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This is not another piece about Thiago Alcantara. We've got plenty of those elsewhere on F365. However, a debate flared up in our Mailbox at the start of this week about the wisdom or otherwise of Thiago choosing Bayern Munich over Manchester United, if more playing time was what he was seeking. Why would he go from competing with Xavi and Iniesta to competing with Kroos and Schweinsteiger?
Matthew Stanger dealt with why that argument isn't relevant at more length here, but it did expose some thinking that seems to be prevalent among many fans, specifically that there is such a thing as a first-choice team in football these days.
Cesc Fabregas is probably a more obvious example. If one was to ask 100 people to name what they thought the Barcelona 'first-choice' XI was, in all probability 90-plus wouldn't name Fabregas. And yet last season he started 30 of Barca's 38 league games, with another six in the Champions League. Whatever reason Fabregas might have for wanting to leave Barcelona, a lack of football would not seem to be one of them. Indeed, when Barca won the Champions League back in 2011, Seydou Keita made 35 appearances - Xavi only appeared 31 times, though obviously more of his number were starts. Maxwell played 25 times. Even Bojan Krkic played 27 times.
Under no circumstances would anyone describe Keita, Maxwell and Bojan as first-choice players, but they still got plenty of football in one of the best teams of all time.
The point is that the idea of a player not signing for a club because they already have a number of good players is no longer particularly relevant. Sure, if you're a goalkeeper the presence of Petr Cech might dissuade you from signing for Chelsea, but there should be opportunities to impress and play at most other clubs in most other positions.
Ten years ago Claudio Ranieri was almost reduced to a punchline because he 'tinkered' with his team so much. Rafa Benitez was the same, going 99 games without naming an unchanged team, hopefully refusing to make it a century just to annoy those who liked to laugh at him. But this is common practice now - Manchester United named an unchanged side once in winning the league last season. As much as people use the phrase 'it's a squad game', there still seems to be the idea that there is a definite 'first team'.
Of course, there are first-team regulars, names that one would think would appear on the team sheet most weeks, but even the idea of a 'first-choice' XI that a manager would automatically pick in the big games isn't really applicable. To return to United, Sir Alex Ferguson was a little more consistent in big domestic games, but in Europe he of course not only omitted Wayne Rooney from arguably the biggest game of their season, the second leg against Real Madrid, but made three other changes to his starting line-up from the first game. There is a difference between the team that a manager would expect to win a particular game, and his 'best' team.
This was potentially an issue in the debate about how good last season's United were in comparison to Ferguson's previous great sides. If you and I were to name the best starting XI from 1999 the chances are we'd come up with the same names - you won't get much deviation from Schmeichel, Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, Yorke and Cole. However, if you tried it from last season...well, if you'd asked Ferguson on consecutive days he'd probably give you different answers.
The idea of having a squad these days is that managers have options. They can alter their side and tactics according to the game and opposition. There is rarely such a thing as a 'first team' anymore - there is of course such a thing as a collection of 'first team players', but this is more fluid than simply a favourite XI. And it's actually been this way for a few years, but the thinking that a player shouldn't move to a new side just because you don't think he's their first choice XI is outdated. Football squads are so extensive these days that if a manager buys a player, the chances are he's going to use him a lot.
The team is dead. Long live the team.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter