A meeting with Spain: Alonso, Arbeloa and Silva get candid
Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and David Silva won the 2010 World Cup with Spain
The trio were also part of the Spanish squad that won Euro 2008
Xabi Alonso feels the gap between Barcelona and Real Madrid is closing
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's not often U.S. fans get the opportunity to mingle in the presence of footballing royalty. So when adidas organized a meet-and-greet recently with nine members of the reigning World Cup champions in advance of Spain's recent friendly against the U.S., plenty were on hand at the "We Got Soccer" store to get a glimpse of Spain's stars up close and personal.
There's been some talk lately about the Spanish team's travel fatigue -- understandable after a long European club campaign for the players, and the national team's own virtually nonstop schedule since winning the European Championship in 2008. Compounding matters is the perception among some in the Spanish media that a rift has appeared within the team -- largely after the potentially fractious series of clįsicos played recently between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two super powers that provide the bulk of the Spanish squad roster.
On this day however, there's very little evidence of the existence of any such discord. The players are relaxed and joke with one another during preparations for the photo shoot and appear well at ease in each other's company. It's a notion that's reinforced by Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso, who stresses the closeness of the squad in general.
"We have 70 or 80 percent of us who come from Madrid or Barcelona, so we have all had a long season and played in a lot of competitions and played at a high level," said Alonso. "Most of us have known each other for a long time, so that helps. Whenever we make a national team we keep the club separate from that and we come together as one team.
"We put the club apart for that time and we try to share and fight to make the same dream together. It is a great atmosphere and we play as a team. You can talk about it [club matters] but we don't do this very much and when we do it is not a big matter."
While some of the players posed for photos with their adoring public (to no surprise, Barcelona's David Villa was in particularly high demand), I took some time to speak individually with the trio of Alonso, David Silva and Alvaro Arebeloa.
First up, is Real Madrid's versatile Alvaro Arbeloa, a utility player whose primary position is fullback. Arbeloa is a former Real Madrid youth team player who returned to the club in the summer of 2009 when club president Florentino Perez embarked on a pursuit of a second Galacticos recruitment policy.
The affable Arbeloa is known to be an TV/film aficionado, so we initially discuss his fondness for American TV shows (he's currently a fan of HBO's Game Of Thrones) and joke about the World Cup trophy the players have brought with them to the meet-and-greet. "No, we have to be really careful with the trophies and for now we have to keep this [one] away from Sergio Ramos," laughs Arbeloa.
Although he's been with Real for two seasons now, Arbeloa's arguably still best remembered for being one of the few defenders on this planet that actually managed to shut down Barcelona's Lionel Messi (on Arbeloa's debut for Liverpool in the Camp Nou in 2007).
When Arbeloa is told how Liverpool fans still hold him in fond affection, it's clear the feeling is still reciprocated on his part. "Always when I can, I try to watch Liverpool," said Arbeloa. "This [past season] at the beginning it was a little bit difficult and when they have changed the manager, I think they have improved a lot and finished better.
"So I am supporting them and when I was there I was really, really happy and the supporters were good to me."
Arbeloa's own assessment of the turnaround in Liverpool's fortunes is succinct. "I think the style under [Roy] Hodgson, they played maybe too many long balls," said Arbeloa. " I think Liverpool is the type of team that has to play more football. Technically they have some really good players and they need to play more football. I think with [Kenny] Dalglish, who was one of the best players in the history of Liverpool, they look more confident and they improved a lot."
It certainly doesn't hurt that Liverpool also picked up the whirling dervish otherwise known as Luis Suarez. "I think Suarez is a very good player, he was doing really good from the first day," said Arbeloa. "It was a little bit of a surprise because it's not easy to come to England to play that well from the first day and he did."
And his former teammates, does he keep in touch? "Yes I keep in touch with some of them, especially with Lucas Leiva, he's a really good friend. I think he had a good season and I think he's growing a lot at Liverpool."
As for his own form, Arbeloa's ability to fill in at both right and left back has been invaluable for Real. Some have observed that his on-field temperament at Real has been noticeably more aggressive to his previous demeanor in England. "Not really, I think that maybe you have to play different as the Liga and the Premier League are different and the style of the games are a little bit different," counters Arbeloa. "But I think my style is more or less the same, you have to improve, and you have to try to do new things, but I don't think that I have changed."
As our conversation ends, Arbeloa asks me for my own impression of Game Of Thrones (I'm also a fan of the show), and for a recommendation for his next viewing material (I suggest Spartacus).