The Rafalution in 2004 opened the doors to an influx of Spanish talent joining Liverpool’s ranks. The boys from the Iberian Peninsula added to a memorable era between 2005 and 2009 when Rafa worked his magic to make us one of the continents finest clubs. Here’s a look at, and some appreciation for, the best Spanish players to wear El Rojo Famoso.
Alvaro Arbeloa – 98 appearances
The right back was only on Merseyside for two and half years but was a sign of the rising standards at the club. He was one of Rafa’s most shrewd acquisitions, when he swooped to sign the defender from Deportivo for around £2 million in 2007.
Arbeloa is never going to top any lists or be deemed a top class player, but he was a solid, reliable full back who read the game very well. He was confident with his tackling and dovetailed nicely in to the team following Steve Finnan’s departure. He also helped us to the 2007 Champions League Final an achievement which seems to have been dismissed by many over the years. His debut for the club must also rank as one of the best defensive debuts in Liverpool’s history, as he marked Lionel Messi out of contention at Camp Nou in 2007. A classy full back, sorely missed after his departure in 2009.
Fernando Torres – 142 appearances
There have been fewer more explosive debut campaigns than Fernando Torres’s in 2007-08. The £20 million man from Atletico Madrid broke all kinds of records as he smashed home thirty-three goals in forty-six appearances. The striker had a seismic impact on the club and formed a unique bond with Steven Gerrard during his first couple of years as Red.
Torres was a phenomenal finisher. He seldom looked flustered or rushed as he dropped a shoulder and fizzed past a despairing defender before applying a class finish. Had he been fully fit for the 08/09 campaign, the Premier League drought would surely have been ended there and then under Rafa’s watch, so prolific was his star striker. His pace was arguably as dangerous as his finishing and many a Premier League defender was terrorized and flummoxed by the Liverpool number nine, none more so than Nemanja Vidic. The Serbian was a world class defender and the fact Torres frequently had him on toast was a testament to his own ability during his peak years.
Torres though did suffer with injury and seemed to be perpetually returning to full fitness. By the time 2010 came around, he had played an awful lot of games and looked burnt out. His blistering few yards of pace evaporated with each injury and he seemed hesitant in his movement.
His transfer in January 2011 to Chelsea hurt deeply, as the club seemed to be hurtling towards the rocks, but it proved a wise time to cash in, as El Nino was never the same player after leaving Anfield.
Luis Garcia 122 appearances
Where do we begin with our Luis? The little Spaniard rose from obscurity and journeyman status, to become one of the most popular Reds of modern times. Early grumbling about his tendency to give away the ball, were blown away by his explosive ability to score absolute screamers. Top class goal followed top class goal, and Garcia seemed to thrive in the cauldron of noise that was Anfield circa 2005, as momentum grew towards our triumph in Istanbul.
His dipping, long rate shot against Juventus in the last eight of The Champions League was the best goal he scored for the club; however his “ghost” goal against Chelsea in the semi-final was by far his most memorable. Anfield went into euphoria and the little Spaniard wheeled away, grinning and soaking in the adoration of 45,000 screaming supporters. The Catalan born forward relished his time at Liverpool and won over many hearts and minds with his fantastic skill, great movement and ability to chip in with a dozen goals a season from midfield. A club legend in every sense of the word.
Pepe Riena – 394 appearances
The Madrid born shot stopper is second only to Ray Clemence as Liverpool’s greatest ever goalkeeper. A naturally gifted and commanding keeper, he was an authoritarian of the penalty area and a true leader on the pitch.
Another shrewd bit of business by Rafa, saw Liverpool nip in and sign Riena from Villareal for around £6 million in 2005. Immediately it was clear that we had significantly upgraded between the sticks. The Spanish International was strong off his line, possessed excellent handling and was capable of key saves in matches when he often a spectator and his concentration levels had to be perfect. Despite a few shaky moments in 2005-6, he managed to end on a high note by saving a crucial penalty against West Ham in The FA Cup Final and helping the club more silverware.
It’s another easily dismissed achievement of Rafa’s time at the club; how solid we were at the back between 2005 and 2009. Riena’s status as the Premier League Golden Glove winner in consecutive seasons between 2005 and 2008 is a testament to just how well protected our goal was during the Spaniards years as number one.
His very high standards began to dip by 2012 and after Brendan Rodgers first season he moved on to Napoli with the Ulsterman opting for Simon Mignolet. Many at the club felt this was a sad and innocuous ending for such a mighty servant to the club and almost immediately wanted him back when we saw who we’d signed to replace him.
Xabi Alonso – 210 appearances
Xabi Alonso, the name evokes misty eyed Red’s fond memories of a time when our midfield was genuinely one of the best in the world. The Basque’s arrival from Real Sociedad in 2004 became a watershed moment for Liverpool.
A personal favourite memory was, seeing him live for first time as we beat Norwich City at Anfield. Not the most memorable of fixtures, but seeing this class Spaniard pulling the string from the middle of the park and pinging passes at will around the pitch; he was clearly a player operating on a different level to most others in the league.
Almost languid in style, Alonso had the calm ability to split a team in half with a delightfully weighted ball through to the front men. Only Gerrard and Redknapp could come close to Alonso’s radar for passing and dead ball situations. The Spaniard had the Kop purring for five years with his quality in the middle of the park. He played his part in 2005 as well; keeping his composure to score a rebounded penalty after Dida saved his initial tame effort. In truth it was no surprise to see a player of that calibre producing the goods on such a lofty stage.
His best campaign by far was 08/09, when he was pivotal for the Reds as they lost just two games in the league all season and thumped Real Madrid in the Champions League last sixteen. Injuries affected his form for a considerable spell of his Liverpool career though and it perhaps the greatest of shames that he didn’t stay for just a while longer, to help Liverpool to greater glory. His departure to Real Madrid left a creative hole in the side which took years to fill and seemed to leave the club under a dark cloud; such was the importance of the silky smooth man from the Basque Country, to Liverpool’s fortunes.