Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid - A Signing Five Years in the Making

Five years ago Florentino Perez could have signed Xabi Alonso from Real Sociedad for a meager 15 million euros. That was Real Sociedad's asking price, but the then and now Real Madrid president wouldn't budge from 12 million. The Basque midfielder headed to try his luck in England. An FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, and UEFA Super Cup later, and today Real Madrid got their man for 30 million euros.

Alonso was a longtime target and dream signing of Florentino Perez. Madridistas far and wide have lamented the day Xabi Alonso got away many times over, as we've watched footballing luminaries like Pablo Garcia, Gravesen, and Gago try their hand (and fail) at filling the role Xabi now assumes. General Director Jorge Valdano announced today that the squad is closed, and no more signings are expected. In Madrid, the tone is one of satisfaction and excitement. Though Real overpaid for Xabi, he is considered a critical piece in this new Madrid.

Marca's internet frontpage proclaims that Xabi will be the "director of this blockbuster," the "brain" of the team, the "piece that completes the puzzle," and, of course, the cherry on top. Prone to hyperbole, the Spanish daily is neverthless spot on. Xabi is likely the best player in his position in the world right now. Willing to do the dirty work required of a midfielder, Xabi alternates between holding and intelligently distributing the ball forward from depths few others would dream of. Pirlo was as good in his day, and certainly there have been others in that position that excelled. But right now, you couldn't name one. Xavi is a better distributor with marginally better passing and finishing, but lacks the size, power, and vision to defend, dispossess, and intercept. Essien, Yaya Toure, and Carrick are fantastic players, but none combine creation from depth, holding, or distributing quite the way Xabi has done at Liverpool. Simply put, he is world class, and it's no surprise Liverpool fans are embittered and worried about losing him. Indeed, they voted him Liverpool's best player behind Gerrard last season.

Perhaps more importantly, he is absolutely indispensable to Pellegrini's current vision of this team. The "Engineer" prefers not to play with pure wingers, and has been devising a complicated 4-2-2-2 formation that requires playmaking from the back to allow Ronaldo free reign up top and Kaka freedom in the middle. Xabi paired with one of the two Diarras (please God, make Gago go away) fits the bill to perfection. Kaka would connect these first tier midfielders with Ronaldo and whichever two strikers make the cut on the day (Higuain, Benzema, Raul, RVN, etc...). Overpriced? Yes, Rafa squeezed every last nickel out of the Basque. But Xabi serves as a bit of insurance that this particular galaxy isn't sucked into a black hole between the back four and Kaka.

And now the hard part - who's leaving, when, and for how much? Valdano may have closed the entryway, but the exit doors remain wide open. Salgado got the boot this morning, but there's still an exit sign flashing, and it's bright Oranje.

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