I’ll try to explain, but to do that we have to go back to last October just before he renewed his contract with Los Blancos, when Pep Guardiola spoke to the player and tried to convince him to come to Bayern.
At that time he was interested in a move abroad, but the choices available to him were limited—and that was his own fault. His Liverpool history made—at least in his eyes—a move to Manchester United, who would have signed him in a heartbeat, a non-starter.
Had he gone to Chelsea, people would have made incorrect assumptions about his relationship with Jose Mourinho. He wasn’t yet ready to go to MLS, while at Liverpool he would always be battling against history. Although, in my opinion, don’t rule out the possibility of a return to Anfield in a coaching capacity at some point in the future.
The easiest option therefore was to sign a new deal with Real Madrid, especially when he realised he was still at a good level physically, having fully recovered from an operation to a metatarsal bone on his right foot—an injury which came on the back of previous surgery on his groin.
Over in Munich, the situation had changed with injuries to Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara, both defensive/holding midfielders who are not easy to replace. Alonso is one of the best in the business in that area.
Following Spain’s unsuccessful World Cup campaign in Brazil, the player was determined to bring the curtain down on an illustrious international career primarily so he could continue to play at the very highest level for another two or three years.
Real Madrid were then approached by a number of clubs—not least Manchester United—as recently as three weeks ago, only to be met with a stolid rejection of their advances from the club, Florentino Perez and also the player’s representatives.
The message from the club and his representatives was very clear: "He is 100 percent staying."
But just two days ago, out of the blue, he surprised everyone—including his own people—by asking the club if they would, in return for his years of loyal service, allow him to leave.
The reason was simple: Guardiola had spoken to him again. He spoke to his family, who also accepted the time was right for him to take up a new challenge, and Madrid, conscious of his great service, agreed to let him go.
Real Madrid are also aware that in Toni Kroos they have a great replacement in that position even though it might not be where he plays naturally. The departure of Alonso could also be the making, or breaking, of Asier Illarramendi, who must surely seize this opportunity to try to step into the departing player’s shoes after failing to impress since his move from Real Sociedad last year.
Earlier, Ancelotti had announced his squad was complete and there was no more business to be done. That more than anything demonstrates just how unexpected Alonso’s transfer request was.
But what brought about this U-turn? In my opinion, Alonso will become a coach in the future, and he wants to learn from the very best—and they don’t come any better than Guardiola.
Add to that the fact his previous coaches from his Liverpool days to the present are the likes of Rafael Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, and you can’t help but think with that kind of background it would almost seem strange if he didn’t go into coaching at some point.
At Madrid he has always been the "brains" of the organisation, effectively an extension of the manager on the pitch.
I don’t believe for a minute that the reason he is leaving is because he is worried about not playing games, because I think he would have played at least 30 games this season and probably the most important ones.
The fact Ancelotti did not play him against Cordoba was not the deciding factor, because the manager had already told the player he figured in his plans.
And now he will learn from Guardiola. It should be an interesting meeting of minds. At Mourinho’s Madrid he played a system—one no doubt advocated by the Portuguese manager—that was based on being able to get under the skin of the Barcelona players with frequent niggly little fouls that would break up play and create confrontation.
That he was able to do it with such success is due testament to just how good a player he is, and I’m convinced Alonso himself will defend his tactics by saying that was how he had been told to play.
There is far more to Alonso than just a hard man or a destroyer, however, and I can’t think of any manager more qualified to bringing out the positive, more aesthetically pleasing aspects of his game than Pep Guardiola.