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Xabi interview


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This is an interview with Xabi from today's Publico. The journalist was Enrique Marin. The translation might not be exact in places, but I've done my best.



It’s easy to have a conversation with Xabi Alonso. He speaks in the same unhurried manner that he plays football, choosing his words with the same precision that he chooses his passes. The transition between question and reply happens at a stroke. He says what he thinks, but never speaks without thinking about what he’s going to say. That he can express himself so easily gives away his love of reading. He inherited and learnt the job of being a footballer from his father, the great Periko, but his performances with the ball and his capacity for reading the game have enabled him to superpass his father, who was more football engine than brain. Both wore number 4 for Real Sociedad, the team they love, although Xabi has ended up making himself great whilst wearing the number 14 of Liverpool.


His position in the Liverpool team is finally undisputed, but his future is an unknown that not even he dares to clear up. Last summer Rafa Benitez put him up for sale. First Juve, and then Arsenal, came in for him. But they didn’t offer enough and in the end there was no deal for a move and Benitez had to swallow his unfathomable desire to see Alonso far from Anfield. It makes no difference that the midfielder from Guipúzcoa is enjoying an incredible season and that Benitez has offered him a new contract. In the summer Xabi will be on the market again and maybe this time his departure will become a reality.


Would I be right in saying that I’m here with the best Xabi Alonso?


I don’t know if it’s the best, but with Liverpool and the national team things are going very well and I’m benefitting from that. My objective is to improve.


Runner-up in the league with Real Sociedad, European champion with Liverpool and with Spain – did you ever dream of winning so much and so quickly at that?


I saw those things as so distant and difficult that I never believed that I would achieve them. Right now I’m happy with what the things I’ve achieved, but I’m not satisfied. I want more.


You left Real Socidedad and since then your rise has been inversely proportionate with their fall. Was your departure inevitable?


I don’t know if you could say inevitable, but with the way things were then I think it was the best moment, both for me and for the club. Make the jump to Liverpool suited me very well.


In what areas of your game have you improved in the last few years and do you think there is still room for improvement?


My understanding of the game has improved and I’m better at knowing what the team needs at any particular moment. In the position I play that’s something very important; the ability to increase the rhythm of the game or slow it down, to know best how to deploy yourself… basically, to give things balance. Improvements? Everything could be better, especially tactically.


But at times isn’t there the temptation to play more selfishly and go for personal glory?


I don’t think I’m the kind of player who can turn a game on his own, who looks for one on ones. My role is for the ball to be at my feet for a short a time as possible. I try to give my team mates solutions, to make sure the ball keeps moving. That’s what’s important in my position.


Watching you play it can seem like you have the game mapped out in your head. Do you have some type of internal GPS?


In my position the most important thing is that the team functions well. That if you play well it’s the team that benefits. And when that happens, I’m contributing. Being a central midfielder and having to intervene in both attack and defence, you have to know how to manage both tempos.


However, you also seem to enjoy prowling around the edge of the area.


You have to know where you are on the pitch and of you’re in a good position and have a good chance to shoot, then you have to make the most of it. Just as someone on the wing who’s in a good position has to look for the one on one, if you’re around the front of the area you have to look for a shot on goal.


Don’t you think that it has taken people too long to recognise your worth, and that now, in contrast, whatever you do is praised?


The most important thing is that I’ve never doubted myself and I’ve always trusted in what I can bring to my team. With the team mates and trainers I’ve worked with, I’ve always felt that was recognized – in the end that’s what you have to value. External praise always has to be kept at a distance.

Do you think that Del Bosque has more confidence in you than Aragones did and that from now on you’ll be a regular started for Spain?


This is a different stage and the transition has been comfortable for everyone. With Vicente I am very happy and, because of the way he sees football, I’m getting a lot of time on the pitch. But the important thing is that the team keeps functioning at the same level. Individually, the more you’re involved, the better. There are some specific times I’m very grateful to Luis for. He trusted in the group and the work he did was very important.


Do you think that Mascherano and Senna are similar?


Yes, they have similar qualities. They’re strong and difficult to beat in a one on one. They’re both comfortable playing the ball short. Marcos probably has more long passes. I think I work well with both of them when we’re paired together.


However in the national team you don’t seem as comfortable not playing as part of a double pivot? Do you not see yourself as the sole support?


Yes and in fact I’ve played there alone in several games. You have to know how to play, dependent on the who you have playing around you. When I play with Marcos, I know that I can hold my position and he can push up if he sits back I have more freedom to push forward. In contrast, when you are the player giving balance, you know that Xavi, Iniesta, Cazorla, Silva or Cesc can push up the pitch more and it’s always your role to hold your position.


Which young player do you think would stand out in your position?


Both Raul Garcia and Busquets have a lot of quality and good futures.


What do Spain have that other teams don’t?


Good control of the ball, the ability to unbalance the opposition, and, importantly, an organized and solid defence to accompany those things. In difficult situation we work well together and that’s what makes us different from the rest.


Is Iniesta as important as he appears?


Andres’ qualities make him a one-off, but Cazorla is very good as well. Silva… We have a lot of players who bring a lot to the team.


What’s the limit for this team? Can we dream of winning the World Cup?


We mustn’t shoot off our mouths saying that we’re the best or that we’re going to win the World Cup. We mustn’t because there are other teams that have more history. We won the European Championship because we did things well, but with humility. That’s the best recipe for achieving success.


Half the Liverpool team is in the Spanish team, whereas there are only two players from Real Madrid? Is that something to think about?


That’s just the way it is right now. There are a lot of Spanish players here at Liverpool and the team’s playing well so it’s logical that the national team will benefit from that. The presence of Benitez is also an influence.


I’m not going to ask you about Raul, but if you want to say anything about that…


Yes, the decision as to who is in the squad or not is made by the people who make those decisions. We’re just on the sidelines there.


Torres and Llorente? Are they similar players?


Torres is faster, but Llorente brings other things at certain moments that can help us a lot. For example, when a game is gridlocked he brings an aerial game, he holds the ball up. He’s a very interesting player.


You again came face to face with Chelsea, now with Hiddink, in the Champions League, although this time with less luck…


Yes, unbelievable. In five years, we’ve met five times. Apart from the manager, who has given them something new, the squad is pretty much the same and we know each other very well. Fter that 1-3 in the first leg, we had it all to do, but it wasn’t impossible, as we demonstrated at Stamford Bridge. It was a great pity.


You’re one point behind United in the League, having played a game more. Have you started to dream again that you can win the title nineteen years after last doing so?


We’re back in the game. Winning at Old Trafford was so important. Now we’ve been knocked out of Europe, we’ve still got the league to fight for.


Is United’s advantage that they have a stronger squad?


Yes, but we’re playing very and we can keep that going. We don’t have any margin of error and that makes it difficult.


Do you think that Barca can win three titles?


I think they hope to, but they mustn’t become fixated.


How do you rate Guardiola’s work? He was one of your role models.


Very positively. He’s brought a dynamism to them, a way of working that’s very positive for the club. The players seem very committed. Things are going together and Guardiola’s very personal touch has had a great influence.


Your team mate, Gerrard, has said that his relationship with Benitez is getting better all the time. Is yours?


It’s very professional. Rafa always sees everything from a professional perspective and when he asks things of me, I do them. That’s how we work.


Do you think the criticisms that Benitez is a defensive coach are justified?


Rafa gets the best performance from the squad and, looking at his results, above all in Europe, he’s very successful. In the League it’s still more difficult.


Because being a tactician isn’t the same as being defensive, as some people confuse.


Not at all. Being prepared, working in the games, and analyzing thing doesn’t mean you’re defensive, and this has been shown on different occasions, like, for example, against Madrid at Anfield.


In a survey in Gazzetta dello Sport, Benitez came out as the best coach in the world (with Ferguson and Mourinho second and third). What stands out about Rafa?


He’s very meticulous and leaves very few details to chance.


Gerrard had two years left on his contract and he’s renewed until 2013. Can you see him at another team apart from Liverpool?


Steve is a total icon and represents very well Liverpool’s values. You never know what might happen in football, but that’d be difficult.


And they’re offering you another two years as well.


(Silence, he doesn’t confirm or deny it) I still have three years on my contract and I haven’t thought beyond that.


But don’t you think that renewing could have a double interpretation and that Benitez’s idea would be to make your transfer more expensive?


That’s a hypothesis that hasn't occurred to me, so I can’t give an opinion.


Would you like a change of environment after five years at Liverpool?


Last year the possibility of me leaving came very close. The club told approached me with the idea they had for the squad and I thought about other possibilities. In they end they didn’t happen, but I always trusted in the fact I could play for Liverpool, and do so as well as I am. As to what might happen in the future, well, I don’t know.


Yes, last summer you were about to sign for Juventus and then Arsenal. Is there any chance you might sign for Madrid this summer?


There’s pretty much nothing I can say there. They’re rumours and I’m not about to assess them.

But you know that your signing for Madrid would not be to the liking of those closest to you.

I understand the question, but you also understand that I can’t say anything…


Don’t you see yourself following in your father’s footsteps and playing in the Camp Nou besides Xavi and Iniesta, like with the national team?


Barca have a good team and some good players. I don’t consider it seriously.


A nostalgic farewell: will we see you back at Real Sociedad one day?


Well, that’s not impossible. I’ve still got years left as a player and who knows what might happen. It would be a good end. But apart from what happens with me, what needs to happen is for the team to get back into La Primera. I want them to go back up and I hope it doesn’t take longer than all those of us Real Sociedad fans like.

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