And so ends the story of a writer, Xabi Alonso
Shape of My Heart is a beautiful song from the legendary musician Sting. The lyrics are deep and touch the soul of the listener. It goes something like this: “he deals the cards as a meditation, and those he plays never suspect…he doesn’t play for the money he wins, he doesn’t play for respect.”
It almost feels like Sting was referring to Xabi Alonso here. Well, almost. Obviously, the song is not about the legendary Spaniard, but the lyrics do really symbolise the type of player that he was: someone who never played for the money or respect, but purely for the love of the game.
And it is only the players that play for love who make it to the top.
There are a great many things about Alonso that stood out, but what truly set him apart was his unparalleled understanding of the game and the way he orchestrated attacks from the deepest of positions.
The backline is usually where it all begins, but it is rarely the place where plays are made and attacks are built. With Alonso, however, just one touch of the ball from as far as the penalty box at the other end of the pitch could result in a goal the very next moment.
Also read: 5 matches that defined Xabi Alonso’s career
That’s how dangerously accurate his long-balls were. Most players just played a long pass, but with Alonso, it was something different: he was a writer, the ball was his pen, and every pass was a story.
His passes were never just calculated guesses. Rather, they were stories… something like divine love, something meant to please the ones witnessing it.
Okay, now let’s try something else: Xabi, the bird
Back in the day, when mobile phones were rare and internet was a dream yet to be realised, lovers used letters to communicate with each other.
The most romantic paradigm was to a bird to send a message across. Chits were tied to the bird’s feet and it then flew to the destination, where a restless heart beat with anticipation.
Similarly, Alonso’s feet – resembling the bird – guide the ball – the message – to the recipient – the player longing for it.
It was not just you average long pass, it was more like the binding of two souls.
Aside from his graceful passing, the former Liverpool man was arguably the most intelligent reader of the game in his era. Not only could he see a pass before anyone else, he could also sense the opposition’s move ahead of time.
It was for this reason that the Spaniard’s defensive skills were superior to most other registas. Despite the fact that Xabi almost always gave the impression of being a physical player, lunging into tackles every now and then, he himself claimed to use physicality as a last resort.
“I can’t get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality,” – Xabi Alonso.
Speaking of the tendency of Premier League players using brawn over brain while defending, he cited the example of Sergio Busquets while conveying the importance of reading the game with accuracy and blocking an attack by being at the right place instead of resorting to brute force.
And Alonso practised what he preached, which allowed him to play as a sweeper just as comfortably as he did in midfield. Pep Guardiola knew the true reach of Alonso’s ability and hence used him in defence on many occasions during his time as Bayern’s manager.
And the former Sociedad man never left any room for doubt.
The Unique One
There have been many midfielders who have left lasting imprints on the game, be it Xavi for Barcelona or Pirlo for Milan and Juventus, but Xabi Alonso stands as the most unique among them all. While it is very difficult to find players like Xavi Hernandez and Andrea Pirlo, it is impossible to find one with a skill set as distinctive as Alonso’s.
One can draw parallels between Toni Kroos and Xavi – the latter very recently admitted that the German was “almost” like him – and Marco Verratti and Andrea Pirlo, but we are yet to see a player who could be labelled as similar to Alonso.
As the curtains are drawn on his illustrious career, Alonso leaves a happy man. He has won everything there is to win – almost all of them more than once. However, his legacy is far more important than just titles.
While titles define players’ careers, the truly outstanding players are the ones that leave marks of their own on the game. Titles are commonplace for great players, but the really remarkable ones write their own stories and leave legacies that serve as an inspiration for others.
And Xabi Alonso leaves one that is unprecedented and unparalleled.Published 25 May 2017, 12:08 IST