Marcos Alonso is one of the best defenders in the country
Alonso must be one of the few players in English football who has the ability to drive his manager mad.
He completely shut down N’Golo Kante in Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham. But he was benched for their most recent game, a 1-0 win over Wolves, in favour of club record signing Jorginho.
One reason Alonso was discarded was that he is not signed to play at left wing-back. As much as he used to fancy himself on that position, or even on the wing, these days he is a natural defensive, no nonsense sort of player.
He’s brilliant in midfield and has a passing range of between 85 and 100 metres. He relishes throwing himself in front of the forwards and doesn’t mind getting his arm in the way of the ball or being obstruction.
At centre-back he can be as physical as he likes and he kicks out in the air.
If Alonso is convinced he’s going to play, he often refuses to sit on the bench.
Manager Maurizio Sarri was an Arsene Wenger (right) admirer as a player
Victory over West Ham on Saturday will put Chelsea a massive four points ahead of second-placed Manchester City, but above Liverpool in third.
As he has in all his team’s most important games this season, Alonso played out of position.
The victory also owed something to the manager, Sarri, who was less a part of this game than he’d been during earlier encounters.
The Italian arrived at Chelsea, back in 2017 as part of a complex deal orchestrated by Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino, as the new manager of Napoli, before moving to Stamford Bridge and swiftly replacing another long-serving manager, Antonio Conte.
Sarri’s agent was once an agent for Wenger
Throughout the season he has had an uneasy relationship with a section of the Chelsea support, especially the sections of the scarlet-clad faithful known as the idiots.
The Guardian’s sports columnist Marina Hyde summed up this antipathy best in a piece just before the transfer window closed last August, the day before Sarri was appointed.
“It’s a sign of the country’s extreme nature when the most despised manager in football is still being derided,” she wrote.
And while Sarri is what most football fans would describe as ‘geezer’ – outside of China’s famed Shanghai SIPG he is the country’s second oldest manager – he is totally charming.
One time he took me on a crazy helicopter ride – through the Swiss Alps at 300km/h!
Another time he was driving to the airport when he spotted a building that looked suspiciously like the offices of his former manager, the Frenchman Arsene Wenger, and later said to me: “I could hear Arsene’s motor.”
A reasonable man
But Wenger is not the character of this manager. Sarri has never used an agent to sell him. He has said of his predecessor: “I always said to myself that the best type of coach I could have is someone who works 10,000 hours in the kitchen, and looks only at the end at the plate.”
The former Napoli coach may be a genius on the pitch but he is a much more complex character off it.
So whilst Arsenal would relish going head-to-head with Barcelona in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg, Sarri clearly would prefer a place in a European final.
If Arsenal win, that might be a prospect quite at odds with his previous position in charge of French club Bordeaux – where he managed two only-winners of the French league from 2009-11.
Alonso is certainly no Slaven Bilic
The Napoli boss is exactly the sort of person who would like to hear it said he was “a sackable candidate”.
Another manager the bookies regard as relegation specialists is Harry Redknapp at Southampton. And the first manager of a managerial merry-go-round, Gianfranco Zola at Crystal Palace, has managed to remain in a Premier League job which should take him into his fourth year in the league.
Alonso has a special talent for staying in a job long enough to become a firm favourite of any owner who wants to keep a player happy.
And behind that great strength is an iron fist, driven by the ambition to conquer the big European leagues.