XABI ALONSO won almost everything there was to win in football. His roll of honour is the size of most household shopping lists. There are two Champions League titles on there, one La Liga title, three Bundesligas, a German Cup, an FA Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and, of course, last but not least a World Cup and two European Championship medals.

Growing up in Barcelona as a kid and later San Sebastian, the young Alonso had doubts about whether he would make it all as a footballer. He would go on to play for Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. By the end of his career he was the seventh most-capped player in Spain's history, the holder of 114 caps and a place in a folklore at each of the clubs he represented.

But, back in those early days, Alonso, a childhood friend of Arsenal manager Mikael Arteta, was not so sure.


“When I was a child, I didn’t think I would get that far. I liked playing football but I didn’t dream of being a professional or playing in the Euros or the World Cup or to go further. Ever since I was a child, I thought that we had a good team but that there would always be disappointments.”

In many ways, Alonso's psyche reflected that of a nation that was supremely talented at football but wracked with the kind of debilitating mindset that afflicts serial losers, a team that flattered to deceive in the 1984 final and 1988 semi-final to name but two.

All that self-doubt melted away when Spain won EURO 2008 with a 1-0 victory over Germany to signal the start of a golden era that brought a further European Championship four years later and a World Cup sandwiched in between with wins over Italy and the Netherlands respectively.

“That was how things went until the year that we were able to change that pattern,” recalls Alonso. “And it wasn’t just a one-off, we had a period of four whole years. It was something historic and over the years it became even better."

For Alonso, that first win over Germany in 2008 was the most important, emotionally and symbolically. It allowed the Spain players to belief they deserved to exist on the same plane as their European rivals.


“I think it was the most intense for all of us because it was the first. We weren’t used to getting so far,” Alonso, now 38, adds. “The quarter-finals had always been the limit for the national team. We were all excited after we’d overcome the hurdle of beating Italy in the quarter-finals and got to the semi-finals.

"I think we then really believed, we thought it would be our chance. It was the first big celebration, everyone was going wild and feeling euphoric because, after so many years, we were champions again.

“I think we experienced the emotions much more intensely the first time. The second one was more about us appreciating that we’d managed to do something again that we knew was so difficult to do. It wasn’t self-validation but it helped us to value ourselves. Even the celebrations were much calmer. We were a bit crazy in 2008! It was much calmer in 2012 and some of us even had our children there and brought them onto the pitch. That generation was growing up.”