Xabi Alonso: A culture of love, winning and ‘elite attitude’

Written by By Staff Writer, CNN London

The words that would later become soccer star Xabi Alonso’s anthem paint a vivid picture of his childhood, growing up in the small Basque town of Lavenda.

He calls it “a magic village full of humor and meaning” in “La Cage.” — the fanfare-filled song he introduced to the world and which he sang at every major sports event he attended while playing for Real Madrid, from the FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014 to the Euro 2016 finals in France last year.

Despite being soon-to-be fans of Barcelona (as he began dreaming of playing for the Spanish club), Alonso counts the town of Lavenda among his most cherished places.

The fans, he said, are “always in the lead.”

The Casa Ocho (the Cross) in Lavenda in 2000. Credit: Antonio Castro/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

“There were no words (for Lavenda), because I couldn’t hear or speak in another language, so it’s important for me that people understand it,” he said in an interview with CNN at Barcelona’s new Casa Ocho, a five-storey shopping mall with a permanent, glowing Xabi Alonso memorial and themed cafe.

The “Cross” was built in the northern Basque town, near to Alonso’s grandparents’ house. The Xabi Alonso Foundation helped to fund its construction.

Always a winner

Even at this early stage of his career, Alonso said he felt like a winner. “I couldn’t imagine that something I won was not going to last.”

“I wanted to learn something new every day,” he added. “You have to be inquisitive.”

His inquisitiveness led him to the next level, leading him to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, where he developed into one of Europe’s top players.

“You get the feeling that you’ve reached a new level,” he said. “You’re almost approaching that point where you think that you’ve done your part. But then, when you realize, ‘oh, I’m only halfway there’.”

His career began on the pitch and ended off it, on the terraces.

Eight months after arriving in Spain, Alonso was named Real Madrid’s youngest ever player and one of the club’s best at the very start of his career.

“I think the biggest challenges are ones you’re not aware of until you get there,” he said. “So there were things I didn’t realize were maybe hidden secrets. If you are ready for these things, even a difficult moment will pass.”

That was for the Bernabeu, where the 32-year-old now lives. But it was the club where he won a trophy every year.

Nothing like a goal to set your season off. Tommaso Abbate

He shared his own version of his personal “home away from home” on the pitch, showcasing his skills and knack for winning trophies in everything from midfield to defense to attacking midfield.

With some six million followers across social media platforms and a career which produced trophies after trophies, Alonso’s managerial future remains unclear.

He sits on Barcelona’s technical staff alongside Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique and as one of the club’s longest-serving members, he says it’s almost become part of his role to feel responsible for them.

“I grew up at Real Madrid and I enjoyed the very best, the very happiest moments of my life here,” Alonso said. “What I do now, I feel part of the most important project in the club, and if they want me to do something in the technical staff, I will do it.”

But if there was one phrase that remained permanently in his vocabulary from his youth, he admitted, it was “Nothing like a goal to set your season off.”

“[Winning the World Cup with the Spanish national team] is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “But soccer is a very unpredictable sport. There are many unforeseeable things.”

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