There may have been a few tired eyes to be seen as the record Bundesliga titleholders came through the arrivals gate of Munich's airport in the early hours of Sunday morning, but with back-to-back 4-1 wins, including Saturday's victory over Al-Hilal in Riyadh, behind them and a host of fit-again first-team regulars on board, their trip proved a resounding success. “It’s gone really well,” midfielder Xabi Alonso told fcbayern.de. “We’ve really trained very well.”
A career first
For the Spaniard it was his first taste of the reenergising qualities of Germany’s mid-season hiatus. “It’s a new experience for me and I like it,” admitted the two-time UEFA Champions League winner. “You get to freshen up physically and mentally, and now we’re back on the pitch preparing for the second, decisive half of the season.”
To be experiencing career firsts at the age of 33 is somewhat of an anomaly for a journeyman of Alonso’s standard, but it appears the added strain of an intense training camp in warmer climes has had little effect on the veteran. “Age isn’t the important thing,” said the early front-runner for signing of the season, who joined from Real Madrid CF last summer. “What matters is how you feel, and I feel very good indeed.”
Based on his effortless performances in his first six months at Bayern, Alonso has no reason to feel any different. Taking into consideration that the 114-time ex-international has covered 11.8km per game, completed 90 per cent of his passes - averaging 118.3 in 17 outings - and broke a Bundesliga record for most touches in a single game, the numbers throw Alonso’s influence as the passing fulcrum of Bundesliga leaders' star-studded line-up into sharp relief.
'It’s been a great career move'
“It’s always been my job,” explained the metronomic midfielder. “If you’re at the heart of the game, you can’t have the ball at your feet for long. Instead, the ball should be coming and going to and from your feet as often as possible, and ideally very quickly too. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
The philosophy remains a key component of both Alonso’s and head coach Pep Guardiola’s style of play and one Bayern’s No3 accomplishes with unerring precision: “I’m the one who switches the ball, from one side to the other and from defence to attack. My job is to keep the play moving and ticking over. I can’t play any other way."
Guardiola, from who Alonso is “learning a lot”, has been able to welcome back Holger Badstuber and David Alaba from injury, while Javi Martinez is drawing ever closer to returning to full training, but with “big targets” still to be met on three fronts, Alonso’s role is one that won’t come into question as he looks to build on a near-flawless first half of the season: “I came here to gain new experience and get to know the Bundesliga and a special club like Bayern. I can already say it’s been a great career move.”