Last week, Xabi Alonso announced that he is to retire at the end of the season following a storied career that saw him twice lift the Champions League in addition to winning one World Cup and two European Championships with the Spanish national team.
The 35-year-old could yet add to his trophy haul before his time as a player comes to a close, with Bayern Munich on course to secure the Bundesliga title and still alive in the Champions League and DFB Pokal.
Here are five matches that defined Xabi Alonso’s career.
#1 10 June 2001 - Athletic Club vs. Real Sociedad
When Josh Toshack took over at Real Sociedad early into 2001 he inherited a side who were at the bottom of the league and in real danger of going down.
Alonso was on loan at Eibar at the time but Toshack quickly recalled him, started to give him minutes and then handed him the captain’s armband despite the fact that Alonso was just 19 years old.
“Everyone seems to play better when he is on the pitch,” Toshack explained.
Alonso’s first minutes came as a substitute in a 0-2 home defeat to local rivals Athletic Club. By the time the reverse fixture came around on the penultimate match day he was a key part of a side who had given themselves a fighting chance of avoiding the drop with four wins and four draws in their previous 10 matches.
La Real came out of blocks at full speed. They had a goal wrongly disallowed and saw a well-struck effort from Alonso parried behind before taking the lead just past the half-hour mark through a superb strike from Edgaras Jankauskas. That was bettered just 10 minutes later when Javier de Pedro curled an astonishing free-kick into the top corner from long range.
Alonso was a steadying presence in midfield throughout, demonstrating leadership skills well beyond his tender years. Even a late second booking and the resulting red card couldn’t tar an excellent performance in a 3-1 victory that pushed his side towards safety.