Xabi Alonso at EPS
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: El País reporter Luis Martín has one of the best jobs in the world. He gets to cover the national team, and he gets to do research for articles like this one: Xabi Alonso, in the newspaper’s El País Semanal special magazine for men from this weekend.
He really is perfect. That’s all there is to say, after reading this. And I love it when he talks about food and clothes!
(I translated this last night, but couldn’t make myself proofread the post – it’s long – since I had become cross-eyed by that point).
The pearl of the Antiguo neighborhood, in San Sebastián. A footballer that anyone would like to have on their team. Discrete, sensible, caring, this Basque of 28 years old has become a fundamental piece of the Spanish national team and of his club team, Real Madrid. It’s the triumph of quiet elegance.
One morning during the summer of 1990, the Alonso brothers, Mikel and Xabi, were playing on la Concha beach in San Sebastián. Julio Medem (a movie director) was looking desperately for a sturdy, redheaded kid with a Basque face, about 11 years old, to fill a role in Vacas, his first big movie. And there, he found the Peru (the name of the character) he was imagining. Xabi still laughs when he remembers that moment. But in the absence of his father – Mikel says he was at a training session – his mother, Isabel, declined the invitation. The role of Peru was in the end given to Miguel Ángel García, and Xabi Alonso Olano kept playing football. It never mattered to him, because he never wanted to be a star, much less a movie star. In fact, until he was 17, when he debuted with Real Sociedad’s first team at the hands of Javier Clemente, he never even thought of becoming a professional footballer. Today, he’s a world champion, a fundamental part of the national team, a team that has broken molds wherever it has played, and he plays for Real Madrid and lives in the Salamanca neighborhood (of Madrid).
“I first tried living in Pozuelo (a posh suburb of Madrid),” Xabi explains. He lasted two months. “My wife and I liked living in the center more, for the way of life we preferred. So we moved there and we’re happy: Madrid is marvelous.” In the beginning, their neighbors were surprised, but not anymore now. Now, they’re indifferent when they see him in the bar on the corner, having a coffee before going to train, leaving the grocery store or buying a newspaper in the kiosk. “I’m very much into living in the neighborhood. My wife and I were accustomed to living that way in San Sebastián, in Liverpool, and that’s the way we live in Madrid. But there’s not much to praise about it, since that’s what we’ve done our entire lives.”
Xabi’s roots are buried next to the Oria River, in the heart of Gipuzkoa, in Goierri (a region of Gipuzkoa, which is a province of País Vasco). From his father, Periko Alonso – footballer, 20 caps with Spain, champion of the Liga with Real Sociedad in 1980 and 1981 and with Barcelona in 1986 – the point of reference is Tolosa, and from his mother, Isabel Olano, Orendain, a few kilometers north, in the country house of Okaingorro. Xabi was born in Tolosa, lived his first six months in nearby Ibarra and when his father signed for Barça, the family moved to the city and lived a few steps from the Diagonal. There, they lived six years, the three that Periko played with Barça and the three he played with Sabadell, so the first memories that Xabi has are all related to Barcelona, especially the Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood) nursery and Flora, his teacher.
“If there are kids who bite and kids who are bitten, I was more of the biting type… very much so,” says Xabi. Another memory that he has of those first years in Cataluña was entering in a professional locker room for the first time. It was in the Nova Creu Alta, in Sabadell. “I was so happy there, going in with my flag, and then I stepped on it and fell down the stairs of the stands.” Mikel, his older brother by one year and also a footballer (Athletic, Real, Numancia, Bolton, now at Tenerife), says that as kids, they were a pair you had to keep a stern eye on. Xabi laughs, “well, you know, one day one of us would have an idea, and the next day the other would improve on it.” The two of them remember with special affection the summers in the country house of Okaingorro, capturing small lizards, stealing eggs from the henhouse to later throw at cars that passed by on the nearby highway, and spending a lot of time with their grandfather.
The childhood of the two were influenced by football, but in contrast to what one would think, with a father that was a former footballer and coach, at home they talked little about this sport. “At home, my mother was in charge. In Euskadi (Basque country), women are in charge. And what mattered to my mother was that we studied,” Xabi remembers. He was a student of the ikastola Ikuntza, where he failed a Spanish language exam and paid a heavy price. “My mother punished me by prohibiting me from playing football for one month,” he laments.
Xabi is a Donostiarran (person from Donostia, or San Sebastián) through and through: he played football at la Concha beach, he’s a member of two gastronomic societies (one from Antiguo, the neighborhood where he always lived, and the other from Sauce, because of a friend, where they know him as “Bone”). “San Sebastián is my city, I grew up here, I began playing here, going to watch football here,” he says. And of course, San Sebastián was where he met Nagore Aranburu, his wife, the mother of his two children, Jon, who was born on March 11, 2008 in Liverpool, and Ane, born in Madrid on March 30, 2010.
At the age of 22, he packed his suitcases and left for Liverpool. He brought with him three seasons of experience in the Liga with Real Sociedad – he had been the runner-up of the Liga and played in one Champions League campaign – and 15 games with the national team. It was clear that the time had come for change. That’s why his agent, Iñaki Ibáñez – who had also advised his father when Xabi was just a kid – closed an agreement with Real Madrid. But Florentino Pérez was not capable of coming to terms with Real Sociedad president José Luis Astiazarán – FP was only willing to pay 15 million, and la Real wanted three more. So, Ibáñez found another opportunity for Xabi: Anfield.
“It started as an adventure, but now I know that it changed my life,” confesses Xabi, who considers the years he passed next to the shores of the River Mersey as a life experience, much more than just in football terms, much more than the unforgettable 2005 Champions League victory against Milan – when Liverpool was losing 3-0 at the half, came back and ended winning on penalties -, much more than the unforgettable game on April 15, 2009, the day of the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, when 96 Liverpool fans died at the home field of Sheffield Wednesday.
“In Liverpool, I learned to face problems that back home, in San Sebastián, I had never even thought about,” Xabi remembers now when he reflects back on the move. At that time, Nagore, who had worked in a clothing store in San Sebastián, was working as a costume designer for the movie ¡Aupa Etxebeste!. When filming ended, she moved to Liverpool, where Xabi had been for two months. She began working at a hotel near the center of the city, very close to their house in The Docks. Xabi, meanwhile, was studying for an engineering degree, but abandoned it after three years, just a bit before the birth of their first child. The circumstances surrounding that birth says a lot of the way that Xabi views life. He faced off against his coach, Rafa Benítez, to be able to be present for the birth. “In reality, nothing serious happened,” he says. “On Saturday, we played against Newcastle, and on Sunday Nagore’s waters broke. On Monday, I had to travel to Milan to play in the Champions and I told the míster that I would join the team after the birth, if he wanted. He told me he couldn’t wait for me. I told him that I understood, but I would stay in Liverpool. Benítez never obligated me to go to Milan, he knew that I would have stayed in any case.”
Talking about Liverpool makes him emotional. He grew up watching games in Atotxa next to his paternal grandfather and Karlos Arguiñano (a famous chef), who had seats next to his, so he has a very particular way of looking at football. He says, “Anfield is a temple. That may sound exaggerated, but to me it’s the most marvelous field in the world…. Liverpool’s people are for the most part working class, hardened people, that suffered a lot during the years of Thatcher, when the shipyards were closed. It was during that time that a stigmata against pride was created, and it’s still in force. The people are used to fighting for what they believe, and that characteristic is contagious. I was very happy there.” Then why did he leave? It was surely because the time had come, and Madrid was knocking on his door, once more.
It was a pure football reason, because he liked it so much in England that even the food wasn’t a problem. Not a week would pass by where a friend or a relative didn’t come calling with a suitcase full of kidney beans, fresh vegetables or even pastries from Tolosa. Some even managed to sneak in steaks, knowing that for Xabi, there’s not much more important than eating well. “I’m Basque, it has to manifest itself in some way,” he jokes.
“I love eating, to the point where it could be considered excessive,” he says. And cooking too. However, his biggest failure is making paella over a charcoal fire. “It comes out badly, horrible, a disaster. I would have liked to do well, because I love it, but I didn’t find the right point.” He says that most simple things are the most complicated, and adds that he knows how to handle an oven, whether it’s to cook dorada or rodaballo (two types of fish), with mild sofrito (fried onion, garlic and tomato that is used as a base for dishes), and “oil, vinegar and garlic… I love that. In the end, it’s something so basic, like that or a good roasted chicken with lettuce, that makes me the most content.”
Xabi admits that the many gastronomic opportunities offered by Madrid are not good for him. “I go crazy. I eat everything, and in that sense Madrid never ends: there is cooking with fresh ingredients, Japanese, Chinese, more high-end, less… I don’t care, I just like to eat a lot. So much so that I’ve had to put limits on myself because I can’t stuff myself everyday, and Madrid has wonderful things to offer.” These are his recommendations: “to eat good steak and red peppers, Casa Julián de Tolosa, in the Cava Baja. For great vegetables, La Manduca de Azagra, on C/Sagasta. A Japanese restaurant? Kabuki, in the Hotel Wellington. And for cocidos and fabes, Paraguas.” He adds, “if it has to do with cooking, I’m open to suggestions, I always want to learn new things.”
But that same thing doesn’t occur with clothes. “I’m very classic; I like paying attention to details and I’m careful with what I put on. I love watches and shoes, but I’m not a fashion victim [this is true for Xabi, but not for Iker, who said the same thing]. I know what I like and what I don’t, and in that way I rely on my gut feelings: I would never wear a fur coat” [guess he won’t be borrowing Crackòvia Guti/real Guti’s clothes any time soon then]. Xabi doesn’t understand people who will wear anything just because it’s in fashion, even though it looks horrible on them [Xabi, please have a word with some of your teammates, ok?]. “Seeing some of them make me laugh,” he says. In the locker room of the Bernabéu, “there’s a bit of everything, but I admit that some mornings, I think, ‘no, it can’t be.’ Cristiano does his best to make me laugh, but that’s nothing compared to the clothes of Drenthe. He was a spectacle. I also laugh a lot at Arbeloa. ‘Today your wife dressed you, no?’ I tell him. And he gets pissed off.”
And his taste in movies is also classic – “I like film noir, black and white, historical or political movies.” And with regards to music, “I’m very into legends, when I was young I was fascinated by Nirvana, and now I like Sabina, Calamaro, the Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Loquillo…” [And Solomon Burke!] He’s also classic when it comes to wines – “a good Ribera del Duero or a Mauro, and I’m happy” and admits that his weakness involves bubbles – “I love champagne.”
And of course, Álvaro Arbeloa couldn’t resist tweeting about Xabi’s appearance in the magazine, saying, “Sensational report in “El País Semanal” about Xabi Alonso!! Don’t miss it!!” And he attached this picture of the cover.
Since the real cover looks like this (compare please)…
(Passion for Xabi Alonso – the elegance of a discrete footballer)
… stylist Ana Antic, who had styled the shoot, tweeted Álvaro to say, “you made him look deformed! He’s much more handsome, jaja.” Álvaro’s response was, “jajaja!! I already included another link to a better picture!! You really made him look elegant!! He looks great! Congratulations!!”
And Álvaro also took to twitter to clear up Xabi’s statement above that he laughs at Arbeloa and tells him that his wife dressed him: “my friend Xabi Alonso is a bit jealous. That’s why when he sees how elegant I look – which happens all the time – he tells me that my wife dressed me.”
This caused Ana Antic to reveal that it she had some help from Nagore in styling the shoot, because she’s the one that always dresses him! So Álvaro replied, “you have to make that public [guess they just did!]!! And many thanks for what you said about the pregón, it was great!!! Kisses!!!”
I love the banter!!!