Written by Staff Writer by Phil Stewart, CNN
(CNN) — When Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos blew his nose last season, Xabi Alonso promptly sawed it off for his benefit.
A peerless skill-set with a stranglehold on Spain’s midfield, his place in the All-time greats and his astute appointment as Valencia coach mean the diminutive former Liverpool man has already secured a place in his adopted country’s sporting history.
But it was back at Madrid’s Alaves Academy just 18 years ago that the Spaniard’s footballing life was defined.
When he made his debut aged 16 at the Adila club, he found himself in the shadow of Nea Salamanca legend Felipe Faria, whose astonishing technique helped establish him as a highly-regarded player.
By the time of Alonso’s 26th birthday, he was in the No.10 shirt worn by his lifelong hero. They became friends and remained close until the Argentine had to undergo spine surgery in December last year.
But their friendship ended tragically in 1992 when Alonso was unable to deny Argentinian player Luis Suarez a decisive corner in a Uefa Cup tie and then landed himself in hot water with the referee.
The striker was sent off and it took a recommendation from Barcelona’s Johan Cruyff to Madrid manager Jorge Valdano to provide an “emergency exit.”
Last Saturday’s top flight match between Alaves and Deportivo La Coruna finished 3-3. Alonso partnered the impressive Reinaldo Rueda in an impressive defensive midfield partnership.
The 32-year-old had also left his young boy behind in Spain, but found himself reunited with him on Saturday, when he flew in for the game.
Alonso touched down in La Coruna to attend his son’s ninth birthday, but the Madrid forward made sure he caught his team-mates’ group picture after the final whistle.
For the thousands of Madrid fans who were unable to make the trip to the Gran de Zaragoza stadium the opportunity to see the star in action proved rewarding.
Languishing in an unfamiliar No.11 shirt against his former club — and to a hostile crowd — Alonso sparked into life with his first assist of the season, capping a skilful run for his third Madrid goal of the campaign by finishing powerfully from close range.
After a long wait back in Madrid the Spaniard was also given his Euro 2012 jersey back, which bears the legend “The European Champion.”
Next up is a tough match in La Liga against FC Barcelona, but Alonso is in confident mood.
“It’s important to qualify for the next stage and the best way to do that is by beating Barcelona,” he said this week.
He played 180 minutes on his return to play in Spain’s 4-0 victory over Honduras in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday and has given himself the kind of chance to get back to his best by refusing to let his fitness drop off.
The man born at the height of the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry said that he would always love the fact that he now lives in one of the “biggest teams in the world.”
Asked what his greatest achievement in football was, he replied simply: “Sergio Ramos.
“Here in Spain we have a lot of love for football and it’s important that one of the best people in the game plays for Madrid.”
Meanwhile, La Liga’s other midfield star, the old boy Xavi Hernandez is now 33 years old and has decided it’s time to retire from international football.
He himself has a host of options. There are countless offers for him at club level from Juventus, but after his deadly spell with Barcelona the Catalans certainly won’t give up on their prized possession without a fight.
For Alonso the continued arrival of the world’s top players in European football is a bitter pill for the rival fans to swallow.
“I believe the greats like Alonso deserve to be on the European stage all the time. It’s sad when others play for their clubs for longer than they deserve.
“Others have the opportunity to have a successful career at a top club and that must be worth more than international fame.”