From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.46 :: Nov. 18, 2010

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FOOTBALL / WHO REIGNS IN SPAIN

Midfield maestro

Xabi Alonso is arguably the best passer of a football in Europe and his transfer to Real Madrid, along with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and the appointment of Jose Mourinho, seem to be changing the fortunes of Los Merengues. By Mark Bryans.

AP

Being a Spanish midfielder of this generation is to be gifted. Look at the list of stars — Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets to name but a few — and anyone without a Spanish passport will be green with envy.

But there is another player who has achieved monumental success in both the domestic and international arenas.

Xabi Alonso is arguably the best passer of a football in Europe and his transfer to Real Madrid, along with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and the appointment of Jose Mourinho, seem to be changing the fortunes of Los Merengues.

But before a successful spell with Liverpool led to a dream move to Madrid, Alonso spent five years at Real Sociedad where he captained the team on a regular basis despite being only 19.

The manager who awarded him the armband was John Toshack, who even sculpted special training sessions to advance Alonso's obvious abilities. Alonso later admitted during his time at Liverpool that he was indebted to the former Wales manager.

“If it wasn't for Toshack, I would probably still be playing lower league football back home,” he said.

Alonso's form remained after Toshack had left Sociedad and this led to compatriot Rafael Benitez signing him for Liverpool in the summer of 2004 in a deal worth more than GBP10 million.

“I'm going to a club with a lot of history and a great present,” Alonso observed at the time.

That ‘great present' was evident when Alonso helped Liverpool to its fifth European Cup in his first season, scoring the equaliser as the Reds came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in the final. A feat labelled by Alonso as “the best moment” of his career.

T he next season saw Alonso win the FA Cup and he scored from his own half in the third-round tie against Luton. Remarkably, Alonso repeated the feat the following season against Newcastle United, his first goal since the 60-yard effort at Kenilworth Road.

Benitez's ruthless pursuit of England midfielder Gareth Barry during the summer of 2008 led to question marks over Alonso's Anfield future.

But neither player ended up moving clubs and Alonso explained how moved he was by the Liverpool fans who stood by him. He said: “(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.”

However, only 12 months later he handed in a transfer request in the hope of pushing through a move to Madrid. He then moved to the Bernabeu for GBP30 million in August 2009 as part of Madrid's massive spending spree in an attempt to wrest the Spanish Primera Division crown away from rival Barcelona.

His former Anfield team-mate Steven Gerrard later claimed he was ‘devastated' by Alonso's departure. He added at the time: “It's always going to be different when you lose one of the best players in the world — and people are finally realising that's what he is, on the back of his form for Real Madrid and the difference in us from last year.”

After a trophyless first season in Madrid, Alonso went to this year's World Cup in South Africa and started every game for Spain. He helped his country to win its first World Cup and was involved in one of the most memorable moments of the final, receiving a high kick to the chest from Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, who escaped with only a booking.

Alonso has carried his good form into the domestic game as Mourinho's Madrid side has made an impressive start to the 2010/11 season.

Alonso has been shortlisted for this year's Ballon d'Or and was also awarded the Lani Onari award — a special Basque award — and the president of the Basque autonomous region Patxi Lopez waxed lyrical about his ability.

He said: “His football boots represent the universality of sport, whether here among us, in England, Madrid or South Africa. He is an example of excellence in sports for our youth.”

Alonso and his Madrid team-mates will be hoping to continue their impressive form and bring home some silverware at the end of the season.

© PA Sport, 2010, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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