Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Families in Football’ series. Over the next few weeks, we take a look at siblings, cousins and even parents and children that have played the beautiful game. Some have played cup finals together while others have been on opposing sides. Today we look at Mikel and Xabi Alonso.
Families in Football: Mikel and Xabi Alonso
Mikel Alonso, the oldest and the lesser-known of the two siblings, was never as successful as brother Xabi but his career was just as durable. Spaning 13 years in the professional game and 19 years overall, Mikel made 407 appearances with more than half of them coming at Real Sociedad and their B team between 1999 and 2008.
He made his debut in April 2001 against Real Valladolid, though he would continue to be a part of Sociedad’s affiliate team for another season. Due to playing the same position as his more talented brother, game time for the senior team continued to be hard to come. Mikel made just 13 appearances in the following two seasons.
After just another three appearances in the first part of 2003/04, Mikel was loaned to Spanish second division side Numancia. On the path to promotion, he made ten appearances in which he started seven.
The next campaign saw Mikel Alonso eventually break out into the Sociedad first team under Jose Mari Bakero. The Spaniard acted as the navigator, rather than a goalscorer, in Sociedad’s midfield.
Despite Alonso’s emergence, Real Sociedad were quickly moving in the opposite direction. After finishing second in 2003, they dropped to 14th and 16th. The decline eventually caught up to the Spanish side when they were relegated in 2007.
A fresh opportunity arrived during that summer. Sammy Lee’s Bolton Wanderers were interested in the central midfielder and a loan, with a choice of a permanent deal, was signed. However, his stay in England was unlike his brothers. Lee was sacked and Alonso fell out of the side.
He moved back to Spain but by this time his career was Sociedad was over. Mikel permanently moved to the second division team Tenerife where he helped them obtain promotion. Returned to being a first-team player again, events did not go as Mikel expected as Tenerife suffered back-to-back relegations.
At this point, his professional career came to a close. A spell at Charlton Athletic in 2011/12 came with just one appearance – in the EFL Trophy. After two seasons without a club, Alonso dropped to the third tier of Spanish football Real Union, where he made over 100 appearances. He retired aged 38 in 2018.
Xabi Alonso, a year and a half junior to Mikel, broke out much faster than his sibling. His intelligence, football IQ, eye for a pass and ability to control the game immediately grabbed the eye of Real Sociedad. Despite making his senior debut in December 1999 against Logrones, Xabi needed to wait until the following year for regular matches.
In the proceeding three years, Xabi elevated himself from a short loan at Eibar to winning Spanish Player of the Year and being a grandstanding performer on the continental stage. His effortless composure and passing array grabbed the attention of Liverpool, who signed him for £10.7 million in 2004.
During his five seasons in Merseyside, Xabi established himself as a world-class midfielder, cult hero and a legend of the game. He was a central figure of Liverpool’s mythical 2005 Champions League winning team, as well as the extraordinary 2006 FA Cup side. On both occasions, Liverpool manoeuvred to overcome deficits and win on penalties, albeit the European triumph is slightly different when the opposition includes the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Cafu, Dida, Kaka and more.
Following Spain’s Euro Championships win in 2008, Xabi returned to Anfield for one final season. Real Madrid placed a £30 million bid and Liverpool agreed to sell the player who Steven Gerrard regarded as his greatest partner in central midfielder. Alonso would go on to win the La Liga, Copa Del Rey twice and the Champions League whilst with Los Blancos.
In his prime, he mastered his versatility, set-piece specialism, vision, tackling and reading of the game. The World Cup and another European Championships win followed.
Madrid, perhaps surprisingly, sold their Midfield architect to European rivals Bayern Munich in 2014. Alonso continued to ooze his brilliance in his final three seasons as a player where the German side won three successive league titles as well as the DFB-Pokal and DFL-Supercup.
Alonso finished his career with just under 700 appearances and 43 goals for club, 112 appearances and 16 goals for country, numerous accolades, and the expertise to be a potential excellent coach in the future.
Games Played Together and Against
Whilst Mikel and Alonso were at Real Sociedad, the pair played six games together, but this totalled just 55 minutes. They did, however, win four, one of which was a 1-0 win at home to Real Madrid.
In 2009, the brothers found themselves on opposite sides of the pitch for the first time in their career. Mikel was wearing Tenerife colours and Xabi in Real Madrid’s all white. Despite Tenerife losing 3-0 at the Bernabeu, Mikel regarded it as a “great day” for the family. “To meet your brother on the field at the Bernabeu stadium with Real Madrid is just simply beautiful,” he told Goal in 2009.
Their careers in football and coming through the ranks at Real Sociedad seemed written into stone from the moment the pair were born in 1980 and 1981. Their father, Periko Alonso, won two consecutive La Liga titles with Sociedad alongside another title at Barcelona.
Periko, who also represented the Spanish national team, was manager of Sociedad when Mikel and Alonso were climbing through the ranks. Nonetheless, neither sibling played under him during his short spell between October and December 2000. Mikel was deemed not ready and Xabi was at Eibar.