Xabi Alonso at El Mundo Magazine
I don’t need an introduction, do I? So go ahead, grab a coffee and prepare yourself for a nice long read that once again proves that Xabi Alonso is perfect.
There are footballers who, when they win a game that is worth a Liga, sit alone in the empty stands and listen to a song by Belle and Sebastian. Xabi Alonso (Tolosa, 1981) did just that last April 21 in the Camp Nou one hour after Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1 and decided the championship. The song in question is called “Another Sunny Day,” and if you don’t know it, look for it on YouTube or on the twitter of the midfielder, because it possibly says more about Xabi Alonso than his answers.
He comes from celebrating the Liga title with Real Madrid, wearing a dark colored suit, a white shirt without a tie, shoes with a long instep, a becoming beard and hair that was recently cut. He drinks a Coca Cola, listens, and looks you in the eyes when he speaks.
Señor Alonso, what is success?
Hombre, each person has his or her way of seeing it. For me, there are two sides, professional success and personal success. Professional success is obviously related to football, and luckily, I’m in the elite of the world, both on the club level and the national team level. Then, on the personal side, each one has a different way of seeing it. Right now, mine is related to my children, my family, to having a balance, and to having a life spent enjoying that.
What has been the biggest success of your life up to now?
On a professional level?
What you consider your biggest success.
Well, then being content with myself, with how things are going, being happy, seeing that those around me are happy. Then, obviously, there are the professional achievements such as the World Cup, the Eurocopa… helping to achieve this joy, making it last.
You’re a Liga champion… and a future double champion of Europe with the national team?
That’s the objective, of course. The expectations aren’t high, they’re extremely high, the level is practically unsurpassable. That’s why it’s going to be much more difficult, both for us and our people, as well as for the rivals. When you have this tag, it could weigh heavily on you in any moment. We hope it won’t, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I believe this year is going to be much, much more difficult.
Yes, I believe so.
What is more important, winning or not losing, what affects you more, what makes you think more? Do you forget a win before you forget a loss?
A long time before. The way that we are, in the dynamic that we have found ourselves in, in the end the normal thing practically is to win the games. It’s an abnormal normality, it’s not easy to get to this point, but for the dynamic that we have, we know that each loss is an important step backwards. And you think much more about a loss than a win; a loss hurts more than what you’re capable of enjoying with a win. But anyway, it’s normal when you’re at the level that we are at.
And how do you combine this with the idea of happiness, of being happy with yourself?
No, hombre, they combine well. You also have to know how to maintain a balance. I think about the losses, but I believe the time I spend doing that is necessary. It affects me relatively speaking, but not in a way as to take away my happiness. It’s more a matter of the love you have towards your profession than a transformation in your mood.
Do you consider yourself an atypical footballer, which is the image that you sometimes project?
I believe that each one, each player, is very different. I have my interests, I don’t only limit myself to things in the world of football. I try to have interests such as knowing what the situation is like, speaking with my friends, with my brother… these are general interests in life, not only about football…
Why do you think Hugo Boss thought about you to be the image of their cologne?
Well, that’s a question for Hugo Boss. I suppose that with the values the brand has, they fixated on my profile as a footballer: I play in the midfield, I try to think about the team, to be as effective as I can for the team, to behave in the most honest and respectful manner possible, but always fighting for my team…
Are you fussy about your appearance?
Fussy? Enough, but not too much. I like to feel good, to take care of myself, to take care of the small details. I don’t like that term, but I’m not careless in that aspect. Let’s leave it at that.
And have you always been like that?
Yes, I’ve always been like that… Hombre, with the age I am now, I’ve learned how to define myself. What I do believe is that now, things are much more clear to me in practically everything than before. I know what I like and what I don’t like.
Just like on the field?
Well, I try to let it be like that on the field, je je je. Off the field you have much more time to decide; on the field your decisions are instantaneous.
Another one of the footballers in the Hugo Boss campaign is Frank Lampard. Several years ago, he gave you quite a scare…
Well, these are things that happen in football. A tackle from him left me injured and I was out for three months.
Was this the longest period you’ve been out?
Yes, in a continuous manner, yes. But anyway, these are things that you accept, it’s part of the game. From that point on, we’ve faced each other many times and this sporting rivalry has existed, because the games have been very intense, but I’ve run into him during vacations and we’ve gotten together to have a beer. Those things that happen on the field and that aren’t bad don’t affect me at all off the field. As for the others, I say, “well, I already know you…”
Are there things done with bad faith on the field?
Yes, of course there are. There are, there are. But not by me, je je je.
When did you realize you wanted to be a professional footballer?
No, it’s not that I realized it one day. I didn’t realize it, it was a very natural process. I’ve played football from the time I was small, like millions of children. I didn’t belong to a professional club until I was 17. My adolescence was filled more with friends, school, I started studying at university… My incorporation into the world of football was late. And I believe that was positive, it allowed me to live life in a much more relaxed manner. Then, when I was 17, I joined Real Sociedad, its second team, and there I saw the opportunity become closer, but I didn’t say, “that’s my objective.” Rather, I could allow myself to progress. I never had the objective of becoming a footballer, it was a consequence from doing things well.
What did you study?
I started with industrial engineering, but it was complicated to make it compatible with football. Then I started business administration, and I finished three years of that. Then I went to England and long-distance learning became a bit more complicated, so I left it at that.
Did you try to continue studying in Liverpool?
Well, I signed up, ja ja ja. I was signed up for distance learning.
Would you like to pick it up again?
This is a question that I ask myself many times: in the future, what road do I want to take? You get to a point when you’ve lived things, you’ve had experiences… but I don’t rule out picking this up again to have the opportunity to decide what road I want to take for the rest of my life, once the football thing ends.
What has football taught you?
Well, in the end, it’s been my way of life during these last 12 years. You’re in a routine, you know that things require a lot of sacrifice, that you have to work hard for things each day. And then there are the ties that you have formed. You find that when you’re with someone, everything always turns out better, the importance of a common good, the fact that when you work together, you achieve goals and you enjoy things much more.
Has it made you more ambitious, more generous?
No, no, no, I don’t believe football has made me anything. It has allowed me to live many things, but in essence, substantially, it hasn’t changed me much. I’ve always tried to live in the same way, the way that my parents taught me, the way in which I lived with my brother… substantially speaking, I don’t think things have changed very much.
[Why does Xabi ever only talk about one brother?]
Who have you learned the most from on the field or in a locker room?
I have very good memories of Sami Hyppiä. When I arrived at Liverpool at the age of 22, I noticed him and from the first day, the sensations he transmitted to me as a person and as a professional led me to say to myself, “Xabi, stay close to him, because you’re going to learn many things from him.” Fortunately, we became very good friends. He now coaches Bayer Leverkusen and we’re in frequent contact. As a person, he’s integrity personified and as a professional, he was a role model as well. Wherever he’s been, he’s always left good memories and the doors always remain open to him. And that is fundamental.
Has your current coach taught you anything that has served you well off the field?
Yes, he’s taught me a lot. The míster has some very, very strong values. He fights for those people around him, he defends them. And I believe this is a great lesson of us, independent of his professional side. You see the way he is with his son… he has a very special relationship with his son, and you can see that.
Does he attend the training sessions?
Yes, yes, he comes a lot. And I also go with my son and others bring theirs… And the relationship that he has with his son is very good, you see that the bond that they have is very special and very beautiful.
Like the one you have with your children?
Jon is already four, and we do many things together, we already have this small complicity. Of course each person talks about his or her children as the best, but really, I’m so happy with mine.
Do you see yourself coaching in the future?
Well, that’s a good question. Sometimes I think that in the future, I can see myself in this role, or at least try it out, and other times, other days, I say, “no, no, I want to disconnect from football, forget about that.” What I do know is that making this jump from player to coach is very difficult, because my father was a coach. If I do take this step in the future, I will have to prepare myself a lot first. And be very decisive.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing, when you’re not training?
Above all, spend time with my family and my children. I also like to enjoy the city, take advantage of the opportunities that Madrid gives you do to things: take a walk, go to restaurants, go to the movies, take in a concert…
What is the last film you’ve seen in the cinema or the last concert you went to?
Well, the last concert I want to was in the Populart, a small jazz bar. I don’t remember the name of the band, but I liked it a lot.
It’s been a while since I went… I went to see Shame, by Michael Fassbender.
Was it good?
Intense, je je je.
Recently, José Tomás received the Paquiro award, and during his acceptance speech, he recreated a dialogue with the bull that gored him in which he said, “I know that I have to pay all of you a tribute…” In your case, what is the price?
Well, I don’t think it will be a very high price. You live with the situation and you do it with naturalness. I try to ensure that my facet as Xabi the footballer doesn’t condition my facet as Xabi the citizen. I try to enjoy and do what I feel like in each moment, to not allow it to have repercussions on my daily life.
Does citizen Xabi read the press?
Not only the sports press…
No, no, no.
What are your thoughts on the 15-M movement?
Well, I haven’t been there, but obviously, it doesn’t surprise me, no? Given the socioeconomic situation that this country is in, with people who are really facing difficulties, the fact that there is a movement of this style which has protested in such an exemplary manner, in which there have hardly been any incidents, is something that I consider very healthy for society. Many believed today’s young people didn’t have this social conscience. Well, now they’ve seen that they do have it. And I believe that’s good. We know the situation is not easy. But if this type of movement has managed to change something, then it’s welcome.
For a successful footballer with a high salary to say that, isn’t that a bit contradictory?
No, contradictory, no. Obviously, each one lives his or her life. And I, living my life, can think and know what situations others are in. The fact that I am where I am does not prevent me from having this conscience, from seeing the problems of others.
How many years are left in your career?
That’s another good question. I’m already 30… a few more. I don’t know how many more, but a few more.
Do you believe it will be difficult to know when to stop?
I’ve also asked myself that many times, if I will know when the right time is to leave football, or if it will be football that leaves me. It’s something that’s closer than far away. We hope to choose the right moment…
Will you return to San Sebastián that day, or not necessarily?
We’ll see. I’ll probably return, but I’m not sure.