counter free hit invisible Xabi Alonso, La Barba Roja

Xabi Alonso, La Barba Roja


Xabi Alonso is a player who probably doesn’t come up in conversations as often as he should. This is no surprise given the quality of the team he plays for, Real Madrid. As a veteran of the sport, Alonso has had a wonderful career and has already garnered a number of trophies but there’s more to this man than his statistics imply.

Born into a footballing dynasty that few players can match, Xabi found himself immersed in a Football environment from a young age. His father is Spanish legend Periko Alonso; a decorated player who won two successive La Liga titles with Real Sociedad – the club that began molding Xabi into the player he is today – and a third with Barcelona. He was also a valued player in the Spanish national team. Thus the elder Alonso certainly provided an environment that facilitated his son’s emerging love of the game.

The seeds of his career were sown around his seventh birthday when his family moved to the Northern Spanish city of San Sebastian. Alonso and his peers would spend hours playing the game at Play de la Concha. It was there that Alonso would meet his long-time friend and later rival, current Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta. The boys, under the watch of Arteta’s father, were taken to Second division team CE Sabadell’s training ground to hone their skills.

Alonso took inspiration from his father’s playing style and emulated him by becoming a central midfielder. He seemed to get more satisfaction from playing an integral role in developing the play rather than going for goal. Early on, Alonso selected the defensive midfielder role as his preferred position. This decision surely helped develop his keen ability to deliver balls to advancing teammates, which is his defining attribute. Indeed today he is the prime example of a “Regista” or deep-lying playmaker.

A couple of years later, we find our emerging footballer playing alongside Arteta in the Antiguoko youth squad. Their thriving midfield partnership attracted the attention of top team scouts and led to the breakup of their nine-year friendship as Alonso moved to his father’s alma mater, Real Sociedad and Arteta went to Barcelona. Alonso progressed and his talent did not go unnoticed as he made his first team debut at the age of 18. A brief loan spell in the 2000-01 season at second division team Eibar gave Alonso an opportunity to improve his game and play a leading role in the team, due to regular playing time. This provided invaluable experience.

In the 2002-03 season, Sociedad and Alonso finished second in La Liga behind Real Madrid, thus qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, a first for the club. This hallmark achievement led to recognition as “Best Spanish Player” by a sports magazine and his selection for his international debut. After this season it became clear that Alonso was beginning to outgrow the limited environment of Sociedad. Despite interest from Real Madrid, Alonso’s price tag proved too high for Los Blancos. During the transfer window, Alonso and Arteta’s paths crossed once more as Arteta joined Sociedad’s ranks. The opportunity to revive their partnership was short-lived since English club Liverpool snatched Alonso away. However, they would later meet again on Merseyside when Alonso played for Liverpool and Arteta plied his trade for local rivals Everton.

With Alonso’s football nous, the Merseyside club entered a new era of success. Under then-manager Rafa Benitez, the club sought to revolutionize and redefine the approach of the team. Alonso suffered the first major setback of his career with Liverpool after an unfortunate tackle on Frank Lampard led to a broken ankle. Alonso returned to the squad in the second leg of the 2004-05 Champions League quarter final against Italian Serie A veterans Juventus. Filling in for an injured Steven Gerrard, he played the full 90 minutes in less than perfect shape, as he was fresh off the injury table. Despite a shaken squad, Liverpool was able to grind out a 0-0 draw and pulled through on aggregate to the semi-finals. Despite a lackluster 5th place finish in the Premiere league for the Reds, glory was beckoning in Europe where the club reached the Champions League final. During the game many have dubbed “the miracle of Istanbul”, the Spaniard found himself staring down AC Milan’s keeper Dida after the Merseyside club won a penalty while they were trailing 3-2. The Brazilian shot-stopper blocked Alonso’s first attempt but was unable to keep out the second as the Spaniard rocketed a volley into the top of the net. With extra-time yielding no winner, the penalty shootout crowned Liverpool as the Champions League winners. An ecstatic Alonso declared “This is the best moment in my professional career.”

During an additional four seasons at Liverpool, Alonso cemented his reputation as a world-class footballer and played an integral part in his team’s FA Cup success in 2006. One thing about Alonso that can’t be disputed is his loyalty. He truly loved Liverpool, despite claims that the club was attempting to offload him in the 2008 summer transfer window and bring in Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry. The move never materialized but the drawn-out transfer saga soured relations with Benitez and Alonso decided it was time to leave. He would eventually say goodbye to Anfield a year later.

After a transfer to Real Madrid said to be worth around 30 million pounds, Alonso received his number 22 and began the 2009-2010 campaign. For the past two years, he has often been the first name on the team sheet and he is without a doubt an integral cog in the Madrid machine. In his first season at the Bernabeu, he again helped his team set a new points total record in the league, after doing so with Sociedad and Liverpool (however Real still finished second in La Liga). Now wearing the number 14 jersey under manager Jose Mourinho, Xabi continues to see plenty of playing time and the current season is shaping up to be yet another one of quality from the Spaniard.

At 30, Alonso still has plenty to offer at the top level. He gives more than just football ability; showing loyalty, consistency, and love of the game. As the first player in the EPL to have completed 1000 passes in a season, Alonso’s accuracy continues to impress and only time will tell what is still in store for, as the Spanish press and teammates call him, La Barba Roja.

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