I think it’s fair to say that the arrival of Marcos Alonso at Chelsea last summer was met in England, by and large, with a degree of bemusement and scepticism. “The old Bolton left-back?!” was a fairly standard reaction. Many couldn’t get their heads around why Chelsea would pay a reported £23m for a player who was generally perceived not to have set the world alight in the Premier League, despite obvious improvements during a loan spell at Sunderland. Antonio Conte and regular watchers of Fiorentina knew exactly what the Blues were getting though.
Alonso has now played 25 times for Chelsea and been on the losing side just twice, on both occasions in North London - a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in September and a 2-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur in January. Respected statistical website whoscored.com has his average rating in Premier League matches as 7.39 (out of 10) – just behind him with a rating of 7.27 is a certain N’Golo Kante. Only Diego Costa and Eden Hazard rank higher than Alonso in the Chelsea squad.
Of course, match ratings are very subjective, but there’s little doubting the important role Marcos Alonso has played in Conte’s winning machine. And that’s a key thing here – he knows his role. That’s because he’s an intelligent footballer with a good tactical understanding – the latter something his time in Serie A will have helped to hone. He also has a top Coach who will have left him in absolutely no doubt as to his responsibilities on the pitch. Players in a Conte team know what’s expected of them, and that clarity helps breed confidence, which in turn leads to positive results.
What also appears important to Conte, a notoriously demanding trainer, is that his players are mentally tough. A winner like him will always, almost naturally, gravitate towards those of a similar mindset, and Alonso is from good stock in that respect. His dad, Marcos Alonso Pena, was briefly Spanish football’s most expensive player when he signed for Barcelona from Atletico for around £800,000 in 1982, winning La Liga in 1985 under Terry Venables. His grandfather, Marcos Alonso Imaz, won five European Cups and five League titles with Real Madrid between 1954 and 1962.
Both dad and grandad played for Spain and that will surely be the natural progression for Marcos Alonso Mendoza, who is still awaiting his first senior cap. Julen Lopetegui says he’s watching him and acknowledges the players’ form, although the Coach highlighted Chelsea’s “slightly different” 3-4-3 system as a reason for his non-inclusion for this month’s internationals, with Nacho Monreal and Jordi Alba the two players picked for that left-sided role.
Whether he should be ahead of one or both of those players in the Spain pecking order is debateable, but there’s surely little argument that this is a player starting to fulfil the promise he once showed in Los Blancos’s academy - so much so that it’s been widely reported there may be a desire at the Bernabeu to bring him back to the city of his birth. Despite featuring regularly for Madrid Castilla for two years, he only made one League appearance before leaving for Bolton in 2010.
It was Manuel Pellegrini who gave Alonso his Madrid debut – his other coaches include Owen Coyle, Dougie Freedman, Vinenzo Montella and Gus Poyet, but a key role in the player’s elevation to his current status was played by a man that Conte knows well. He and Paulo Sousa won a European Cup together with Juventus in 1996, and while those Bianconeri connections have never done Sousa any favours during a decidedly-mixed time in Florence, Alonso is one of his success stories. Upon leaving Fiorentina, the player wrote a letter thanking everyone at La Viola, which included the following tribute to Sousa.
“I want to dedicate a special mention to a great person and a great Coach, Mr Paulo Sousa, who taught me a lot on and off the pitch and with whom I hope to be able to work again in the future.”
Prior to Sousa’s arrival at Fiorentina, Vincenzo Montella had also played a role in the player’s improvement, but it was Sousa who most tapped into Marcos Alonso’s more forward-thinking attributes, adding an extra dimension, improved discipline and confidence to his play in Serie A – helping to develop the powerful and direct runner seen at Stamford Bridge this season.
His maiden campaign in England looks almost certain to end with a Premier League title – it would be Alonso’s first major honour, and if family history’s anything to go by, it could be the first of many.