The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern midfielder shares some insight with Kia.
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A UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool and Real Madrid, and a world and European champion with Spain, Xabi Alonso enjoyed a spectacular playing career, and was up among the best midfielders of his age.
Now starting out in coaching with the reserves at Real Sociedad, the 39-year-old has been watching the UEFA Europa League closely, and spoke to competition partners Kia about his ones to watch, and some of his playing career.
On who to look out for in the Europa League
I'm the coach of the second team at Real Sociedad, and players like [Mikel] Oyarzabal, Mikel Merino, Martin Zubimendi are playing great football. We are really optimistic about having a great run this year in the Europa League. The way they are playing, they can beat anyone, because they are really determined, they are really committed. They aren't going to change, whoever they play against. We want to compete, but we want to enjoy it as well, you know?
There are many teams [who could win it]; Arsenal, Roma, AC Milan, the ones that finish third in the UEFA Champions League [groups will bring some] great players into the Europa League. It's still too early to call. Villarreal are another team to watch. [Coach Unai] Emery has the experience, and he has great players as well. [Takefusa Kubo is] a special talent. Last year he showed it at Mallorca, that by being a different player he gave the team a different kind of game, and this year in a team like Villarreal that always has a very proactive [style] he can play an important role.
On his playing career
I was a team player; in the middle of the park, trying to give options to my team-mates; to help the defenders, to help the attackers. I was not the quickest, but I was trying to anticipate what was going to happen.
I had the great privilege to play with some of the best midfielders in the world: Stevie G [Steven Gerrard], Luka Modrić, [Andrés] Iniesta, Xavi [Hernández], Thiago [Alcántara], Philipp Lahm. I would love to have played with Zinédine Zidane. All his moves were so smooth, so coordinated, so controlled, like watching [Roger] Federer play tennis. It was like a ballet dancer playing football, and we were all running around behind the ball.
On his favourite current midfielder
I have loved watching Thiago Alcántara, the way he has been able to connect with the attacking players, helping to defend with his special qualities. He’s a great friend, but above that, he’s become one of the best midfielders. And he’s a fabulous, intelligent, interesting, fun guy to be around in a training session and a dressing room. He loves football; he shows that with his personality and with the way he plays. He’s able to connect with his team-mates very easily. He’s done it fantastically at Bayern [München], and I feel that he’s going to do it in the same way at Liverpool, and I love it.