Cologne - With his transfer to FC Bayern München, Xabi Alonso wanted to prove something to himself. "I want to play at my highest possible level," claimed the Spaniard upon his summer arrival from Real Madrid CF.
The on-field brain
However, for many, doubts surrounded the then 32-year-old who had recently retired from international football. After a stellar career, did he really have the desire or the fitness to prove himself at a new club? Where would he fit into the champions’ star-studded midfield? And how would he adapt to life in Germany? Alonso’s time in Munich has been an exercise in proving such doubters wrong.
The ink was but a day old on his contract, when Alonso offered an immediate riposte with a flawless performance against FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 2. With Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago and Javi Martinez out, Alonso had no choice but to become a key cog in Pep Guardiola’s midfield. Since the Schalke draw, he has only missed one game of the Hinrunde: Matchday 17’s 2-1 win over 1. FSV Mainz 05.
It has not just been injury absences that have made Alonso vital to Guardiola, however. The Catalan coach believes a game is decided in midfield, so that is where your best players should play - hence Philipp Lahm's recent deployment in central midfield. Much like Lahm, Alonso is Guardiola’s on-field brain, and his confidence on the ball allows the champions’ game to flourish. The Toledo native has played an astonishing 1,554 passes in 15 games, 90 per cent of which have found a team-mate.
Even after completing a Bundesliga record number of touches against 1. FC Köln on Matchday 6 - 204 - and scoring free-kicks against SV Werder Bremen and in the UEFA Champions League against Manchester City FC, those same critics then began to question whether Alonso would be able to dovetail successfully with Bastian Schweinsteiger when the Germany captain returned. The answer was a resounding yes, as Bayern beat FC Augsburg 4-0 the first time they started together, Schweinsteiger impressing in a more advanced role in front of the deeper-lying Spaniard.
Any and all reservations about his ability on the field have been answered after a string of brilliant displays, but a final question was how well the former Liverpool FC man would adapt to his new Munich surroundings and the tricky German language. With the end of the Hinrunde nigh, Alonso confirmed his linguistic progress in an impressive first interview in German, adding that he is having lessons three times a week. If he continues taking to the language as easily as he has done to the football, then he’ll be fluent in no time.
Check out Alonso's brilliant first Bayern goal against Bremen courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: