An Appreciation of Xabi Alonso

The Basque area of Spain is a unique area to the North of the land. It’s an autonomous community, who believe that they should be apart from the main Spanish land.

Some notable people have hailed from the Basque country, most notably Francisco de Vitoria, Juan Sebastián Elcano and Elena Arzak. One man stands out from the crowd, though. A stature of class amongst the footballing culture in Basque; Xabi Alonso.

“I came from my hometown team, Real Sociedad, to the best team in England (smiles); to the best team in Spain to the best team in Germany. I would say it is a beautiful career. I wanted a nice football script.” – Xabi Alonso

It’s the class behind Alonso’s style of play that has drawn much attention to his illustrious career. Labelled in the same category as the likes of Pirlo and Xavi, Alonso is among the best passers of his generation. Much is made of the Spanish way of training and nurturing technical ability, but surprisingly it was a Welshman and former Red who developed Alonso’s class and technical ability.

John Toshack, then Real Sociedad manager, placed much faith and time in Alonso’s ability. He made him captain of the side at a young age and he led Sociedad’s resurgence. Although the former Liverpool star left the club at the end of the season, he made a big impact on Alonso’s style.

“Xabi had enormous ability, but would get caught in possession too much. I recall devising a training method whereby we put sticks on the floor and he had to tiptoe through them with the ball.

 

It was designed to quicken up his feet and as time moved on, Xabi developed a deftness which ensured he could shine at international level.” – John Toshack

It was the 2002/03 season in which Alonso really started to show his capabilities. 12 goals and a second place finish for Sociedad saw the midfielder pick up the Best Spanish Player Award. He continued his form into the next season, excelling in the Champions League. Giants Real Madrid enquired about Alonso, but failed to meet Sociedad’s £13million price tag.

One team did meet Sociedad’s price tag, however, with Alonso making the move to Liverpool under compatriot Rafa Benitez. It at Anfield that Alonso developed into one of the finest footballers of his generation.

His style of play took the Premier League by storm; with his vision, passing and composure impressing Liverpudlians and other fans alike. It’s rare that one player gains so much praise and recognition from rival fans, but Alonso did. It’s hard not to like a player with so much class.

It was in his first season on Merseyside in which Alonso made probably the biggest single contribution to the club of any player in the past decade. He scored the equalising goal in Istanbul to bring Liverpool level at 3-3 against AC Milan. The Reds went on to win the game and Alonso was hailed as a hero.

After five fruitful seasons on Merseyside, with a Champions League, Super Cup, FA Cup and Community Shield to his namer, Alonso was off to the club that had tried to sign him from Sociedad; Real Madrid. Alonso would go on to win another Champions League with the Galacticos, as well as six other trophies.

It was a £30 million move and one that Liverpool would regret. Liverpool looked to bring in Gareth Barry, which placed Alonso’s position in question. The fans, though, remained faithful to Alonso and understood his importance to the club.

“[The fans] couldn’t have done more to show me how they felt… If I went out for lunch or a coffee, there was always someone who would come over and say, ‘We’d love you to stay’. I’m just glad that, in the end, nothing came of it [the transfer] because it wasn’t something I ever asked for.” – Xabi Alonso

By the 11th of December, he was the first player to play 1,000 passes in the Premier League. He’d scored the winning goal to give Liverpool their first win at Stamford Bridge in over four years. It wasn’t enough, though, as the Reds looked to cash in on their playmaker in his prime.
Steven Gerrard was devastated by Alonso’s departure, but the Madristas would benefit. He became essential to Manuel Pellegrini’s Madrid side, occupying the holding midfield role. His first seasons saw him become the most consistent player in the Madrid team, being nominated for awards left right and centre.

In his next three seasons at Madrid, Alonso become arguably the side’s most influential player. His play ensured that the team ticked over nicely, allowing the more glamorous players to do their thing as Alonso continued to provide.

It was perhaps another case of Alonso being underrated that saw him leave Madrid. He didn’t quite get the accolades of Ronaldo, Benzema and co, but he was essential to the team. It was another elite club, Bayern Munich, who snapped the star off Madrid’s hands.

It was perhaps the chance to continue success in a new league that lured Alonso to Munich, or maybe the chance to finally play under Pep Guardiola. The king of possession football had long been an admirer of Alonso, and knew his style of play would only enhance his Munich side, who had suffered a humiliating descent at the hands of Madrid in the Champions League.

“I know Pep very well from the games against Barca. It’s clear to me how he wants to play, and want he wants of me. I’ve come here to learn from him.” – Alonso on Guardiola

In his first season in Munich, the Spaniard has continued to impress. By the end of September, the Spaniard had broken the Bundesliga record for the most passes in one match, tallying 196 passes in a single game against FC Koln.

Despite a slightly difficult start to life in Bavaria, Alonso has since shown his class. How Liverpool would love to have the Spaniard back.

It’s Alonso’s intelligence which has made him invaluable to Liverpool, Madrid and Munich, as well as the Spanish national side, with whom he has won a World Cup and two European Championships. It’s his class, both on and off the pitch, which has made him one of the the best players of his generation and one of the most loved players in World football.

By Scott Salter | @ssalter_ftbl

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