And here it is in all its glory ...
Modest midfielder at home as support act
By Alan Smith (Filed: 24/12/2004)
Born in Tolosa, a small town just outside the elegant coastal resort of San Sebastian in northern Spain, Xabi Alonso would - if his own description of his people is anything to go by – appear to match the photofit of a typical Basque.
Safe anchorage: Xabi Alonso had no hesitation in choosing Liverpool
Honest, reserved and extremely modest, Liverpool's lavishly gifted midfielder doesn't shout the odds, even if some of this season's performances deserve a fair bit of hype.
The £10.5 million signing from Real Sociedad has shown, amid his side's haphazard but slowly improving form, that he possesses marvellous quality, the kind of talent entirely comfortable in the company of Callaghan, McDermott and Souness.
A partnership with the newly committed Steven Gerrard looks more promising by the week despite early claims that the pair couldn't blend. Nonsense. As Gerrard tears about the pitch in his all-action style, Alonso sits tight to maintain the balance, anchoring midfield with his competitive attitude and a stunning range of passes.
"Good players must share and support each other," Anfield's intelligent new hero maintained this week. "Stevie has great qualities. He's very strong, loves to attack, has a powerful shot. Because of that I try to hold my position a bit more and to organise from a deeper position."
Humility and a certain reticence shine through every word. His famous father, by the sound of it, is exactly the same. Periko Alonso was a key member of the fabled Real Sociedad side from the early Eighties who won back-to-back Spanish titles for the only time in the club's history.
"It was incredible," the proud son says with a smile. "As a small club, you can imagine beating Real Madrid and Barcelona over the course of a season. As a Basque side then, all the players had to come from the region. But my dad doesn't talk much about those days. He says they're different times and you cannot compare them."
Moving on to Barcelona, Periko linked up successfully with the likes of Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster in another championship-winning side. The Spain international later returned home to coach his first love.
Yet when it came to his sons (Xabi's older brother, Mikel, also plays for Real Sociedad), Alonso snr never tried to influence their career paths.
"He never pressured us, saying we had to play football," Alonso says. "Like every father, he took me everywhere - to training, to matches. He supported me but never pressed me. We have been asked to do some interviews together but we didn't want that. He thinks that this is my time and we shouldn't keep talking about his playing days."
Dad clearly knows best. Busy with his business, he had visited Merseyside only once, seeing the 2-0 Champions League win against Monaco. "He had a look at the training ground, at the stadium, the city. He was pleased to see me happy."
Now, along with the rest of the family, he's over for Christmas to see the game at West Bromwich Albion on Boxing Day and the ones to follow against Southampton and Chelsea.
By chance, it was a former colleague of Alonso's father and an old Liverpool hero who presented Xabi with his debut at Real Sociedad. As coach at the Anoeta four years ago, John Toshack recalled the 19-year-old from a loan spell at second division side SD Eibar. The side were struggling and needed help in midfield.
Now manager of Wales, Toshack fondly recalls the moment. "He was a very quick thinker but just a touch laboured in his movement. I said to Periko [in charge of the second team at the time]: `Get those training sticks laid out on the floor and get him tip-toeing through them.' His speed and mobility needed improving."
It worked. Alonso gradually established himself at his home-town club. "I don't remember a former youth-team player causing such an impact," Toshack remarked at the time. "Everyone seems to play better when he's on the pitch."
Fortunes improved to such an extent that, two years back, Real Sociedad came within a whisker of emulating their predecessors. Sadly for them, leading by one point with two games left, they allowed Real Madrid to creep past and snatch the title.
"That is my biggest regret," Alonso sighs. "It would have been wonderful for us, for such a small team. We'd spent most of the season at the top of the table, then just at the end there was a lot of pressure. We lost our second last game and Real won their final two. It was too much in the end."
Not surprisingly at this point, the big clubs knew all about a very special talent blossoming in San Sebastian. The Bernabeu made several mating calls, Mr. Ferguson looked on admiringly, but it was a decisive strike by Rafael Benitez that eventually claimed the signature.
"The others were interested but Rafa was even more interested. That was very important to me. As well as the boss, it was the club, the history. I had no hesitation in choosing Liverpool. It's been a great experience professionally and personally. I'd heard how the club worked in training, I knew Pako Ayesteran [the assistant coach], who's a Basque like me."
But there have, of course, been adjustments to make. "The Premiership is quicker than La Liga with more physical contact, it's more aggressive. You play with more pace. I love the fact that the stadiums are always full here with a great atmosphere."
Vouching for all that, three other compatriots could boldly step forward. Luis Garcia, Josemi and Antonio Nunez, since their summer arrival, make up a group dubbed `The Benitles'. If we're making comparisons, Alonso must double up as Lennon and McCartney. He's the one, just now, composing all the clever lines, the one who looks most capable of making a real difference.
"Shanks and Bob [Paisley] would have loved him," enthuses Toshack. "He's a proper Liverpool player." It could be a long and winding road to match previous achievements, but Alonso's the type to try to work it out.