Written by Staff Writer at CNN
Xabi Alonso made international headlines in September when he announced that he would be returning to his home country of Spain to train with the club where he began his career: Real Madrid.
The 32-year-old played more than 250 games for the national team during his 12 years in La Liga, and on Saturday he ended an extended international retirement by playing in the team’s quarterfinal victory over Portugal.
But Alonso’s return has not only led to a change in international fortunes but a knock-on effect in Spanish soccer, as it’s created even more demand for top players to return home.
In an article for Yahoo Sport , journalist Phil Harrison noted that Alonso would become the first-ever Spanish league player to have played for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Galatasaray, in his career.
“That’s quite something when you consider that Ronaldo, Messi and Iniesta have all won more major honors (in the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey), but never played for each other’s club sides,” Harrison wrote.
Founding member of the Spanish national side, he was handed his first start by compatriot Luis Aragones when Spain won its first World Cup in 1982. In two years Alonso would win three more World Cups and score 30 goals.
In a statement announcing his retirement from international football in 2014, Alonso said the time was right to “step aside.”
“Being worn out sometimes is an absolute necessity in sport. It makes you grow as a player and a man — like I did,” he said at the time.
Related content Villarreal’s El Guerro beats his own Spanish record
In recent years though he’s displayed signs of wear and tear, competing in a record 116 league matches for Spanish giants Real Madrid in the eight seasons since he made his breakthrough.
It’s an admirable goal to have reached but particularly against the backdrop of Madrid’s title defense, Alonso has struggled to regain the form that made him an international star.
Attention has also been on his personal life. In July a video of Alonso secretly marrying his fiance on a beach in Cabo Santo became a sensation on social media.
The 5-foot-10 midfielder wore a tuxedo for the ceremony and with his sons by his side held a steady course through the procession.
Recalling his international career, he told Hoy: “From the first game (against England) until the last, I was surrounded by the best in the world, with incredible players that were tough to beat. That’s the best feeling you can have.
“Winning a trophy is something that’s a source of immense pride and I am delighted that the national team has won eight times.”
Related content Jose Mourinho promises trophies with Manchester United
In addition to the feelings of pride he has expressed towards his country, Alonso shares a love of football with his adopted home.
The top two teams in La Liga are both Real Madrid and Barcelona, and for a time Alonso even attempted to play for Atletico Madrid, until they banned him from playing for the club.
In an interview with ESPN, he said: “When I was 10 years old I had the dream of playing for Real Madrid. We’re still part of the Madrid family and it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my career.”
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.