Written by By Katy Nelson, CNN
Zuglin, Switzerland (CNN) — Xabi Alonso has been a pivotal figure in the Cleveland Indians, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Liverpool, among many other clubs. On Sunday he will play at his first match in Spain since his 2012 move to Bayern Munich.
Among his first roles at Anfield was that of “back-up,” monitoring goalkeepers in the dugout.
The only stumbling block in his professional career was his choice of footwear — and for those wondering what exactly he did to qualify as the back-up goalkeeper, he did his utmost to explain.
Speaking to CNN Sport before a game in Zuglin, the small Swiss ski resort he knows well, the 33-year-old was keen to convey his gratitude for being granted the opportunity to once again put on the shirt of the Bayern Munich.
“It’s been 15 years of my career but at the end of that period you want to be celebrated,” he said. “To be honest, I feel that in my career, since I won the World Cup and another Champions League, that I belong to the club.”
Alonso was drafted from Atletico Madrid before his 20th birthday, and his arrival heralded a mixed spell at the German side, where he played under former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who called the young Spaniard “his favourite player.”
As one of Europe’s most talented players, Alonso quickly established himself as a fixture in the squad, receiving a host of awards. In 2007 he was crowned European Footballer of the Year for a second successive year, and just three years later he claimed the accolade again.
With just days to go before his return to his beloved La Liga, Alonso explained why he is not overly interested in victory on Sunday.
“I’m not a guy that thinks about records or minutes or things like that,” he said. “I think all of my career I’ve learned to focus on my profession and to try to win.”
After starting his career at the youth level at Atletico, the goalkeeper admits that his route into the first team at Liverpool was never straightforward.
“I’ve been at one or two big clubs because they came to me and they wanted me,” he said. “Liverpool was the first, so I’m happy to be at Liverpool.
“It wasn’t easy, because they had already had Peter Schmeichel, but at the end it was something that needed to be done. You have to adapt to one of the biggest clubs in the world.”
Although the “childhood dream” of becoming a goalkeeper was passed on to his brother Mo, a highly regarded goalkeeper who became a player at European heavyweights Real Madrid, Xabi admits he has always enjoyed his role as back-up.
“Maybe because I was born into a family where the goalkeepers were always the back-up,” he said. “It’s just something that you kind of have to take for granted.”
The first team’s loss of Spanish superstars Xavi and Andres Iniesta when they signed for Barcelona is something the man nicknamed ‘Baby Messi’ cannot quite hide his affection for.
“It’s tough to see that,” he said. “They made a lot of sacrifices to move here and play in a club like this, I think they did an incredible job and they’re both leaders and players. It’s difficult to see these guys leaving for club like Barcelona.”
Despite a six-year stint in Spain, Alonso maintains that he still loves it — despite a disappointing start to his present side’s season.
“From the first day I arrived there was a feeling of security, a feeling of how strong the club is,” he said. “But when you’re not winning it’s a little bit frustrating.”