Xabi Alonso and a player between the lines

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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.



  1. I’m always amazed that some of us thought that Sissoko was good. Surely he was only included in any of these ‘best midfield in the world’ lists purely because his name scanned well for the lyrics. I’ve never seen a midfielder with worse passing accuracy or comfort on the ball.

    Granted, Mascherano managed to hit a few ‘wayward’ balls in his time, but he’s learned how to spray it around a bit with Barca. Sissoko was a serious injury threat to people on the pitch when he wasn’t on the ball, and a serious injury threat to people off the pitch when he WAS on the ball.

  2. whole-hearted agreement on Xabi. Lucas Leiva has eventually come good and is very important to us but he’s not Xabi Alonso, who like Didi Hamman, could anticipate opposition play and cut out a ball before it was delivered into our danger area’s.
    I think the new boy could work well with Luis Suarez, if his ego isn’t too big, but I think Aquilani would be better as a close quarter feed for the two of them.

  3. I’ll tell it you who will be our next Xabi- Suso. Seeing the Euro highlights he could fill that role amiabley. Thoughts?

  4. What people including the author of this article seem to ignore is that despite being sold for £30m in the summer of 2009 after a fantastic season, the whole Benitez/Barry/Alonso saga happened in the summer of 2008. It was then that Rafa was willing to sell Alonso to fund Barry. This was on the back of a poor 07/08 season from Xabi. There was rumoured interest from Juve at circa £10m that summer which never materialised… in a nutshell nobody wanted to pay more than £10m for him because he had not performed on the pitch.
    In hindsight Rafa was wrong, but most neutral observers would say that during 07/08 Barry was more effective than Alonso.
    The sad thing was that Xabi was fantastic in 08/09 season but damage had been done the previous summer. Rafa could not persuade Xabi to stay, and I dont blame Xabi either!

    1. I have just written practically the same comment about the Alonso/Barry saga! (I should have read all the comments first, sorry). But you are bang on IMO and ppl who were following Liverpool closely at the time will know this.

  5. i see your argument but you seem to lack knowledge or seem to manipulate the truth to all things regarding Xabi! Let me start by saying he truly is and will always be a great player – i can not think of any one else who would have the skill and courage or audacity to try what he had when taking the penalty in the 2005 final, he took it with his right foot and scored it with his left foot – truly great – had rooney aka assface, done that the press would have been creaming themselves to this day. Xabi was at Liverpool for 5 seasons, BUT how many brilliant seasons did Xabi actually have? In my books i would say just one (his final season after getting the kick up the ass he needed). How many good seasons did he have? I would say one as well, his first season when we won it for the fifth time. That leaves 3 seasons of how can we put it OK performances, similar to what Adam and Henderson just had for us, both have had ok seasons nothing spectacular. Yet we criticize Henderson and Adam and hope they get sold but no criticism for Xabi for playing in a similar way for 3 years?? 3 Years!! wow how did we not boo him?? almost baffling!! I’m sure we all remember the FA cup loss to Barnsley? I do, it was a last minute goal from Barnsley to win the game – guess who lost the ball on the edge of the area from which Barnsley scored?? yep your right it was Xabi Alonso!! guess who didnt want to travel to Turin for an important game against Juve- Yes your right again it was Xabi – OK his wife was in labour! but we were short in midfield. Vincent Del Bosque (spelling- Spain head coach) never traveled outside of the country to see a player play, he only would 95% of the time select players who played in Spain – Xabi would not get a game ahead of any midfielder playing in Spain, you can check and you will find the Villareal midfielder was always ahead of him (cant remember his name), until he went to Real Madrid – he then became first choice! he had hidden reasons to leave Liverpool that not everyone knows about or cares to mention. The year before he left we tried to sell him for £13m but no one wanted him at that price, any ideas why?? because he was not playing well enough for anyone to pay £13m for him, he had a great season and we get £30m for him. Now lets take his final season in to account, i’m sure you guys remember the comebacks, going 1 or 2 nil down then winning 2-1 or 3-2? yes? That season we conceded goals but scored more, Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt, Riera all chipped in and created goals. The season after we still conceded goals going 1 nil or 2 nil down but the front four of Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt and Riera all dropped form at the same time, so we did not score the goals we did the season before hence the drop in fortune, the chance conversion rate was dismal for that season. So to conclude our decline has nothing to do with Alonso leaving but more to do with not investing in the team when required, this Jan we needed a goal scorer, the whole world knew it but he didnt buy one and hence why we we finished were we did! Simple answer is that we need a better squad not just a good team.

  6. we havent been the same and unless we find another xabi we wont be the same even at thirty if i was manager i would break the bank to have him back, his quality and control in the midfield was of the highest standard. and it is depressing thought that he no longer comes from international duty to liverpool.

  7. I’d love too see xabi back but it won’t happen this summer. Other madrid players have been made available though. I agree with the midfield issue. Sissoko was under-rated by most fans but was a good player and I’d have him back anyday. But the team that finished 2nd in the league is a distant memory. We need to look forward and not back. Suso is a shout but we need stirling playing. He has the potential to be as good as any player past or present. Just needs the chance. Still only a kid aswell but I do think some team will come and turn his head if the potential is unearthed. I feel we have become a selling club. Shame really

  8. oh and by the way this article is suggesting our decline is due to Alonso leaving…i gotta stop you right there mate as your totally completely WRONG… when i look back i would say our decline started at 2 points by (1) benitez constantly signing quantity over quality, for every 1 quality player he brought he brought 3 poor signings, for instance..(2) the american cowboys, even though people vastly blame them for our downfall and i get why .. but personally i just think benitez started it all.. simply because he didn’t buy wisely..

    and lasty i will say this again people dreaming that Xabi will return to liverpool need to wake up..even if modric goes to real..he is going to play with alonso not to replace him

  9. What I remember about the circumstances of Alonso’s sale were that he had a season off injured, followed by a very indifferent season coming back. In that time it appeared that Benitez was looking to cash in to fund a move for Gareth Barry – I think because of his versatility to play through the middle and down our problematic left flank. At this point it appeared we would swap an off form central mfer for a form central mfer with ability to play left wing/left back. Seemed ok at the time! When that fell through & we were “stuck” with Alonso for another season, he played his best ever football for us, but alas the damage was done the previous close season and he went off to Real Madrid. Now maybe if Benitez were a better man-manager he could have repaired the damage & tried to keep him, but I guess we’ll never know. The lesson here is form is temporary and class is permanent. And one gripe I’d like to air – no one outside Anfield rated Alonso that much until he left so it makes me laugh seeing journalists ridicule us for selling him.

  10. your right Mr Wright especially the part where nobody outside anfield rated Alonso outside of anfield until he left then suddenly we are getting ridiculed… same with Mascherano

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