Xabi Alonso is still very good at football. It was not irrational to imagine he’d continue playing at a high level for a few more years, but Xabi Alonso doesn’t seem like the type to do things any longer than he feels necessary, as demonstrated by his retirement announcement. “Lived it. Loved it. Farewell beautiful game,” he writes, like a breakup note penned by a tryst you’ll never forget.
Xabi Alonso’s persona on the pitch is completely congruent with how he carries himself off it. He’ll be remembered for his sweeping, cross-field passes, screaming goals launched from outside the box, and ability to turn passing into an art form. He’ll also be remembered for his nonchalant celebratory photos, his endless charisma, and his perfect barba rosa.
Look at how he walks into his former locker room, as a rival player, and is welcomed into the arms of his former teammates. He even no-look nutmegged Zidane once upon a time for heaven’s sake. Everything he did on the field seemed effortless.
His transfer to Bayern Munich in 2014 stung then and stings now. Xabi was hardly declining, and Kroos looked like yet another attacking midfielder with whom Real Madrid wouldn’t know what to do.
Three years on, it looks more and more like Madrid made out like bandits in the deal. For effectively ~€20 million and Xabi, Real Madrid were able to acquire Toni Kroos from Bayern. Toni Kroos is peaking, and has become a spitting image of the kind of player Xabi once was. However, Kroos’ ascent doesn’t make watching Xabi wind down his career in a major rival’s shirt any easier.
Xabi’s won damn near everything there is to win in football: Champions League, La Liga, World Cup, Euro, Bundesliga, and more. He scored the equalizer against Milan in 2005, and he piloted the runaway train that was the 2011 Real Madrid team.
Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Real Sociedad all claim Xabi as their own legend, but it’s hard to imagine he thinks of himself that way. The only thing Xabi Alonso is inextricably linked to is the effortless aesthetic he’s cultivated in his career.
Real Madrid were lucky to exist in Xabi Alonso’s orbit, and football will become much less beautiful, on and off the pitch, when he hangs up his boots this spring.