Xabi Alonso joins Bayern Munich: Germany becomes the latest challenge for Alonso to overcome
The 32-year-old won the Champions League with Liverpool
Friday 29 August 2014
Xabi Alonso has always been one for a challenge. Before becoming a Champions League, European Championships and World Cup winner, he travelled as a teenage Spanish exchange student to Ireland to improve his English. Staying the summer in the small town of Kells, in County Meath, he showcased his early football talents as well as his desire to try Gaelic football. As a young Spaniard spending more time than the usual holiday abroad in a foreign country, the Basque youngster found it tough but he found it rewarding.
From the start of his trophy-packed career to the twilight years, Alonso has needed that challenge to keep him ticking and the chance to try his hand in the Bundesliga with a club on a par with Real Madrid in terms of size, commercial power and expectation was a chance he could not turn down. Not after completing his cycle in the Spanish capital by lifting La Decima last season, Madrid's tenth European Cup and Alonso's second.
"It's been the most difficult decision of my life," he said at a farewell press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu on Friday morning.
"It's never easy to leave Real Madrid." He continued: "I must be honest with myself, and with the club, and this is the right moment [to leave]...after La Decima a new cycle is starting. I feel that for myself, to be at my best, I need a change."
That change is Germany and Bayern Munich. For a player who turns 33 in November, that change expected to be a swan song back in the Premier League or back in his Basque homeland with Real Sociedad, the club where he made his name and the club where his impressive performances caught the attention of Liverpool. "I had five great years at Liverpool and I wanted to keep that great memory," he said. A decade on and few players still playing the game are as decorated as Alonso.
Two Champions League triumphs, World Cup glory, two European Championships, La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the FA Cup are amongst his successes.
Now the challenge for the 32-year-old, who also announced his retirement from international football on Wednesday, faces the envious challenge of completing a hat-trick of European triumphs with as many different clubs. With Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005 and with Madrid last year. Alonso has not opted to see out the remaining time on his Madrid contract - he signed a new two-year deal in January - and has not opted for a money-spinning venture outside of Europe. He has taken a drop in wages to try his hand in Germany and to try his hand with a club who will be alongside Los Blancos as one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season.
It is not just his departure from the Spanish capital and his destination that caused surprise in the week before the summer transfer window closes, however, it is the manager who he will be playing under. The Basque midfielder was a staunch supporter of Jose Mourinho during the Portuguese manager's roller-coaster tenure at the Bernabeu one of the few, and to go and work with Mourinho's greatest rival in the former Barcelona boss showcases an open-mindedness that separates the former Spanish international from the rest on the football pitch. "I have the fortune to have great coaches," he said.
"Carlo [Ancelotti], [Jose] Mourinho, [Manuel] Pellegrini, and also my father was a coach. This is another opportunity." He added: "Football people understand what happens on the pitch are sporting things and we leave them there."
The opportunity has come about due to an injury crises in Munich. Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara are set to miss large chunks of the season and there are still doubts over when World Cup-winning midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will return to full fitness at the Allianz Arena. Guardiola needed to bolster his ranks and he saw Alonso as the perfect man to plug the gap. At a figure reported to be £8 million Bayern look to have snapped-up one of the bargains of the summer.
Alonso's talents may be on the wane and his legs may be tiring, but he can still provide his trademark long ball that can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds. For that vision and for that passing ability you don't need pace. The midfielder has often dropped back into a back three over the last hear with Madrid, letting the two other central midfielders push forward while he sweeps things up at the back. The orchestrator, the quarter-back. Alonso is still one of the best passers of the ball in the game and for that he will fit into Guardiola's much-publicised style at Bayern seamlessly.
For Madrid, it is a second blow inside the space of a week. After losing Angel Di Maria, the man who led Ancelotti's side to Champions League glory in May with a man-of-the-match performance in Lisbon, to Manchester United, Alonso has quickly, and surprisingly, followed suit. It was no coincidence that Madrid struggled in the early months last season and only found their true, cup-winning balance when Alonso returned from injury and Di Maria clicked into place alongside him in Ancelotti's middle three. Now that has disappeared and the Italian needs to find that balance again, and quickly.
Alonso's departure should mean Sami Khedira remains at the Bernabeu at least until his contract runs out at the end of this season. The German had been linked with moves to a number of clubs, including Bayern, this summer but now his talents may be needed in light of the mini Bernabeu exodus. Asier Illarramendi, who looked set for a loan move away from the Spanish capital, could get his chance too. The former Real Sociedad man was brought in for big money last season to ultimately fill the boots of an ageing Alonso and his time may now have come.
The midfielder will not play every game for Bayern. Their talented squad will ensure they compete in every trophy they're involved in this season and Alonso is not a player who can thrive on playing three games a week, he needs rest. Sitting out Madrid's first league game of the season last Monday against Cordoba after playing twice in the previous seven days in the Spanish Super Cup showcased that. To be at his optimum he will need to rotate but Guardiola has no doubts that the signing will improve his squad.
Alonso was set to face the club where it all began for him on Sunday night when Madrid travelled to San Sebastian, a place he returns to every summer with his family, but instead he will be watching on television. "I will now be one more Real Madrid fan," he added as the lights dimmed on his five years at the Bernabeu.
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