In Football, the world has witnessed many superstars and legends over the years. And then comes to those footballers who have been under-appreciated and overshadowed by others throughout their entire career. Whenever the football fans hear the word ‘underappreciated’ or ‘underrated’, one of the names comes to the top of that list is Xabi Alonso. Playing as a midfielder Xabi Alonso achieved numerous titles for club and country during his career, but still, the player doesn’t get enough credit for the role he played in his clubs’ or country’s playing XI.
He became a Liverpool legend, but was overshadowed by Liverpool prince Steven Gerrard, was an integral part of Spain’s golden generation midfield yet again was overshadowed by Xavi and Iniesta. He also came to Real Madrid from Liverpool and witnessed five years of glory, but again was not enough appreciated like his other teammates. Despite all the facts, Xabi Alonso was one of the most gifted midfielders of the modern era to bless the game.
“Xabi Alonso played at Liverpool and Real Madrid for five years each. He was always world class and confirmed this at Bayern.”Jupp Heynckes
Early life : Family background and childhood career
Xabier Alonso Olano was born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa in Basque country on 25th November 1981. He was born in a football cultured family where his father Periko Alonso was a former footballer himself who played for Basque club Real Sociedad and won the Spanish league twice at the club. Alonso idolised his father from childhood and set his eyes on becoming a footballer. His father used to take him and his brother at the ground to watch Real Sociedad’s matches which grew his interest even more for the game.
He made his mind at a very young age that he wanted to become a defensive midfielder, playing in a role which gave him the authority to control the game of his team with his ability of passing and vision. In childhood, he made friends with another kid from the Basque country, Mikel Arteta, with whom he used to spar with the ball in a battle of skills. Both Arteta and Alonso dreamed of playing side by side for Sociedad in childhood, they even played together for local youth team Antiguoko.
When both of them were making their presence known to the spectators at a very young age, scouts from top football clubs in Spain had their eyes set on those two. Later when Arteta went on to join Catalan club Barcelona’s youth academy, Alonso chose to join Real Sociedad’s youth system.
Alonso progressed through the ranks of Sociedad very quickly, impressing everyone while playing for their under 19 teams and reserve team. He even captained Sociedad’s youth team at a team. With his talent and abilities, he made his way through to the senior squad at the age of 18 when he made his debut for Sociedad in a Copa del Rey match in 1999. Although after that debut he didn’t play any match for the club in that season and was sent on loan to Eibar the next season.
According to his father, playing in a small club helped him to improve even more and six months later he came back to his parent club. Season 2002-03 was a dream season for both Real Sociedad and Xabi Alonso, the club finished second in La Liga, two points behind champion Real Madrid and also recorded their highest ever point tally in history in Liga. It was Sociedad’s best performance since 1981-82 and Xabi Alonso was the leader behind the success. He received the Best Spanish Player award by Spanish sports magazine Don Balon after that season. In 2004, Alonso left Sociedad and travelled to England in order to join the Merseyside giants Liverpool.
From The Reds to Los Blancos : The midfield general
Xabi Alonso came to spotlight of English media immediately after joining Liverpool. He created a formidable duo with Steven Gerrard in midfield and their partnership was one of the best at that time. The fans were impressed by his passing skills, and he soon became the midfield general of Rafa Benitez’s team. He became a hero in Liverpool’s Champions League victory in 2005 defeating AC Milan in the final. In one of the best finals in the history of Champions League played in Istanbul, Liverpool were trailing 3-0 in the first half and they started their comeback with a goal by Steven Gerrard in 54th minute. Alonso went on to take the penalty when Liverpool was trailing 3-2 and he labelled the score. Later Liverpool won the final in Penalty shoot out.
“It was clear Alonso was royalty after our first training session together in August 2004. He was, by some distance, the best central midfielder I ever played alongside.”Steven Gerrard
The Spaniard was also a big part of the FA Cup victory in 2006 where he contributed many assists and long-range goals. He scored two monstrous goals, one from 45 yards and another from 65 yards distance against Luton Town to come back from 3-1 deficit in the third round of FA Cup. One of his most remembered goal for The Reds came from a distance of 70 yards, against Newcastle United in English Premier League, stunning the people for his sheer power and accuracy.
At Liverpool, Alonso was everywhere in the field be it defending or tackling opponent players, making defence breaking through passes and assists or scoring long-range screamers. He made a total of 210 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions in five years. After five years at Anfield, Alonso decided to go back to his home nation to join Real Madrid in 2009.
Alonso was signed by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez when he was trying to reshape the team from past seasons’ disastrous performances and strengthen the squad in a way who could fight against Barcelona, who were the most fearsome side in the world at that time.
Although his first season under Manuel Pellegrini at Real Madrid ended being trophyless, he had already marked his place in the Los Blancos dressing room. The next season manager Jose Mourinho took the charge of Real Madrid and things started to turn out. Mourinho was very keen of the midfield maestro and he became one of the key players in Mourinho’s famous counter-attacking style of football.
“Barcelona players are passing the ball at least 25 times to reach the goal, while Xabi Alonso is doing this all in a single pass.”Roberto Mancini
His accuracy of passing defence beating long balls to the right player at the right position was the key of Mourinho’s counter-attacking strategy. It was a very familiar incident in those days at Santiago Bernabeu when Xabi Alonso would shift the game from Real Madrid’s half to the opponent half with just one pass to the sprinting Cristiano Ronaldo or Mesut Ozil. Alonso won the La Liga with Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho in 2011-12. He also won the Copa del Rey twice, 2010-11 and 2013-14 while the later one came under manager Carlo Ancelotti. Although his most glorious achievement for the Los Blancos was winning the much-awaited La Decima, the tenth Champions League title of the club in 2013/14 under Carlo Ancelotti which was also his second Champions League trophy although he couldn’t play in the final due to being suspended.
After playing in 236 matches for Real Madrid, Xabi Alonso left Madrid in the summer of 2014 and joined Bayern Munich. Although his Bayern career was short, he won back to back three Bundesliga from 2014 to 2017 and one DFB Pokal in 2016. He retired from football as a Bayern Munich player in 2017.
International career : The member of ‘Spanish Golden Generation’
While his club career was full of numerous achievements, his international career was equally glorious in terms of trophies and history. From 2008 to 2012, when Spain was ruling the world football with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta or Fabregas in the midfield and Fernando Torres, David Villa in the front line, Xabi Alonso was the backbone of this attack. He used to play in a much deeper position from where he liked to create and architect the goals for Spain and at the same time working as a shield in front of the defence of Puyol, Ramos, Pique or Capdevila. He became a part of Spain’s back to back Euro Cup-winning team in 2008 and 2012, and also their first-ever world cup winning side in 2010. While his midfield partners Xavi, Iniesta or even Fabregas was more highlighted because of their more involvement in goals or assists and playing more often in the opponent’s boxes, Alonso went on to be overshadowed of playing in a deeper role from where he wasn’t involved in goals or assists very often, but that didn’t impact his game at all and he continued to keep anchoring his teams’ games from behind the shadows.
According to Alonso himself, he is a player who likes to pass the ball more than scoring and his entire football career is a reflection of his words. Growing up in a football background family and tasting the greatest glories in the biggest stage of world football for both club and country, Xabi Alonso Olano has certainly made his mark. He is currently pursuing his managerial career at Real Sociedad B team, after coaching Real Madrid youth team in 2018-19 season. The answer of what glory he would achieve as a manager only lies in the future, although his former manager Jose Mourinho once said “Xabi Alonso is like a metronome, a player in the style of Xavi Hernandez. I’m sure that when he hangs his boots up he’ll be a great coach. He reminds me of Pep Guardiola when he was a player: he already acts like a coach when he is on the field.”
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