Alonso: the leader of 'project Mourinho'

As La Liga kicks off after an extraordinary week, Xavi Alonso tells Pete Jenson in Madrid about the World Cup and Real's grand plan
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The Independent Football

When Spain won the World Cup, the street parade seemed only fit and proper.

This week was different. On Tuesday night, the streets of Madrid were once again lined by fans in their thousands. But this time they had come to greet the Real Madrid team bus as it arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu – for a pre-season friendly. It was as if Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos still had the World Cup Trophy on board.

Inside the stadium the party continued and after a rousing rendition of Viva Espana from home supporters, Alonso responded with a thudding shot against the foot of a post from distance, lifting the crowd even higher. It may be that six of the starters in the World Cup final were Barcelona players but the trophy was brought back to Madrid and nowhere has it been celebrated more than in the Spanish capital. Now those cheers are shifting; their new focus is "Project Mourinho", and the hope that this season they might just catch the champions, Barcelona.

If England's football managers are still hoping their charges shrug off the World Cup hangover, Jose Mourinho has no such problem. "It's true that the people in Madrid are very happy and positive at the moment about their football," says Alonso, the man who kept Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas out of the starting line-up throughout the tournament. "Everyone is now very optimistic about what's going to happen next. We want to prolong that success. It was fantastic to win the World Cup and it was celebrated just as it deserved to be celebrated. We can't dwell on that success but the ambition is there now to win more and more."

There is a glint in the eye at every question that refers back to events in South Africa. Alonso has always played with a quiet confidence. On the evidence so far, he is looking more assured than ever, every inch a European and world champion. And he will need to draw on all his leadership skills in the weeks to come. Real, as one commentator has said, are "still in nappies", and at 28, the former Liverpool player will be the old hand at the furnace.

Mourinho has overseen the signing of six players but only one of them, Ricardo Carvalho (32) is over the age of 23. Wingers Pedro Leon and Angel Di Maria are 23 and 22 respectively; German pair Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil are 23 and 21 and Spanish prodigy Sergio Canales is just 19. "I am not worried about leadership in my team," Mourinho said. "I have people out there who have won big things – European Championships, European Cups and World Cups so they will know how to deal with pressure and lead the team."

That doesn't faze Alonso, who won the Champions League with Liverpool before he did the double of all doubles with his country. "My role in the team hasn't changed a lot," he said. "I have to keep things balanced. Win the ball, distribute it well. There have been a lot of changes and we're in the process of gelling. We've got to correct the things we're doing wrong and reinforce the things we're doing well. It will come."

It needs to come together before the last weekend in November when Barcelona entertain Real Madrid in the season's first clasico. Pep Guardiola's team have clicked back into gear far more smoothly than the forever changing Madrid.

"They can play with their eyes closed," Mourinho said this week. "They come back from their holidays and after three days of training they are playing like never before."

They have had to incorporate three signings with David Villa joining from Valencia and Adriano from Seville. Yesterday Javier Mascherano joined his Argentine team-mate Lionel Messi at the club. Villa has adapted instantly, Adriano likewise and Alonso believes Mascherano will fit perfectly. "He's a great player. I was lucky enough to play alongside him. He's very experienced, very competitive and offers them a lot," he says.

The worrying difference for Madrid is that Guardiola has only had to clean the spark plugs at the Nou Camp; Mourinho has had to overhaul the engine at the Bernabeu.

If he can turn the tide and win what would be Madrid's 32nd La Liga title or 10th Champions League then Mourinho will also be taking giant strides to his own career aims. He told Spanish daily El Pais this week: "I had three big objectives when I became a manager and I have already almost achieved two. Number one was to win the European Cup with three different clubs. Another was to be the only one who has won the three most important leagues in the world. As things stand, Fabio Capello has won the Italian and the Spanish, Carlo Ancelotti has won the English and the Italian, and I have won the English and the Italian leagues. Capello, if he does not return to club management, as he has said, he will not get there. It is just Carlo and me. I want to win all three."

His third aim is to lead Portugal to their first major honour. "I want to give my country something that nobody has been able to give it yet – a World Cup or a European Championship," he went on. "Portugal has a footballing culture that deserves a reward."

But first, Mourinho begins his battle for Spanish supremacy tomorrow on the island of Majorca. The coach says he has been pleased with the hunger for trophies among his players. Alonso is yet to win the title. With a desire to add that honour to his curriculum, Mourinho will be hoping his World Cup winner can ensure a young Madrid side grows up fast.

Three key battles in La Liga this season

1. Ronaldo vs Messi

Lionel Messi ended his pre-season with a hat-trick to land Barça the Spanish Super Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo ended his with a first-half tantrum that almost saw him sent off for retaliation. If Mourinho can bring the best out of Ronaldo then Madrid have a better chance of measuring up to Barcelona. If Messi's supremacy continues then Barça will surely scoop their third title on the bounce.

2. Mourinho vs Guardiola

Mourinho's Internazionale started last season badly and were almost knocked out of the Champions League. They went on to win it, beating Barcelona on the way. "I have not even had time to practise set-pieces with my players," said Real's coach this week about the pre-season disruption of international football. If he can stay with Barça in the first half of the season his side could be the stronger of the two in the second half.

3. Guardiola vs Ibrahimovic

Mr Cool (Pep Guardiola) has lost his cool. Barcelona's coach is not happy that the finger of blame is pointing his way over the Zlatan Ibrahimovic fiasco. Guardiola wanted the club to ditch Samuel Eto'o because he said there was no "feeling" between the two. He then asked to sign Ibrahimovic. The Swede, just as temperamental as Eto'o, has not fitted in and Guardiola was furious when asked sarcastically if it was a problem of "feeling".

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