Xabi Alonso the water carrier has to stem the tide for Real Madrid
Published 19:52 30/08/09 By By Oliver Holt in Madrid
The radio reporter shoved a microphone under Xabi Alonso’s nose and thrust an earpiece into his hand.
Alonso looked at him quizzically for a second as the reporter began to babble. Then he recognised that madness was afoot and surrendered to the inevitable.
He put the earpiece into his ear, listened to another voice chattering at him down the line and began to answer the questions.
As Alonso was speaking, a great surge of rushing, clawing, scowling, pleading humanity, most of whom were carrying television cameras, chased Cristiano Ronaldo through the players’ area as he whisked himself from the Real Madrid dressing room to his car.
His dark earrings gleamed rather than sparkled. He was immaculately groomed, of course. He spoke a few words of English. “Not today, sorry,” he said as he left.
Next, it was Kaka. He smiled more than Ronaldo and answered a few questions on the run. Walking and talking, always smiling. He looked like a cherub and he glided through the throng as if his feet were barely touching the floor.
Nobody bothered Karim Benzema much when he strode through. He gave off the same shy, hostile vibe that always emanated from Zinedine Zidane in his days at the Bernabeu.
Eyes averted, head down, glancing furtively at the mob as it weighed up the worth of trying to waylay him, heading for the door at the far end of the corridor as if it offered blessed sanctuary.
Soon, only Alonso was left, still talking, knowing that his life as the last of Real Madrid’s New Galacticos had begun in a blur of mayhem.
That’s mayhem on and off the pitch, obviously. The most expensive club side ever assembled had beaten Deportivo La Coruna in their first league game at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. But it was a close call.
Madrid had played some beautiful football going forward and mixed it with some amateurish defending, particularly at set pieces and defending crosses, that might easily have cost them the game.
If Deportivo’s Juan Carlos Valeron - the scorer of Deportivo’s second equaliser - had not steered his volley wide of an open goal from three yards out early in the second half when the score was tied at 2-2, it could have been an embarrassing night for the team who would be kings.
Alonso had had the best view of it all. Ahead of him, Ronaldo, Kaka, Raul and Benzema had bounced around in a mosh pit of money, ego, testosterone, extravagance and occasional brilliance.
Behind him, the back four played as if they were an afterthought in this £250m grand design and nearly threw all three points away. It was hard to escape the thought that a striker of the quality of Didier Drogba or Samuel Eto’o would enjoy himself immensely at Real’s expense.
Which makes Alonso the most important galactico of all, the man who has to try to plug the gaps in front of defence and maintain supply to the attack.
He’s far too good to be a water carrier but the way things look, the former Liverpool favourite is going to have to do a lot of Ronaldo’s grafting for him.
Sandwiched between the rich and poor of the team, he and Lassana Diarra, who scored Madrid’s winner after an hour, were their side’s best players.
Alonso never quite got the credit he deserved in a Liverpool team in thrall to the character and the drive of Steven Gerrard but at Madrid he is already thriving on the extra responsibility of bringing cohesion to the collection of gifted individuals around him.
His distribution was as good as ever and his anchoring of the midfield just as authoritative. He constantly urged his front four - or at least some of them, one of them, any of them - to work harder tracking back. The response was half-hearted.
Alonso is one of the most well-adjusted, down-to-earth players in the game, qualities he may need to draw upon often this season, so he was wonderfully diplomatic when he was asked whether he was going to have to work harder at Madrid than he had when he was a Liverpool player.
“Sometimes,” he said, “because of the attacking minds we have here, there will be a lot of space for me to cover. But that is the way it is and you have to learn to cope with that situation.
“There was an imbalance between our attack and defence tonight and we know that that is something that might happen often because of the players we have in attacking positions.
“They have attacking minds, thinking about scoring goals, and it takes time to have the mentality to come back and help with defending.
“Team spirit is going to be crucial to this project. If you don’t have that and have that solidarity, if you are selfish and don’t think about the team, it is difficult to be successful.”
Some things were evident immediately against Deportivo. One was that even though Madrid paid £80m for Ronaldo, he will not be as dominant a force in his new team as he was at Manchester United.
At Old Trafford, the team was built around him. Others, Wayne Rooney in particular, holstered their own attacking instincts to give Ronaldo the platform he needed.
That is not going to happen at Madrid. Against Deportivo, it was Kaka who was the dominant player and favoured ball-carrier when Real attacked. The play went through him more often than it did through the Portuguese winger.
Ronaldo still looked like a potent attacking threat. He could have scored more than the penalty that had put Madrid 2-1 up late in the first half.
But it was Kaka and Raul who shone brightest. Kaka’s close control makes him a deceptively dangerous dribbler and it was his run and exquisite pass to Benzema that led to Real’s opener after 26 minutes. Benzema’s shot hit the post and Raul tapped it in.
Raul’s demise at Madrid has been predicted for some time but on Saturday his movement and skill made him more than an equal of any of the latest new arrivals.
He scored the first and, after Riki had equalised by heading home unmarked, created the second when he was upended in the box by Deportivo keeper Daniel Aranzubia to give Ronaldo his chance from the spot.
The Madrid skipper has survived one generation of galacticos. He may yet survive another.