Xabi Alonso and a player between the lines
By: Carl Norris @cenorrisjr
Sometimes I catch myself dreaming of the best midfield in the world. A midfield with graft, heart, potential, desire, playmaking ability, and that ever so uncommon ‘it’ factor. It doesn’t take long for many Liverpool fans to conjure up the names of Xabi Alonso, Mohamed Sissoko, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, and Lucas Leiva. From around 2006 to 2009 these players have all worn the red shirt and played a part in the clubs success. The dream usually starts with a statement along the lines of, “imagine if they all stayed, the possibilities could have been, no would have been endless.” However the key word here is dream, the realistic red in me realizes how the modern game has evolved, and the professional footballer at times is more of a businessman then your average white collar worker.
I could go on and on about the ones who’ve stayed and the ones who’ve left and the reasons why. But all Liverpool fans; whether optimistic, realistic, or pessimistic, know deep down that the reason why we’ve finished 6-8 in the past three years and why we’re not in the Champion’s League is because of Xabi Alonso.
I call it the Xabi Alonso Factor. I know the name of the theory is brilliant and dramatic, but stay with me here. Go back to when the rumors first started to circle around Xabi and his departure from Anfield. How did this happen, and why did it happen? These are the questions that many Liverpool fans such as myself had. I hate to say it, but the truth is that for all the amazing things that Rafa did for us, his disconnect with Xabi started our lack of playmaking ability.
At the time Gareth Barry was basically the Steven Gerrard of Aston Villa. Well, without winning anything, or doing much, other than pushing for top four once or twice with some real talent around him. Don’t think for a second Garry Barry was an above average player on a bad team. Milner, Young, Agbonlahor, this Villa team was actually a decent side. Turn to Merseyside, what a side it was. Lucas couldn’t get a game. Fernando Torres was arguably the best player in the world. What a team we were, finishing second in 2008-2009, those were the days!
For every tactical accolade that Rafa Benitez has won, he has at times lacked the silverware for man-management. It’s ironic to me that this happened. Two Spaniards to begin with that came to the club at the same time. Rafa picked Xabi in the 2005 European run over the likes of Smicer and Hamann, two players who had proven their worth for both club and country. I struggle to think why and how Rafa would even imagine that Gareth Barry could do the things Xabi did for LFC within a three year span.
The average football fan might think well it is what it is, Xabi had a nice run for LFC, his stock was at an all-time high, and that’s why Rafa caused a storm, and eventually sold him. I don’t care who you support, Liverpool or Portsmouth, it’s a fact, you sell your best players, you don’t get better as a football team. Xabi Alonso’s don’t come around very often. This is a player who has just come off a world treble for his country. European Championship, World Cup, European Championship. Moreover, he’s an integral part to Spain’s success, ever present in their starting eleven.
As an American I tend to, along with my friends use the ‘Michael and Scottie Test.’ This references Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and how they were the greatest one two punch arguably in sports history. Some say Michael couldn’t do it without Scottie, and some say Scottie was overrated, some say Scottie was better than Michael (never that!) The point is we had a Michael and Scottie combo going at LFC with Stevie G and Xabi. It is near impossible to find a great player who is willing to accept a backup role. Xabi Alonso is Scottie Pippen, and Scottie Pippen is Xabi Alonso. People struggle to say Scottie Pippen is a top 50 player of all time. I struggle to think the opposite. Along the same lines if you think Xabi just sits in the center circle and makes a square or back pass, well my friend there’s no way to say it other than you’re an idiot. Xabi Alonso is literally a once in a life time player. Steven Gerrard I believe used the word “devastated” describing Alonso’s departure.
I literally could go on and on, but I digress. The fact is Xabi is a Liverpool Legend. Few players can leave a club and hold the same esteem, or even higher in their departure. Case in point, Lucas Leiva, LFC fans have seen now first-hand what we look like without the combatant midfielder. I for one am thankful that this time around we get the player back we’ve missed after realizing it. Opposed to what happened with Xabi.
This leaves us with where we’ve been since Mr. Alonso has left us for Madrid, out of sorts, and in-between managers. Alberto Aquilani was bought for an Andy Carroll fee to replace the once in a lifetime playmaker. Alberto is exactly what our current manage has claimed him as. A player with the right technical and tactical mentality, but it is yet to be seen if he has the steel in him to be a Liverpool player. The closest thing to Xabi came in the form of Raul Meireles, the only good thing Roy Hodgson ever did was sign the Portuguese midfielder. Raul was a player between the lines; he saw a pass and picked it, linking the midfield well with forwards. Although I will never forget him for pulling out a tackle that got Stevie sent off verse United, he was a player we lacked at LFC, a player to simply pick a pass. In my opinion we shouldn’t have sold him.
Other than Raul Meireles it’s been up to an aging Steven Gerrard and in form Lucas Leiva to make plays for our side. The same questions remain as they did when Xabi left. Who will play in Luis Suarez? Who will stop Steven Gerrard from realizing he can’t continue to go box to box? Who will sit, break up play, and start attack? We still need answers; we’ve been waiting for three years now. I believe Brendan Rodgers has the answers, as I am ever hopeful we will pass and move again.