Two years ago, none of this would have been possible. Two years ago, given the choice between a move to Old Trafford or a move to the Allianz Arena, Thiago Alcantara would not have thought twice before choosing the former. Two years ago, FC Bayern would never have been able to tempt a player of his quality from a club like Barcelona.
That Bayern have been able to spoil United's party and look set to tie up a deal with Thiago is testament not only to the exponentially rising stock of Bayern and the Bundesliga, but also – primarily – to the Guardiola effect. Even as European Champions, it is difficult to believe that Bayern could so ceremoniously have lured the player in the direction of Munich.
By Guardiola's own admission, Thiago was “the only player for whom I made a direct request to the board.” The Bayern coach begins his mammoth task of bettering a triple winning season this summer, and is determined to be covered in all positions for the attack on all three competitions. The stance he has reportedly taken since February is that of “Thiago or nobody”, with even high profile target Robert Lewandowski taking secondary priority.
Now, it seems, the transfer is close to completion, with reports of an agreement between Barça president Sandro Rosell and Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and a figure of €21.7m already being discussed.
For Thiago, it would be a move which will see him reunited with his former mentor, and an opportunity to play more first team football than he has seen at the Camp Nou in recent times. Indeed, Bayern's interest in the player has already begun to raise questions over the future of established Bavarian midfielders such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos.
The idea that Thiago could replace such players, however, is misguided. Unlike that of star signing Mario Goetze, his arrival in Munich would not guarantee him regular first team football any more than if he had stayed in Catalonia. As a versatile central midfielder, he would certainly heighten an already fierce competition in defensive and attacking midfield alike, but Thiago is not yet a player who will walk into this Bayern team.
With Schweinsteiger and Kroos suffering from recurring injury issues and certain squad players such as Anatoliy Tymoschuk taking their leave of Munich this summer, though, Thiago is, as Guardiola has insisted, a transfer target who signifies Bayern's intent to win all six trophies on offer this season. Tactically, he will have little influence on the shape of Bayern's central midfield. A player who will slip equally comfortably into the defensive partnership of Schweinsteiger and compatriot Javi Martínez or the central attacking role currently filled either by Mueller or Kroos, he will provide Guardiola with the depth needed to clear up as many titles as possible.
His importance, though, is not simply in terms of a squad bolster. It also indicates that, for all Guardiola's insistences about the flexbility of his system, the wing based attack that Bayern have used in recent years may well be on its way out. Should Thiago be placed in attacking midfield, it would push Thomas Mueller out to the right, and leave no space for Champions League hero Arjen Robben. With the departure of target man Mario Gómez now confirmed as well, it is not difficult to imagine the Bayern midfield reshaping itself far more in the mould of Barcelona's come next year.
The greatest threat that Thiago poses then, is not to Schweinsteiger, but rather to the likes of Robben and Ribéry; the latter having already expressed some confusion over Guardiola's tactical set up.
But it is important not to get ahead of ourselves. The deal is not yet done, and if Thiago is serious about playing more first team football, he may yet think twice about joining a midfield as competitive as Bayern's. With Guardiola having expressed his distaste at the behaviour of his former employers at a recent press conference, moreover, there may be a long way to go before the two clubs find an agreement.