The seventh edition of the Remember the Name series is finally here (after about a five month delay) and takes a look at a Red who is still very much in the hearts of all Liverpool supporters. The player on display is none other than midfield-maestro and Istanbul hero, Xabi Alonso.
Xabi Alonso was one of the original signings made by former manager Rafa Benitez as part of the Spaniards revolution of Liverpool as a football club. The midfielder was signed from boyhood club Real Sociedad for a fee just over £10 million and came highly rated after leading the Sociedad side with both the armband and with a strong of world class performances.
It didn’t take long for Alonso to settle in at Liverpool and the Spanish international’s silky smooth play and pinpoint passing soon made him a firm favourite with the Anfield faithful. With each passing match the quality and technique he possessed became more and more evident but this development was sadly put on hold when Alonso’s ankle was broken by a challenge from Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on New Year’s Day. The injury threatened to ruin a dream debut season for the mercurial midfielder but he returned in time to help Liverpool reach the Champions League final in 2005. No one needs reminding of what happened on that glorious night but without Alonso it may never have happened. The Spaniard put in an inspired shift in Liverpool’s midfield, displaying all the qualities that had made him the puppeteer in the team. He wasn’t just pulling the strings though as the Tolosa-born Alonso went on to score the all-important goal which completed Liverpool’s famous comeback victory in Istanbul.
The glory would continue for Alonso the following season as the Spaniard added an F.A Cup medal to the Champions League silverware of the year before. He was the key player in the road to the final with the number 14 scoring a number of brilliant long range goals along the way as well as providing Steven Gerrard with the cross that saw Liverpool equalize against West Ham in the final.
The next three years would see more of the same for Alonso as his sublime passes and magical goals became a regular sight for Liverpool fans. Unfortunately, more of the same also included injury induced interruptions and a seemingly growing tension between him and manager Rafa Benitez. In the end, it was a tension that could not be resolved and, despite pleas from the fans begging for the club to hold onto him, Alonso was sold to Real Madrid in 2009.
All in all Alonso went on to make over 200 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 19 goals in the process. The fee received from Madrid (£30 million) was almost three times as much as what Liverpool had paid for him in 2004 and was testament to the way in which Alonso had improved season after season. The money meant little though as Liverpool had lost an irreplaceable player.
Signing Xabi Alonso proved to be a piece of genius by Rafa Benitez. The Spanish midfielder had helped Real Sociedad achieve heights in the league and Champions League that few imagined possible and had caught the attention of much bigger suitors such as La Liga giants Real Madrid and the move to Liverpool would change the way we looked at midfielder’s forever.
The midfielders of years gone by were all the tough tackling, body bruising players – as had been the norm in the Premier League in years gone by. What Alonso brought, though, was something completely different. The man who now has over 100 caps for Spain was all about skill and technique and is arguably the most technically gifted player to have graced the Liverpool midfield. Few players, past or present, possess the ball playing quality that Alonso has. Whether it be putting a 50 yard pass on the toes of a player running into space, slotting a free-kick with the utmost precision or scoring goals from in his own half (which he did on numerous occasions) it was clear that the mercurial midfielder was in a class of his own.
His mentality was just as good though. Alonso was one of the coolest heads in the team and always showed up for the big games. The Istanbul match (in which Alonso was tasked with the penalty) and the F.A Cup final are two perfect examples of the strong mentality Alonso possessed and it was a mentality that brought calm and confidence to the teammates around him.
His talent was undeniable but it was his love and loyalty to the club that endeared him to the fans. Alonso loved playing for Liverpool and regularly praised the fans as being the best in the world. Even when the forces above him began turning against him, Alonso fought to try and make things work. Anfield was a home to him and would always be, no matter where in the world he found himself.
“The special nights I have been privileged enough to live, those will be in my memory forever and they are difficult to compare anywhere in the world”
Even after his departure to Madrid he has remained in the hearts of the Liverpool supporters. It seems that with every transfer market that passes Alonso is linked with a return to Anfield with every fans drooling over the prospect of seeing him back in the famous red jersey. Having him back would be great, but whether or not it ever happens doesn’t really matter because at the end of the day Alonso will always be strong in the hearts of the mighty red army.
Liam Bekker – @BekkersBlog