Real Madrid’s Alonso maturing like a fine wine
Xabi Alonso’s 30th birthday on Friday has prompted an avalanche of praise for the Real Madrid midfielder and has also served to highlight the former Liverpool man’s importance in coach Jose Mourinho’s plans for Spanish and European domination.
Widely regarded as one of the finest players of his generation, as well as one of the most astute purchases by big-spending Real president Florentino Perez, the quietly-spoken Alonso has gone from strength to strength since joining Real for a fee of 35 million euros ($47 million) at the end of the 2008-09 season.
Spraying passes around the pitch from the centre of midfield with consumate ease and unleashing a crunching tackle when necessary, he is the well-oiled cog at the heart of Mourinho’s Real machine and it would be hard to see them mounting a realistic challenge to great rivals Barcelona without him.
Mourinho has used him more than any other player this season, more even than captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Alonso has spent 1,626 minutes on the pitch, (1,110 in La Liga, 421 in the Champions League and 95 in the Spanish Super Cup, compared with Casillas’s total of 1,592 minutes.
Alonso’s role in the Spain team is no less vital. Alongside Barcelona’s Xavi, the world and European champions surely have two of the best midfielders ever to have played the game, capable of orchestrating long periods of ball possession before unlocking the meanest defence in the blink of an eye.
Among Alonso’s attributes, Spanish media commentators picked out his calm demeanour, leadership qualities on the pitch and the fact that he is able to live his life away from soccer well outside the glare of the media spotlight.
“He hits 40-yard passes with the same natural manner as he strolls through the centre of Madrid and enjoys every moment on the pitch as if he is taking his kids to school,” As columnist Elias Israel wrote in Friday’s edition.
“He has a gift,” Israel added. “He is able to observe soccer from within as if he were sitting in the front row at the Bernabeu. Like the fine wines he enjoys, he is improving with age.”
Xabi probably has three or four good years left before he needs to decide what to do when his playing career ends and Mourinho gave a hint on Friday as to what the future might hold.
“I have told him that I am going to be in coaching for 30 more years and that we’ll meet each other again on the side of the pitch,” the Portuguese told a news conference.
Many clubs, in Spain and beyond, would no doubt jump at the chance to give him the opportunity to become the next Pep Guardiola.
PHOTO: Spain’s Xabi Alonso runs with the ball during their international friendly against England at Wembley Stadium in London, November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Staples.