It was a gentleman’s goodbye. Xabi Alonso faced the Madrid media with both elegance and eloquence on Friday to bid farewell to the Spanish side and discuss his surprise move to Bayern Munich. But even though his words were generous, the real reasons behind his shock exit never emerged.
Alonso told the press pack at the Santiago Bernabeu that he was leaving for a new challenge, claiming he lacked motivation after a season which saw Madrid claim their holy grail: La Decima.
“New motivations are needed,” Alonso explained. “Maybe those stopped after we won La Decima. I wasn’t going to be at the level I wanted.”
That seemed strange, not only because the midfielder missed the final in Lisbon through suspension and famously celebrated by jumping out of his seat and running the length of the pitch to embrace his team-mates, but also because he signed a new two-year contract extension only in January.
Alonso’s return from injury last October saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side improve drastically and discover the “balance” the coach had been calling for in the previous months in what had been a stuttering start to the season. “I was lucky to have [Andrea] Pirlo at Milan,” the Italian said. “And I am very lucky to have Alonso here at Real Madrid.”
And even when Madrid signed Toni Kroos from Bayern this summer, Alonso remained a key part of Ancelotti’s plans. “It’s not a tantrum. I had the confidence of the club and the coach. I would have played a lot of minutes,” the midfielder said on Friday.
“Kroos is an excellent player,” Alonso added. And he meant it, but the 32-year-old believed the German would only operate effectively playing centrally in a deep midfield role like his own and expected that – sooner or later – there would be a debate over which of the two should start in that position.
Knowing how these things work at Madrid, Xabi was concerned that sections of the media would put pressure on Ancelotti to pick Kroos instead. He was also fully aware that president Florentino Perez would want the German in the side following his signing this summer. As Alonso turns 33 in November, it was a battle he would have been unlikely to win.
The former Liverpool midfielder had been tempted by Bayern’s initial interest last year, but opted to stay at Madrid after things went well with Ancelotti and the team began to look like real challengers for the biggest prizes.
But after claiming the Champions League, Alonso noticed a degree of relaxation in some members of the squad and when he spoke about needing more motivation, he was not only talking about himself.
With Bayern back in for him, the midfielder saw the opportunity to work under a coach who will ensure he is highly motivated and from whom he can learn valuable lessons for a future in the dugout. “It’s a time in which I’m going to learn,” Alonso said. “I have been lucky enough to work with great coaches, my father was also a coach and my position in central midfield requires tactical knowledge.”
Having already worked with Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Ancelotti, Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque, Alonso will now link up with another of the game’s greatest coaches in Guardiola and he hopes to absorb all he can from the former Barca boss.
“I have learned from all of my coaches and I am sure I will learn a lot with Guardiola,” he said.
When he hangs up his boots, Alonso is keen to move into coaching and knows that, if he is to manage one of the big two in Spain, it is unlikely to be Barcelona because of his strong links to Madrid and his rivalry with the Catalan club in Clasico clashes in recent years.
Key, therefore, is staying on good terms with Perez, who is likely to remain in charge for some time to come at the Bernabeu. And it was Alonso himself who proposed the idea of a press conference to explain that his departure was “a personal decision”, knowing his president would approve and especially after witnessing Florentino’s fury as Angel Di Maria criticised the club publicly in a letter last week.
Xabi’s departure was much less controversial than the Argentine’s of course and, even though he is joining a direct European rival and linking up with a Barcelona legend, his elegant exit paves the way for a possible return to Real as coach in future, while the Munich move also gives him the opportunity to show he is just as good as Kroos and allows him to learn from perhaps the best coach around as he competes for major honours at the same time. Motivation aplenty.