The true greats are able to see everything in slow motion.
There will be a tornado of action unfolding and for the average athlete this would be an overwhelming blur, like trying to fish in a whirlpool.
But there are those who can see with such clarity in these moments that they can assess so many different options and act with supreme sharpness.
Take Floyd Mayweather for example. His greatness lay not in the ability to strike on the front foot, but in his supernatural capacity to avoid being hit and then counter with accuracy.
Now, using boxing as an analogy for football is a tired comparison, yet it is entirely appropriate when discussing Thiago Alcantara.
Much like Mayweather, the Bayern Munich midfielder is able to slow everything down to calculate angles and distance before determining the best course of action.
And it’s all in the subtleties, the bait and the switch. Thiago disguises the path of his next move by using his body shape to suggest one thing, then do the opposite.
It recalls a prime Mayweather when he would poke his head into clear air, invite a punch, only to slink away and use his patented shoulder roll to avoid connection then slap back through an unguarded defence.
Everyone is looking one way, go the other. Thiago thrives in these same close quarters, and in the Champions League final we saw the 29-year-old operate at his very best.
His penetrative pass from deep midfield in the lead up to Kingsley Coman’s winner naturally grabs most attention for its thought and execution, but he dominated the entire clash with his control of the tempo.
He was the reference point for Bayern, whether that be through small bounce passes to gradually move them up the pitch in triangles, or by switching the ball out wide after shaping up to deliver the ball inside.
It was a masterful display of passing from Thiago, even if his accuracy (88.2%) dipped below 90% in comparison to the quarter-final (96%) and semi-final (91.1%) ties.
It’s not just the disguise of his passes, but also the timing.
Thiago has ‘pausa’, the Spanish/South American terminology for the ability to pause and wait for the right ball to open up. It’s a way of slowing the game down, then speeding it up to exploit space and destabilise the opposition.
Years spent at Barcelona alongside the master of ‘La Pausa’, Xavi Hernandez, and then under Pep Guardiola when he was Bayern boss, has meant Thiago’s DNA is embroidered with this quality.
It’s exactly the type of attribute Liverpool’s functional midfield doesn’t currently possess and part of the reason why they are so heavily linked with signing him. Thiago might not seem a typical Jurgen Klopp signing given his injury record and style.
Yet that’s exactly why he might be perfect for the Premier League champions as Klopp looks for another evolution of a team which relied enormously on both full-backs to create openings last season.
Thiago would both alleviate the creative burden on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson through his incisive passes in congested middle areas while also helping to funnel the ball to them in space out wide.
There should be little fear in signing a player on the edge of 30 considering Bayern – a team which necessitates athletic traits like speed, strength and stamina to deploy their high defensive line – expected and wanted him to sign until 2023 back in May.
And this is without even mentioning his work behind the ball. His tackle timing is vastly underappreciated. More often than not, Thiago is able to sneak up on the blindside of attackers and poke the ball away.
Indeed, no Bayern player made more tackles (three), or interceptions (two) and his four fouls was the second most as well.
That last stat is important to note because he didn’t receive a booking despite habitually breaking up attacking transitions, and that’s down to his prodding technique which means he’s very close to stabbing the ball away at all times as opposed to sloppily slamming into players to gain possession.
It all comes back to his calm disposition, one which sees his heart rate slow as those around him speed up to a thumping pace.
Although his performance in the final, and the quiet chatter that Bayern may make one more move to convince him to stay will have certainly had the hearts of Liverpool supporters in a flutter.
Hansi Flick hilariously tricks a reporter into thinking Thiago Alcantara will be staying at Bayern, amid strong interest from Liverpool 😂 pic.twitter.com/ycn4kRJrm3
— Hayters TV (@HaytersTV) August 24, 2020
Even more so when Hansi Flick stared dead-eye into the face of a reporter post-match and said that Thiago had told him he was staying, before cracking out a laugh.
Respected German daily BILD have confirmed he won’t be swayed by the Champions League success and will move to Liverpool should they pay the €30 million Bayern want to secure a sale.
That is a bargain for a player who was absolutely pivotal in guiding his team to a treble of trophies.
Liverpool have acted slowly so far, but they’d be wise to speed things up.
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