Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Xabi's decision smart, classy move

Retiring from international play, moving to Bayern is wise

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Xabi Alonso is sharp as a tack.

Following Spain's hasty exit from the 2014 World Cup -- and his own, prominent role in the three-match travesty -- the midfielder on Wednesday announced his retirement from international football, helping open the door to the country's next, up-and-coming generation.

A day later he quit Real Madrid for Bayern Munich in a transfer that took everyone by surprise.

Still regarded as a top-level player, Xabi would surely have kept his place in an expensive, competitive Madrid squad. And, idolized by the club's supporters, he might have played the remainder of his career as a figure of worship at the Bernabeu -- one of the heroes of the club's 10th European Cup success, or La Decima.

But that's not how he read the tea leaves.

With Los Blancos acquiring Toni Kroos from Bayern in a Ǩ25 million deal and opting to retain the services of 27-year-old Germany international Sami Khedira, Xabi recognized Madrid's preferred, and understandably younger, cohort of midfielders when he saw it.

So on Thursday, having won everything there was to win with Madrid, just as he did with Spain, the 32-year-old accepted Bayern's invitation and signed off on an Ǩ8 million move to the Bavarian capital.

If it were an abrupt decision, it was also one Pep Guardiola had been advocating for more than a year.

As far back as last September, Guardiola -- the Bayern manager -- was trying to address what he viewed as an inability to completely control games with the Bundesliga champions. Accustomed to the presence of Sergio Busquets at former club Barcelona, he inquired after Xabi, but was rebuffed.

As a result he switched right-back Philipp Lahm to the centre of midfield, although by the January transfer window he had managed to convince the Bayern hierarchy to once again sound out Xabi.

This time it was the player who rejected the idea. La Decima, after all, was becoming more and more a reality, and he wanted the chance to make history. Which he did.

Then Madrid bought Kroos -- whom Guardiola had been promised would never leave Bayern -- and also invested heavily in Monaco playmaker James Rodriguez.

Both had starred at the World Cup and represented instant marketability, and to make way for the acquisitions Champions League final MVP Angel Di Maria was offloaded to Manchester United.

As respected Diario AS columnist Alfredo Relano reflected earlier this week, Di Maria was expendable because he "didn't sell shirts."

So, Xabi sanctioned the move to Bayern and a chance to be part of Guardiola's football project rather than Madrid's commercial one.

His arrival took the club's summer spending to Ǩ47 million -- an amount that also funded the signings of Pepe Reina, Juan Bernat and Mehdi Benatia. Both Robert Lewandowski and Sebastian Rode had previously been brought into the fold on free transfers.

At Bayern, Xabi will once again be a key figure. His experience, commitment and competitiveness will bring important intangibles into Guardiola's side, and his tactical nous will immediately make him one of the manager's favourites.

Xabi, after all, is nothing if not intelligent.

"The hardest part is knowing when to say goodbye," he wrote in a farewell letter on Wednesday. "And, after much thought, I believe that time has come."

For Madrid as well as Spain.

 

Spot kicks

  • Wayne Rooney is now the captain of both Manchester United and England. And the managers of both teams -- Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson, respectively -- have taken some criticism for their decisions. But the fact remains Rooney, soon to be 29, is among the most experienced and accomplished players for both United and the Three Lions, and neither outfit had another realistic option.

You go with what you've got, for better or worse.

  •  Manchester City has once again found itself in a difficult Champions League group -- this time alongside Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and AS Roma.

City, however, have the deepest squad of the four and addressed some key issues during the summer transfer period.

The bracket is more difficult for Bayern, CSKA and Roma than it is for the Premier League champions, who are still working to improve their UEFA coefficient.

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 C6

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