Xabi Alonso is retiring this summer, and so has just one game of professional football left until he hangs up his boots.
The football world will be a much sadder, less technically adept place without the 35-year-old!
But in 2004, few outside of Spain knew an awful lot about Alonso, before Rafa Benitez signed him from Real Sociedad that summer…
Alonso would of course go on to win the Champions League that year with Liverpool, before eventually transferring to Real Madrid and then Germany, conquering all before him at domestic level with these two European behemoths – and the Spanish national team, too.
He first had to make his name in England though, and the legendary midfielder has been recalling his debut, which Liverpool lost away to Bolton Wanderers.
“I remember after 15, 20 minutes I think it was a Kevin Nolan tackle, a ‘welcome to the Premier League tackle,’ ” he told the Times (cited in the Echo).
“Then there was Jussi Jaaskelainen from his kicks, not even trying to pass, just long balls up to Kevin Davies. I said to myself, ‘This is different. OK, Xabi, you want to make it here, become a pro with Liverpool you need to learn fast!’ ”
It didn’t take Alonso long, in truth, and despite leaving in 2009, he’ll still be regarded as our second best central midfielder of the Premier League era behind Steven Gerrard.
Of the starting XI that began in Istanbul, only ONE will still be a professional next year: Milan Baros at Slovan Liberec.