For a player I've thought about as much as Xabi Alonso, I sure haven't produced a lot of actual words about him. But with my friend Miguel Delaney* reporting over on ESPN that Chelsea are looking into the possibility of bringing him in from Real Madrid -- along with some other dude named Jose -- I get a chance to do some writing about him. Hurray!
*One of the finer football journalists around; you should follow him on Twitter.
So, what do I think about Xabi Alonso at Chelsea? Well, I'm caught in two minds on this one. First of all, he's a fine player. There's no denying that. Secondly, I don't think he's quite as fine a player as most seem to think he is. He has one very obvious elite skill in his long-range passing, but I'm not entirely sure how much value that actually possesses. Right now, my suspicion is that the flashiness of those big diagonals ends up clouding our collective judgement, and outside of that major skill he's simply a very good player rather than a sure starter for Spain and Real Madrid.
But a) we need very good players in central midfield and b) both Vicente del Bosque and Jose Mourinho appear to disagree with me, and you should probably (definitely) trust their opinions over mine. So, let's treat Alonso as a world class player, albeit one whom I have reservations over. Does it make sense to bring him to Chelsea?
- He's a midfielder. Even with Michael Essien back and Nathanial Chalobah an option, Chelsea don't have the central midfield depth (or, arguably, starters) to challenge consistently at the top end of the table. Alonso would add a proven, productive player there.
- Style. Although Frank Lampard and David Luiz are good passers, it's hard to describe them as passing midfielders. Chelsea have occasionally had trouble moving the ball quickly to the front four, and Alonso would certainly help with distribution as well as midfield control.
- Trolling Liverpool fans. I mean, come on, this would be funny.
Age. If we're in a world in which Lampard is being shown the door for the sin of being 34, I think it'd also be wise to be leery of signing a 31-year-old central midfielder. Especially since Alonso gets much more space and time in Spain than he would in England.
Cost. The thing about buying players everyone already knows are good is that you then have to pay accordingly. Who made the better deal for Cristiano Ronaldo? Manchester United or Real Madrid? Once a player is a known commodity, you have to pay more for him (although theoretically, if not in practice, there's less risk). That said, it's not entirely clear that Alonso would be that expensive: He's apparently refusing to sign a new deal, and that gives Real Madrid less leverage.
- Premier League experience. I don't value this so much, but unlike noted failures Ramires, David Luiz, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, Alonso has already played in the Premier League.
- Shape. The wild card is Chelsea's style. If the new manager is dead-set on a 4-2-3-1, bringing in Alonso as a pivot player makes a lot of sense. In a 4-3-3 -- which the current squad sans Mata would seem to demand -- he's less of a fit. But if the new manager is tactically flexible, adding Alonso gives the side a good option to set up with a midfield pivot when the situation demands it. That can't be a bad thing.
I'm honestly not sure what I'd make of this deal unless I saw specifics. It's hard not to be excited about the prospect of Alonso coming in -- a player of his calibre, overrated or no, quite clearly makes the squad better. Similarly, it's hard not to be worried about how much he'd cost or how he'd fit in with Chelsea's future setup. In other words, it's wait and see time. Alonso coming in could be a great move; it could also be a poor one. But one thing's for sure: This summer's going to be really interesting.