Xabi Alonso: Real Madrid's Most Important Player?
With all the talk of comings and goings at the Bernabeu at the moment—well, more goings than comings—one name is being quietly ignored by the Spanish media.
Pro-Madrid publications know that Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo sell newspapers. They sell shirts and seats, as well, and attract huge publicity deals, all of which make Real even richer.
But about 25 million euros—constituting Xabi Alonso's contract—is a priceless asset.
Of all the Florentino Perez signings in either of his eras in the Bernabeu boardroom, Alonso has arguably given the club the best value for money.
Ronaldo scores goals—lots of them—and led Madrid to the title last season by force of will. But Alonso is the heart of this Real side and the conduit through which all of its play is conducted.
Both Sergio Ramos and Pepe are excellent defenders, but neither is a true ball-playing center back, which makes Alonso's role in the team as important as any other; he can pick out a 40-yard pass or take it forward himself.
A defensive midfielder with the ability to launch attacks.
It's little surprise he was selected alongside Spain teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the 2012 FIFA World XI earlier this month.
Alonso is also a decent defender. He was drafted in to help out at the heart of defense when Mourinho shuffled his pack with eventually successful results in a match of attrition against Valladolid.
The No. 14 reprised this role against Osasuna at the weekend, shielding a rare partnership between Ricardo Carvalho and Raul Albiol.
Football is not a game instantly associated with cerebral types. But Alonso is a thoughtful player who can read the game and adjust to tactical necessities without being instructed from the touchline. If it weren't for Real's "first in" policy with the captaincy, Alonso would have worn the armband a few times, at least.
His reliability is also a factor in his value to the side. Last season he played every game he was eligible for in Real's run to the Liga title.
If he has one fault, it is his penchant for fouls—13 yellow cards in the league alone.
He has been an ever-present figure this season as well, except for another suspension. In the summer, he anchored Spain to another major tournament victory.
The last time Alonso was injured he was playing for Liverpool.
Real fans will have been cheered by news that Ronaldo is planning to see out his contract (via FIFA.com). The Portuguese winger is irreplaceable. There will be fewer fado laments—a Portuguese music style best imagined by tipping a cat on a blackboard slowly over a cliff—if and when Mourinho leaves.
But Real fans should hope that Perez pulls out all the stops to hold on to Alonso, who is at least as important to the side as Ronaldo. His contract is up next summer, meaning he can talk to foreign clubs about a free transfer in 12 months' time.
So far, Real have made no attempt to sit down and talk about an extension, and Alonso has admitted he has no idea what is going to happen.
There will be no shortage of suitors if Alonso does decide on a change of scenery this summer.
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