The Pass Master
It is not often in football that you will be able to feel the effect of a particular player on a team as a whole. And that’s what makes Xabier Alonso Olano is one of a kind. Better known as Xabi Alonso to us and born to a man who represented Barcelona as a professional footballer, Xabi has become one of the mainstays of both Real Madrid and the Spanish national team thanks to his ability to control the game from midfield. Playing the role of a footballing ventriloquist, Alonso can run a show of his own kick starting attacks and dictating the pace of the game.
Spotted in the Sociedad youth system by former Real boss John Toshack, our very own pass master became the captain of Sociedad’s senior team at the tender age of 19. His best season for the Basque team though came in 2002-03 when they finished second in the league – two points behind, yes, you got that right, Real Madrid. Xabi though was rewarded for his sensational performance winning the Best Spanish Player award by Spanish sports magazine Don Balón. He also netted 12 goals in all competitions and made over 140 appearances for his childhood club. And thanks to that he earned his first international cap under Inaki Saez against Ecuador.
But his prime time would be else where. During Liverpool’s intermediate transition from being The Reds to La Roja, Xabi Alonso was signed by yet another former Madridista Rafael Benitez and brought to Anfield. Xabi’s impact was immediate as Liverpool won the UEFA Champions League in dramatic fashion at Istanbul against AC Milan on penalties after Xabi had netted the equalizer. Till date Xabi claims that to be the most memorable moment of his career. The season after he brought to Anfield the FA Cup as well. Alonso, alongside Gerrard, was the driving force behind the Merseyside team and even played a part in dismantling Real a couple of years back in a UEFA Champions League tie. A year later things changed. The apparent talk of the arrival of Gareth Barry unsettled Xabi and thus the Spanish international handed in a transfer request. Real Madrid was his preferred destination, a club where he wanted to play even before joining Liverpool. Real too had wanted Xabi back then but had failed to meet Sociedad’s asking price. But this time Florentino ensured that he had his man promising Xabi and he wanted to make him the pillar of his new Real Madrid drawing comparisons to Cesc and Arsenal, Xavi and Barcelona, Pirlo and Milan and so on and so forth.
Xabi arrived at Madrid and his first season under Manuel Pellegrini saw him settle into the Real Madrid side becoming a permanent fixture in the line up. And slowly people started realizing the importance of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid despite the presence of stars like Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema. The season went past without much success despite being close and then arrived Jose Mourinho.
Arguably one of the best passers of the game Xabi does not have a variety of skills. His style of play is to keep it simple, striking passes, rotating the ball around the field. His passing range is one of his most important asset, something which only top-notch midfielders have. Xabi can play a diagonal from the left to the right or a through ball dissecting the center halves. Alonso is stable and knows how to go about in different situations and what pace to set. He is also a good destructor intercepting key passes that our adversaries make. Alongside Sami Khedira, Xabi is turning out to be the lynchpin of this young and rejuvenated Real Madrid side and is forming a strong partnership. Xabi Alonso might not be as flamboyant as Zinedine Zidane or as tidy as Makelele or as inspiring as Raul but Xabi Alonso is definitely a force to reckon with. His effect on the team is such that it just cannot be seen when he is there but is crystal clear in his absence. His creativity, the ability to orchestrate a team the way a manager would want to makes him one of the best midfielders Real has ever had and will ever have.
Of all that we need from Xabi the most immediate requirement would be tomorrow night when Real play Murcia in the Copa Del Rey – a tournament that we have not won since 1993. The aggregate stands at 0-0 as we welcome them home for the second leg of the last 32 tie. As minor opposition as they might be they were able to keep us from scoring for one whole game at the Jose Rico Perez. And what Real lacked the most there, as Jose Mourinho himself later admitted, was Xabi Alonso’s creativity in midfield. This time around he would be there to help us and hopefully we will be able to evade the third division curse that has been cast upon us lasting over two years now. The season before last it was Real Union, last time Alcorcon. Will it be Murcia this time? Only time can answer.
Para Siempre Blanco!