Tuesday 26 September 2017

Alonso aiming to play lead role in Real's challenge for honours

Pete Jensen

When Spain won the World Cup, the street parade seemed only fit and proper. This week was different. On Tuesday night, the streets of Madrid were once again lined by fans in their thousands.

But this time they had come to greet the Real Madrid team bus as it arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu -- for a pre-season friendly. It was as if Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos still had the World Cup trophy on board.

It may be that six of the starters in the World Cup final were Barcelona players but the trophy was brought back to Madrid and nowhere has it been celebrated more than in the Spanish capital.

Now those cheers are shifting; their new focus is 'Project Mourinho', and the hope that this season they might just catch the champions, Barcelona.

If England's football managers are still hoping their charges shrug off the World Cup hangover, Jose Mourinho has no such problem. "It's true that the people in Madrid are very happy and positive at the moment about their football," said Alonso, the man who kept Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas out of the starting line-up during the tournament.

"Everyone is now very optimistic about what's going to happen next. We want to prolong that success. It was fantastic to win the World Cup and it was celebrated just as it deserved to be celebrated. We can't dwell on that success but the ambition is there now to win more and more."

Mourinho has overseen the signing of six players but only one of them, Ricardo Carvalho (32) is over the age of 23. Wingers Pedro Leon and Angel Di Maria are 23 and 22 respectively; German pair Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil are 23 and 21 and Spanish prodigy Sergio Canales is just 19.

"I am not worried about leadership in my team," Mourinho said. "I have people out there who have won big things -- European Championships, European Cups and World Cups -- so they will know how to deal with pressure and lead the team."

It needs to come together before the last weekend in November, when Barcelona entertain Real Madrid in the season's first Clasico. Pep Guardiola's team have clicked back into gear far more smoothly than the forever changing Madrid.

"They can play with their eyes closed," Mourinho said this week. "They come back from their holidays and after three days of training they are playing like never before."

Barcelona incorporate three new signings, with David Villa joining from Valencia and Adriano from Seville, while Javier Mascherano will join his Argentine team-mate Lionel Messi at the club when his transfer is completed today.

Villa has adapted instantly, Adriano likewise and Alonso believes Mascherano will fit perfectly. "He's a great player. I was lucky enough to play alongside him. He's very experienced, very competitive and offers them a lot," he said.

The worrying difference for Madrid is that Guardiola has only had to clean the spark plugs at the Nou Camp; Mourinho has had to overhaul the entire engine at the Bernabeu.

If he can turn the tide and win what would be Madrid's 32nd La Liga title or 10th Champions League, then Mourinho will also be taking giant strides to his own career aims. He told Spanish daily 'El Pais' this week: "I had three big objectives when I became a manager and I have already almost achieved two. Number one was to win the European Cup with three different clubs. Another was to be the only one who has won the three most important leagues in the world."

If he completes a hat-trick of English, Italian and Spanish titles, Mourinho's final aim is to lead Portugal to their first major honour.

But first he begins his battle for Spanish supremacy tomorrow on the island of Mallorca. The coach says he has been pleased with the hunger for trophies among his players. Alonso is yet to win the title. With a desire to add that honour to his Curriculum Vitae, Mourinho will be hoping his World Cup winner can ensure a young Madrid side grows up fast. (© Independent News Service)

Racing Santander v Barcelona, Live, tomorrow, Sky Spts 1, 6.0

Mallorca v Real Madrid,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Spts 1, 8.0

Irish Independent

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