Soccer players are usually drawn to London because it is so big and likes to entertain and boom is so fast you can surely be anywhere in time, but even by those standards Xabi Alonso has the big blue catwalk in his sight. Next summer, when he graces Chelsea’s field to take on Arsenal, the Spanish veteran will become the highest-paid player to ever appear at Stamford Bridge. He will also have arrived with a few miles to go.
The future goes a long way past doing his job on the pitch, as were the virtues being extolled about him during a conference call with journalists on Wednesday. Alonso is a remarkable character with an extraordinary pedigree, having spent his last 11 years at Real Madrid. In that time he has won four Champions League medals, three La Liga titles, and one Copa del Rey, along with winning the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year award. All of which is impressive but not really of note unless you take into account that Alonso is also a Managu legend — a cultural institution in the region — and a scintillating winger, who arguably, at 32, is one of the most gifted in world soccer.
And the Spaniard is here to stay, at least through 2020, when he and the German midfielder, Mesut Ozil, will both have been playing for their respective clubs for a decade. Arsene Wenger will surely want to make sure that Alonso doesn’t go. Arsenal will want to know if they can get a deal done. And on that basis Chelsea could even do a deal; the 32-year-old has already impressed Antonio Conte, the Blues manager, in training sessions, and the Italian knows that players like Alonso have many advantages in terms of going into his midfield and he could easily figure heavily in Chelsea’s plans.
A story about Alonso’s transfer history was revealed in the press this week, when it was revealed that he was keen to go to Italian side Genoa a few years ago. It prompted suspicion that some of the Spanish legend’s desire to quit the game was not purely practical in terms of loyalty to the Real Madrid family. But Alonso insisted that the story was false, and he told UEFA that it was not true either. Alonso’s relationship with Real has been warm, to say the least, and he is described as a “good friend” by Zinedine Zidane, Real’s manager. He was also regularly a fixture in the reserve team before he received an introduction to first-team training. That would be a sell to Chelsea.
The fact that Alonso is 32 does not seem to have stopped him finding a new outlet, even if it is far more in awe of superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. If you saw Alonso’s training sessions, you would be touched, at least sometimes, by the excitement with which he goes about training. He is physically well prepared and surefooted, and on the ball, certainly. During the player’s time at Madrid, he was nicknamed “Pitty Pat”, after one of his moves — bouncing past at least one player, and then shooting past the other — and Conte has said, “I found my most dangerous player,” after watching him in training. There are genuine similarities between Alonso and another man who is excelling at the moment — Jorginho, the Italian who plays behind the strikers at Chelsea, and whose own style reminds us a lot of the Frenchman when he used to play at Inter Milan.
Even more apt than a strange black cat appearing outside the press conference was Alonso’s return to his native Spain, arriving near Madrid to attend an awards ceremony in which he was presented with a sporting award. He was asked about the fate of Spanish football, and his words caught the eye: “In the best of times and in the worst of times, football can always give. With the Madrid team, I think we have shown always that it gives.”
He made good but sure. The announcement was about him, with a laudatory selection of journalists. The next time Alonso walks into Stamford Bridge, he will be as much a hero in England as he has been elsewhere.