so hopefully we can take the same group of players.”
Clearly endowed with the level of belief and ambition you would expect from a Barcelona player, nor does Alcantara shy away from the responsibility of pulling on the shirt of the 2010 FIFA World Cup winners: “Spain aim to win every competition they enter. They’re the best national side in the world and have a tremendous youth set-up.
“The [World Cup winners’] star on the shirt doesn’t put more pressure on you: it motivates you. By winning the world title, they changed the mentality of the whole country. We discovered that football can give us the greatest joy of all. We were able to savour a quality of football that’s rarely been seen before. And for us younger players it’s a real stimulus, because that’s what we want to achieve one day too.”
And Alcantara certainly knows all about pressure, having been in the spotlight from an early age thanks to Mazinho’s success. “It’s not something that makes me nervous, I’m making my own name in the game, playing my own way,” said the Azulgrana rising star as the conversation concluded. “My dad has taught me the value of humility, respect and perseverance. It’s the best advice he’s given me, the best thing I’ve inherited.”