Ahead of taking on France with Spain in today’s UEFA Nations League final, Marcos Alonso discussed returning from a long absence on the international scene with an impressive performance in his country’s semi-final win over Italy.
It was three years ago that Alonso had previously been involved for Spain, but he was recalled by manager Luis Enrique for this week’s conclusion of their Nations League campaign and named in the starting XI for the semi-final against European champions Italy, as they began the match with both full-backs coming from Chelsea, as Cesar Azpilicueta lined up on the right of their defence.
It was certainly a return to remember for Alonso, as he was one of the stars of a 2-1 win over the Italians at San Siro, ending the Azzurri’s record-breaking 37-game unbeaten run and inflicting their first home defeat since 1999, leaving the left-back in no doubt that it was his best performance on the international stage so far.
‘It was my best match. Against Italy, at San Siro, after they had 37 games without losing and being European champions - it was a great opportunity to show that we are a great team. I was left with the desire to put the finishing touch on the game with the occasion that I had.
‘We were better, we controlled the game. The truth is that I’m very happy. We beat an Italy side that were on a tremendously long run. We were much better, especially in the first half. Our level dropped in the second half and we paid the price a bit, but the win is all that counts.’
Amazingly, that victory was just Alonso’s fourth cap for his country, and before he, Azpilicueta and their Spain team-mates return to Milan for this evening’s Nations League final against France, the left-back also reflected on the possible reasons he has been overlooked at international level in the past and flown under the radar in his homeland.
‘I don't know,’ he added. ‘More than anything, little by little people in Spain are getting to know me. I have had a career abroad, people see La Liga more than the Premier League there and it may have been surprising, but I know what I am capable of and what I have been doing for years.
‘I have felt recognised and loved in all the teams I have played in. In Spain is where they know me least, less than in Italy or England, but it is normal. In the end people are familiar with what they see more often.
‘Where I can get noticed is on the pitch and I have always tried the maximum to do that. In the end it is the opinion of each coach to choose whoever they want and you have to respect them.
‘The truth is that for a long time I have taken the national team as a bonus. In the end I play for my club and try to do my best. If I am lucky enough to come to the national team, I take it as a reward for that work.’
It isn’t the first time the 30-year-old has had to wait patiently for his opportunities in the team, at club and international level. Even at Chelsea, where he has been a key figure in winning plenty of silverware, there have been times when he has needed to accept being out of the fold.
‘The truth is that yes, it has been complicated in the past. It is something that happens to all footballers at one point in their career, that you have a coach who does not count on you or you are not to their liking.
‘But I have always tried to do my best. I showed even when playing with Frank Lampard at that time that I was ready to help the team.’
However, he is now firmly part of Thomas Tuchel’s plans and is enjoying the licence to get forward he is given in our current wing-back system, even more so than he did when playing a similar role under Antonio Conte in our 2016/17 title-winning campaign.
‘If we compare with Conte, who also played with the system of five defenders, we have even more freedom now to arrive in attacking positions and a little less defensive responsibility, but it depends on the rival and the game.’