2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

2018 FIFA World Cup™ 

Xabi Alonso: There’s no team better than Spain

© Getty Images
  • Appeared with La Roja at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 world finals
  • Since retiring in 2017 he has been training as a coach
  • “This Spain side has more ways of playing than we did”

He played in and won everything there was to win with some of Europe’s biggest clubs and with the Spanish national team, where he was a prominent member of the golden generation that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and UEFA EURO 2008 and 2012.

And in his first season since hanging up his boots, Xabi Alonso has been putting his time to good use, having just completed a coaching course. And like all good football fans, he is counting down the days to the start of Russia 2018.

FIFA.com met up with him to talk about his new life, Julen Lopetegui’s Roja team, and his expectations ahead of the big event.

FIFA.com: You’ve been out of football for a year now. How has it gone?
Xabi Alonso: Pretty well. The fact is my pace of life has really changed. It was a decision I gave a lot of thought to, so while I do miss it, I’m coping with it well.

What made you do your coaching badges? Has it given you a better understanding of the coaches you had in your career?
When you do a course like this you move away from the person you’ve always been and you get closer to the person you want to become. And that’s good. I’ve always tried to understand the job and how complex it is to be a coach, which has nothing to do with being a footballer.

You realise all the things you have to prepare and that when the time comes to get it all across you have to summarise it and be as efficient as possible. That might be where part of the secret lies. And then there’s team management, psychology, and personal relationships, which are almost more important in a way.

© Getty Images

How well do you think Julen Lopetegui is doing with Spain?
I think he’s doing really, really well. He’s got things very clear in his head. He’s been able to tell his players very clearly what he wants, and that’s essential. If you can't do that, then you’re probably not going to achieve your objectives. The national team’s got a lot going for it in that respect.

Do you see any similarities between this Spain side and the one that won the World Cup and two European titles?
The idea of taking the game to the opposition is still there, of controlling the game, passing the ball around and not being so direct. Yes, I’d say it’s still pretty much the same. Lopetegui’s Spain has very close ties with the things that make Spanish football strong. It’s based on intelligence, the ability to read matches, and technical quality. That’s what sets us apart from other teams.

And then there are the tactical nuances and the flexibility you need for different games, because football’s getting increasingly complex and you have to know how to adapt. You try to take the initiative but there are times in matches when you have to play a different way and not make all the running.

Aside from talent, what was the secret of the success of that trophy-winning Spain side?

Team spirit is vital, that sense of everyone fighting together to achieve a very important objective. You have to all get on. If you don’t, then it can really wear you down. But it very much looks to me as if the current team has got that too. And then there’s the blend of seasoned veterans who still have big contributions to make with players who’ve shown lots of enthusiasm and desire since coming in. That’s a very positive thing too.

Did you know?

  • ​Xabi Alonso’s father and older brother were both professional footballers.
  • A Real Sociedad youth product, he also played for Liverpool (2004-09), Real Madrid (2009-14) and Bayern Munich (2014-17).
  • He made his Spain debut in 2003 and went on to win 114 caps before retiring from international football after Brazil 2014.
  • Honours: as well as the World Cup and two EURO titles, Alonso won two UEFA Champions Leagues, four league titles (one Liga and three Bundesligas), four national cups (one FA Cup, one Copa del Rey and two German Cups), two UEFA Super Cups, and many more trophies besides.
  • After completing his coaching course, he will take charge of one of Real Madrid’s youth team.

The 23-man squad for Russia 2018 has generated less debate than many others in recent years. What alternatives does it offer when it comes to opening up opposition defences?
There are players who are better at finding space between the lines, players who like to get round the outside or who can cause a lot of damage when given space to work in, like Diego Costa and Marco Asensio. I think this Spain side has more ways of playing than we did. In our case, if we weren’t close to the opposition penalty box, then we found it harder to hurt them.

Looking ahead to the group phase, Spain will have to take the initiative, even with Portugal, who I think are going to sit back and wait. Sometimes you have to go and play a different way, though, and having players who have something else to offer is crucial.

La Roja are among the favourites for the title. How do you think they will do and which other teams are in with a chance?
I’m not just saying it, but I would put them among the favourites because I don’t see any side that’s better than Spain right now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the games though. Germany are another of the big favourites. They’re a very strong side and they’re always there or thereabouts. The way they’ve been playing, it would be a massive surprise if they don’t make the semis, because they’re the champions and because of the new generation who’ve come into the team. Brazil are also right in there. I think those three are above the rest. Then there’s Argentina, France and maybe a surprise or two. Why not?

For the first time in many years you’ll be watching the World Cup as a fan. Have you got anything planned?
I like to watch big games with the people I usually watch matches with. And I’ll probably go to the Final. I’ve already got my ticket; all I need now is for Spain to get there (laughs).

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