On the final day of the January 2011 transfer window, David Luiz was "the other guy" to Fernando Torres's football-shattering, record-breaking move to Chelsea. All eyes were on Torres — almost quite literally, as Chelsea TV even did a live broadcast of him arriving at the club and signing the contract, something that I don't recall them doing again since. While David Luiz was highly coveted as well, he did just win the Player of the Year award in Portugal, after all, but was largely ignored. (As much as someone who looked like Sideshow Bob could be ignored.)
On the final day of the 2016 summer transfer window, David Luiz was the Fernando Torres (uh-oh!) and Marcos Alonso was "the other guy". We're all familiar with Sideshow Dave at this point, so let's talk about the other guy.
The basic story is familiar, if for nothing else than because it involves less than glamorous stops in Bolton and Sunderland, which have been brought up repeatedly to deride Chelsea's choice to sign him.
Madrid-born Alonso comes from a footballing family — both his father and his grandfather played professionally, for some of Spain's biggest teams, and the national team as well. His father, Marcos, a forward, was the most expensive Spanish transfer ever when he joined Barcelona from Atlético Madrid in 1982, while his grandfather, Marquitos, a defender, won five European Cups with the famous Real Madrid teams of the mid-to-late '50s, playing in four of the five finals.
(Yes, they're all named some variation of Marcos Alonso.)
This latest version of Marcos Alonso joined Real's academy at age 9, and over the next decade, worked his way up through the ranks and even made his debut for the first-team under Manuel Pellegrini in 2010. That one-minute cameo was all he would get. In a story that's rather familiar and Chelsea Academy-esque, Alonso left Real at 19 to join Bolton Wanderers on a three-year deal. That seems hilarious now, considering that Bolton have just dropped into the third tier and are massively in debt, but at the time, they were (still) flirting with relevancy after a decade of relative Premier League stability and success (i.e. solidly mid-table) and even a couple, short-lived European campaigns.
Unfortunately, it took Alonso two years to truly break into the Bolton first team, and by that time, they had already been relegated to the Championship. He let his contract run out, opting for a brand new adventure at Fiorentina instead in 2013. As the youngest member of the defense, he couldn't quite establish himself straight away, and in January, joined Sunderland on a half-season loan. It was perhaps the best thing to happen to his career. He was part of the Black Cats' miracle survival that season under Gus Poyet, and has been a Fiorentina regular ever since returning to Italy.
We could watch highlight videos all day to try to glean a better understanding of his actual game — he looks a tall, willing runner, and sure can shape a nice cross, for example — or we could ask someone a bit more familiar with the situation. Our colleagues over at SB Nation's Fiorentina blog, Viola Nation, were kind enough to answer a few questions.
WAGNH: Let's talk numbers first: £23m — fair, foul, or simply outrageous?
VN: Even with all the usual caveats about transfer fees skyrocketing this season, there's no escaping the fact that it's a lot of money. Like, a lot. From an Italian perspective, the price is absolutely outrageous. Pjanic went for just a bit more, for crying out loud, and he's one of the best players in the league.
But from a Chelsea perspective — last day of the transfer window, Premier League experience, decent player — then money doesn't really matter. Right now, I'd say both clubs and the player are pretty satisfied. If he's good, then the fee won't matter.
WAGNH: Any obvious weaknesses? He seems to have a reputation for doing stupid things (on & off the pitch), is this justified?
VN: Alonso is very much a modern full-back, in the positive and negative sense. He attacks well, uses the ball properly, and can defend one-on-one. But he's not exactly a tough tackling, no-nonsense stopper. I've seen a lot of talk about how he could play as a centre back and it's a bit misleading. True, he's played on the left of a back three before but only due to a poverty of options. That's alright in the slower paced, tactically robust Serie A, but he'd get torn apart trying to do the same in the Premier League. Drop him into that Conte style 4-2-4 and you expose all of his weakness and play to none of his strengths. Play him as a wing back in a 3-5-2 or as an attacking full back in a 4-2-3-1 (both used by Fiorentina last year) then he's fine.
But he's definitely a bit of a dreamer. He's best when he has an organiser in the back four, someone to shout at him. I guess Terry would fill this role at Chelsea. But when he's left alone with a similarly absent-minded defender — Astori, for example — things can get a bit hectic. And that's before we mention the most notorious off the pitch incident, which was obviously much more serious. Since then, he seems to have grown up, but it was a very serious matter.
WAGNH: Any obvious strengths? Or is he more of a jack-of-all-trades type of player?
VN: I like Alonso a lot. He's taller than you'd think and, at times last year, he was one of the few consistent attacking outlets we had in the team. His runs down the flank can be an essential part of the game and, as I mentioned, he uses the ball well. Consistency is the main thing, he puts in a real shift every week, but there's nothing truly outstanding. Probably the biggest surprise is his free kicks. He's scored a fair few (and missed a fair few more) but he's definitely a legitimate option from set plays. Talking over Alonso with the other Viola Nation writers, his goals were the real lasting memory. Sure, there were only 5 of them, but everyone likes a defender who scores the occasional goal.
WAGNH: How do you think he'll fit in at Chelsea? Does he strike you as a "Conte-type" player, especially in terms of fitness, hustle, and tactical understanding? Do you see him succeeding (again) in England?
VN: From what i've seen of Conte teams in the past (mostly Juve and Italy), Alonso doesn't really strike me as the archetypal Conte player. Sure, he runs hard, but he doesn't have a vicious streak in him like, say, Lichtsteiner. He'll run all match, which is the bare minimum for Conte, but I wouldn't say he has that killer instinct. Not yet, anyway. Maybe Conte can shout it into him.
It's hard to say whether he'll succeed in England. Obviously he's been there twice before but in entirely different circumstances. What Chelsea are trying to achieve versus what Bolton and Sunderland hoped for makes it difficult to compare. Do I think he's good enough for most Premier League teams? Sure. Is he going to be one of the best in the league. I doubt it. Could he do a job as a back up? Definitely.
WAGNH: On a more emotional level, how has this transfer been received by the Fiorentina faithful?
VN: I can't find that gif of Woody Harrelson drying his tears with cash but that. Alonso is a nice guy and a decent player but there's no way you can turn down that money. After 85 appearances, Alonso was as infuriating as he was endearing. While I'm pretty sure most fans liked Alonso, he's far from irreplaceable. Especially now that we have a massive pile of cash.
Thanks to Huw from Viola Nation for taking the time to answer my questions. While it sounds like Chelsea may have overpaid, Alonso may yet work out better than Baba Rahman of Filipe Luis did the last couple seasons. In a way, moneys involved aside, Alonso's signing reminds me of César Azpilicueta's. Expected to be a backup, he may yet grow into something more.
BONUS ROUND: While I had Huw's attention, I figured I'd ask about the whole Salah debacle. It may not be related at all, but as Huw points out, it's not entirely inconceivable that part of the premium paid by Chelsea for Alonso was somehow related to all this Salah-drama.
WAGNH: Lastly, and this is not quite Alonso related, but we often still talk and joke about the whole Salah-contract/loan saga and was just wondering what your perspective on that situation may be, especially considering that Fiorentina are still looking for some sort of damages via arbitration.
VN: I think we just don't want to talk about it. There was the initial disgust (mostly directed at Salah's agent) and then a weird summer of legal battles etc. But then the team started winning. We were fighting for top spot for the first few months and there's no better way to forget about a difficult break up. After a while, most fans had written off Salah as just a bit of a... word I can't use on a family website. That the club carried on with whole legal case was, frankly, a bit embarrassing. He'll get booed when he comes back but no one's losing any sleep over it. I don't think Fiorentina will win much in the way of damages, despite getting screwed over. We can probably count this massive Alonso fee as reparations.