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Jim HoldenThe young Spaniard was a delight to watch at the European Under-21 Championship finals. His dancing feet thrilled the crowds, his range of passing was fabulous, and there was electricity in the air whenever he was on the ball.

But it’s no surprise that Thiago Alcantara is yet another graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, or that he is the son of a former Brazil international, Mazinho.

No, the astonishing information, to English ears, is that this 20-year-old midfielder of diamond-hard talent might be available for as little as £7million.

Thiago is stuck behind the superstars of Camp Nou, hence the audacious hope from mid-ranking Premier League club Bolton Wanderers that they might capture him in a deal that would allow Barca first option to take him back, but also give the youngster immediate regular first-team football.

This was one of many thousands of transfer possibilities being mulled over by the clubs of Europe, large, medium and small during pre-season. But this one had football common sense at its heart. It had financial good sense, too.

That, sadly, is an increasingly rare commodity among too many English clubs, who spend absurdly vast sums on middling players thanks to the riches of the Premier League TV deal.

An easy, but nevertheless compelling, contrast was evident at the same European Under-21 tournament.

In their opening group match, Thiago’s Spain side faced England. In direct opposition was Jordan Henderson, another 20-year-old midfielder, who a few days previously had left Sunderland for Liverpool in a barely credible £20m transfer.

Henderson is a decent player in the typical English mould. He had a good season for Sunderland and won a senior England cap in an experimental friendly against France – in which he looked out of his depth.

It was the same against Thiago, where Henderson spent most of the game chasing shadows. He didn’t improve in the tournament and was substituted in the final group game, in which a last-gasp defeat by the Czech Republic meant an early exit.

Henderson’s fee represents a monumental financial gamble by Liverpool – just as risky as the £35m they paid to sign young England striker Andy Carroll from Newcastle United in January. Henderson can hardly even be guaranteed a place in the Liverpool first team in his best position when the rivals are Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles and Lucas Leiva.

Every transfer, of course, is a matter of judgement. Perhaps Liverpool’s valuations will, in time, be viewed as wise business. For these kinds of sums, they will need to be, but right now they appear reckless spending.

Another contrast is the £9m deal that took midfielder Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid. He is 22, has 26 caps for Turkey and was a key player in his side’s Bundesliga title-winning season.

Sahin has pedigree and success. Like Henderson, he may find it hard to command consistent first-team action at his new club, but there is no doubt he represents value for money – maybe the best of the summer.

There were many more dazzling gems than Henderson on show at the Euro Under-21s, among them the Denmark and Ajax pair of Christian Eriksen and left-back Nicolai Boilesen.

The star of the England team was 19-year-old central defender Phil Jones, who had also just completed a transfer – for £16.5million from Blackburn Rovers to Manchester United.

That was a British record for a teenager and a mighty sum, yet Jones looked a player of vast potential: robust and commanding in defence, blessed with elegant turns on the ball and an intelligent range of passing, and also willing to cruise forward in the manner of an old-time libero.

If he were Spanish, Italian or German, he would not cost anywhere near £16.5m. Yet, even amid the disturbing inflation scarring English football, Jones looks a perceptive piece of business by Alex Ferguson.

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