When Barcelona outclassed Manchester United for a second time in three years in the 2011 Champions League final, the Catalans knew that it wouldn't always be that good. Their heartbeat in Iniesta and Xavi, or 'the carousel' as Sir Alex Ferguson called them, weren't getting any younger and there were few capable replacements.
One natural replacement to Xavi seemed to be Cesc Fabregas, who subsequently turned up at Barcelona the summer following their Champions League triumph. The Barca dominance under Guardiola looked ominously inevitable, yet for one reason or another, it didn't quite happen for Fabregas.
Turns out Barca had the heir to the midfield throne all along in Thiago Alcantara - which is what makes it even more strange when they let him go to Bayern Munich to rejoin Pep Guardiola.
SUBMIT AN ARTICLE
Apply to become a GMS writer by signing up and submitting a 250-word test article: https://gms.to/haveyoursay5
Natural replacement to Iniesta
Andres Iniesta is one of a kind, but if he was going to be replaced, Thiago was the man who had the best chance of succeeding. He can dribble at speed like Iniesta and can pass with precision and decisiveness like the little genius as well; to be quite honest there isn't a lot he can't do.
For Thiago, it's understandable why he left. He must have understood that the number of games he'd start would always be limited when two of the greatest midfielders of all time were his competition, but any young footballer just wants to play football matches. Thiago was no different.
When he finally left the Camp Nou at the ago of 22, he had only played 62 games for Barcelona, which isn't a lot considering how talented he is. It's easy to see why he didn't get much game time, but surely Guardiola or Vilanova could have done more to make him feel wanted.
Career so far at Bayern
Thiago started his career at Bayern Munich very well; he was a regular starter under Guardiola and was showing the world why Pep had signed him. It was strongly rumoured that Manchester United were interested in Thiago, a move which would have guaranteed him playing time.
It's testament to Thiago's character and self belief that he chose Bayern - he wasn't afraid to compete with the existing crop of world-class midfielders.
Luck wasn't on Thiago's side as he suffered an injury towards the end of his first season in Germany, which ruled him out for a year. Upon his return, his starts have once again been sparse, a disappointingly familiar feeling for the young Spaniard.
Still time for a return
A return to Barcelona for Thiago looks unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The Spanish champions brought in Arda Turan to boost their midfield options, but at 28 he's not a long-term option.
The management team could do a lot worse, than swallowing their pride and resigning Thiago Alcantara - the one that got away.