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My Favourite Player #14 - Xabi Alonso

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Take the time it takes you to read this sentence, then divide it by 2, and you’ll have roughly the amount of time it took Xabi Alonso to settle in to Liverpool FC.

Bought in the summer of 2004 by Rafael Benitez for a not unsubstantial £10m his class was instantly visible. It was easy to see why Benitez had prioritised his signing, and was happy to part with such a substantial percentage of his budget to secure his signature.

It was Alonso, more than any other player, who would come to define the way Benitez had envisaged his team playing. He might not have been Gerrard or Torres in numerical terms. What he brought to the team was not quantifiable in terms of goals and assists. But it was Alonso who oiled the gears of progress.

His debut season was disrupted by a broken ankle in January, but Alonso had already sewn the seeds of how important he would become to the squad.

Assured and cultured on and off the ball he provided a calming presence throughout a particularly turbulent route to the final. Always being available, always trustworthy. Alonso was the go to out ball for the entire team almost immediately. Alonso made his return from injury in the away leg of the quarter final against Juventus. With Liverpool holding a slender lead from the 1st leg and without their captain, Alonso maturity shone through as the reds played out a 0-0 draw to reach the semi’s. It was a performance filled with the controlled approach which would come to characterise LFC in Europe in the coming years.

Alonso’s growing influence on the team is perhaps best typified by how it was he who stepped up to take the penalty to level things up *that* night. Alonso was trusted with perhaps the most defining moment in recent Liverpool history. Gerrard, on his crusade to deliver the trophy, having won the spot kick and scored a goal already could have been forgiven for backing himself. But he, hardly one for shirking responsibility, was happy to let Alonso be the one to step up to the mark. Gerrard had missed penalties  before, but he was very much ‘on one’ in that game. There was a certain German international on the pitch at that point who could strike a penalty too, and not likely to wilt under the pressure. As he would come to show later on. But it was Xabi that was entrusted with the task. Trusted by his manager and his team mates.

That Alonso missed the penalty is besides the point. For a player in his debut season to be given that job, in that game, it speaks for itself. Alonso exudes a level of competency and fortitude that not many can match. It came to typify his time at the club.

Fatefully Xabi was able to follow up his penalty and fire emphatically in to the roof of the net.

That alone would have allowed him a permanent place in our affections. But he was just warming up.

He hadn’t even grown his beard yet.


As the facial hair grew, so did Alonso’s importance to the team.

Over the coming seasons Alonso came to personify the approach that Benitez was attempting to implement. There were dips in his form, so much so that Rafa sought to move him on. But when the system, the set up and the team worked under Rafa and worked well. It was so often Alonso who was  the key.

Those long flat passes in to the front line which allowed the team to so quickly and efficiently transition. The ability to take responsibility for playing from the back. The constant availability. Alonso allowed Gerrard and Torres to shine as brightly as they did in that period. He was the man behind the music. George Martin to their Lennon and McCartney.

Alonso’s influence became most apparent only once he’d left the club. Amid an increasingly distant relationship with his manager Xabi had his head turned by Real Madrid. And so it was in the summer of 2009 that he left Anfield.

It was widely known that his departure would occur. And that the 08/09 season would be his last in a red shirt, well, last to date.

Alonso knew he was leaving, and set about ensuring that 08/09 was to be his swansong.

This was the season that Benitez’s vision came to fruition. Liverpool made a play for the title, outscoring every other team in the league in doing so. The goals were spread out through the team, Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt all netting 15 times or over. 

There was consistency, a driving ambition and a resolve about the team that year. It was a culmination of the 4 years work that had come previously.

It seems strange to be eulogising so much about a team that finished that particular season without silverware, that is after all what we as a club measure ourselves by.

But the sense of momentum that year, the feeling of excitement around a genuine title challenge. It was different. We’d seen the team develop, we’d seen new elements come in to it. Pieces of the puzzle were added, Kuyt, Mascherano, Torres. It was sustained, not hastily assembled. It meant a little more that year because we saw it develop before our eyes.

There were 3 players who had been there from 2004 who were absolutely central to the team’s title challenge coming to fruition. 2 of them are bona fide club legends who’s names will be remembered down the ages as local lads done good.

The other, was Xabi Alonso.

Alonso is part of a proud tradition of foreign imports that just ‘get’ the club. We know when it feels right, and so do they. Molby, Hyypia, Hamman, Agger, Kuyt and others besides. They’re all adopted Scousers. There’s a connection that supasses the club with those players, they identify with the city as much as they do with Anfield. The affection goes beyond the pitch. Alonso is very much in the same vein. He still come’s back during the winter break to watch the club. We saw him keeping tabs on the FA Cup final score last year whilst at training with Madrid. He identifies himself as much with us, as we do with him.

Perhaps I’ve done Xabi a disservice in this piece by not waxing lyrical about his individual greatness as much as I might have. I’ve glossed over the FA Cup win of 2006, and therefore Xabi’s 2 goals against Luton, one from his own half, with his left foot. Until now I neglected to mention that he repeated the feat, against Newcastle. There was a ‘keeper to beat that time.

I could have written endlessly about the man’s ability to read the game, see patterns of player before they occurred. How devastating that was when allied with an innate ability to strike the ball as sweetly as anyone I've seen wear the shirt. Be it shooting, passing short or long. Alonso’s technique was unsurpassed.

But you can watch a youtube video and see those things for yourself.

Alonso, to me, defines a great time in my support of this fine club. He personifies an approach I identify with. The calmness, the assuredness, the quiet confidence. Alonso could be a flash player if he wanted, he could have sat in midfield and ping balls around for 90mins whether it was right to do so or not, posing to admire his work as he went along. He had the talent. But he didn’t.

Alonso is the epitome of a player that makes the team he plays in greater than the sum of its parts.

And that’s why I’ve written about his role at the club over his time here. He was party to a movement. An invaluable part of a team played some incredible football and achieved some astonishing things.

It was fun to support Liverpool in his time here. We had the best midfield in the world. We were the most feared team in Europe. Xabi was there through all of it.

He mightn’t have been the ‘star’ that Torres was, the cult icon of Kuyt or the unabated genius that is Gerrard.

But like all the best things in life, they didn’t half miss him when he was gone.

We all did.

Fantastic stuff mate, thank you. :)

Mr Dilkington:

Good stuff, Cpt Reina.

I was present for what I feel was Xabi's "real" debut, away at Fulham. Two nil down, and Rafa decided to replace Diao with Xabi at half time, a changing of the Houllier guard if ever there was one. I was enraptured with the guy. He stood on the pitch, shoulders back and basically said, right hombres, that ball is now mine and I will be dictating the tempo of this game from now on. Forty five minutes later, 4 2 to the Pool and Diao wondering what other clubs might want him. Doubly delicious as I watched the game with a Fulham supporting mate, and as we walked away from the Cottage, I kept elbowing him and saying, "not too Xabi - eh? Geddit? Eh?"

Good times....

Absolute belter that!

It's no coincidence that whenever one of those old (never been done before) polls pop up on RAWK asking which former Liverpool player you'd love to re-sign from the Premiership era, Xabi is always, without fail, leading the poll.

Summed it up perfectly when you say you don't realise just how much you'd miss him until he was gone, but boy do we miss Xabi.

We had the best midfield in the world...   :'(


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