Liverpool could have guessed sorry end for Thiago and must not repeat retirement home mistake

Thiago Alcantara of Liverpool with Sir Kenny Dalglish after the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on May 19, 2024 in Liverpool, England.
-Credit: (Image: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Thiago Alcantara, aged just 33, is hanging up his boots following the expiry of his Liverpool contract. It's a shock to see him retire altogether, but he's hardly made it onto the pitch in the last 18 months, and he will ultimately go down as a transfer mistake that should not be repeated at Anfield.

There's little doubt that Thiago is one of the most gifted players to pull on the Liverpool jersey in the last few years, and perhaps ever. He was hailed by Pep Lijnders when he arrived as the player Jurgen Klopp's team "deserved", and was supposed to provide that element of control to a side that had already mastered the off-the-ball side of the game.

Unlike certain other orchestrators, Thiago would not let the side down out of possession either. On paper, he was the perfect Klopp player, pressing with intensity and precision but picking his passes with similar aplomb.

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Excitement was widespread when Liverpool confirmed his arrival from Bayern Munich. He had just played an important role in the Champions League final, and the Reds snapped him up for a mere $26m (£20m/€24m) plus add-ons.

That should have been the first warning sign. Ultimately, there was a reason Bayern let him leave with so little fuss.

Liverpool will obviously have been aware of Thiago's injury record. It would have required only the most basic due diligence to see that he had struggled for fitness throughout his career, with those issues getting worse in his veteran years.

Clearly, the club weighed up the risks and decided it was a gamble worth taking. I was certainly among those to get wholly on board with the call, with Thiago the most genuinely marquee signing Liverpool had made for many years.

But in hindsight, it's clear that Liverpool did Bayern a favor. Taking on Thiago's significant salary, it also gave the Bavarians a healthy sum for a player whose body was already beginning to betray him.

Kostas Tsimikas and Thiago Alcantara of Liverpool during a training session at AXA Training Centre on February 02, 2024 in Kirkby, England.
Thiago hardly got on the pitch in his final Liverpool season. -Credit:Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Was it optimism or delusion to sign a player who had missed nearly 40 games in the past three seasons and ask him to play a central part in a Klopp team? You'd have thought Liverpool might have learned from Naby Keita that midfielders who can do it all are often too good to be true when it comes to actually getting on the pitch, and yet the Reds went ahead and signed an older model with a far more extensive injury history.

Ultimately, the Liverpool way is to make stars, not sign them. It's not as exciting nor as glamorous, but it's far most cost-effective. Look where signing the big names has got Manchester United.

As a one-off roll of the dice, signing Thiago was fine, and Liverpool did get some good moments out of him — albeit nowhere near enough to justify his position right near the top of the list of highest earners. But Anfield is no retirement home, and with intensity set to remain the club's identity under Arne Slot, there can be no repeats.

It's no slight on Thiago, who gave his utmost for Liverpool whenever his body allowed him to do so. It's a sad end for him personally, and there's little doubt he will make a great coach if that's an avenue he decides to pursue. But as well as rightly paying tribute to his career accomplishments, those of a Red persuasion must look inward too, reflecting on a transfer failure that was always likely to happen.