This is almost a tale of woe, a love letter to a footballer that I adore.
Xabi Alonso is one of my favourite ever players.
That’s all there is to it. I love the Spaniard dearly.
He’s the best passer of a football I’ve ever seen play for Liverpool, he’s tough in the tackle, his set pieces were quality, his attitude and determination was top class and he presented himself on and off the pitch in a way I would expect of someone representing Liverpool Football Club. Oh yes, and he rocks an awesome beard which takes manliness to new levels. England players try and grow new haircuts, Xabi Alonso grows a beard of steel.
His sale was something that caused me to fall out with Rafa Benitez and to be honest, it’s a blow from which we have yet to recover three years on.
I voiced concerns three years ago that Alonso would be very difficult to replace. This much was true – there were few players available who could spray balls from that deep with such accuracy in Europe and yet we sought to replace one of the best if not the best passer in the business with Gareth Barry, but that’s another story for another article.
The biggest problem we had was trying to replace him with Alberto Aquilani. Barry was first choice but Manchester City blew anything we could offer out of the water and so he went for the chop. We went knocking to Roma, at the time in severe financial peril, to bring in their iconic central midfielder Alberto Aquilani. A friend of mine is an Italian journalist (@Ingardia) and said these exact words to me:
“Aquilani is a good player but he will not make it in England. He’s just not made for it.”
And he was spot on. I think Aquilani is a very good player, he is intelligent and uses the ball well, but to get involved with the engine room in a Premier League midfield you need to have guts, determination and maybe eat a few energy bars along the way. Aquilani doesn’t. Alonso did, in abundance – this is the man who once tried to play on with a broken ankle compared to the man who once missed a game because he had a slight stomach upset. Aquilani is a good player, just not at Liverpool – and he was never going to be. And at £20 million he is one of our poorest value signings ever.
Heart and spirit are a big part of being a central midfielder, but Alonso is genuinely one of the best passers of a football in the game. In a Spain team of such talent he slots in without any thought at all next to the likes of Iniesta and Xavi. He actively keeps Cesc Fabregas out of the Spain starting eleven. It’s testament to Xabi that he is right at home in the heart of arguably the greatest midfield the world has ever produced. As a short range passer you could argue that Iniesta and Xavi are as effective as Alonso. Long range? They don’t even come close for me.
That is what we miss so much at Liverpool. Alonso would drop back right between his centre halves and be in their ear saying “give me the ball.” Because his range and choice of passing was so good he would be easily able to pick out the likes of Gerrard who were already on the move and our attacks were far snappier. He was a midfield dream because he was happy holding and happy further up the pitch. He was both deep lying and attacking all in the same instance.
So why have we struggled to replace him so much? It’s very simple really – when you are moving one of the best in the business on, you are only going to go backwards. And we did. He was the one player, aside from Gerrard, who is virtually irreplaceable. The likeable and affable Spaniard was signed for a relatively low fee and with better coaching became one of the best in the business. We were always going to find it hard to replace him.
The shadow of Alonso hangs over Anfield still and replacing him will be something that Brendan Rodgers will be asked to address. Because the likes of Adam (not good enough) and Henderson (different type of player) aren’t the answer. Maybe he will see his former player Joe Allen as the man for the job but nobody knows that for certain.
All I know is that Xabi Alonso is one of my favourite ever players and if we could ever get him back it would be a dream come true. But that’s not going to happen any time soon. So we move on, like a bloke who let his former girlfriend go without too much of a fight only to realise that the grass isn’t greener on the other side and it also has more upset stomachs.
So enjoy your success with Spain Xabi, you deserve it.
Yours, a lovesick football fan.
In the unlikely event you want to hear more from Dan, you can follow him on twitter (@TLW1Dan) and you can also catch him as a regular writer in The Liverpool Way fanzine and on TLW forums. Please be aware that any content from Dan may contain sarcasm.
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