Xabi Alonso – Player Perfection

If there was ever a player moulded in ‘The Liverpool Way’, it was Xabi Alonso, as he was comfortable in possession, had excellent vision to spot passes, and the ability to execute them with pure presicion and class, and Rafa Benitez was the man to bring him to Anfield in 2004.

Xavier (Xabi) Alonso Olanso was born in a small town of Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, Basque country in Spain. Born into a footballing family, his father Periko Alonso was a professional footballer who won La Liga twice with Real Sociedad and once with Barcelona. Xabi’s older brother Mikel also showed early signs of footballing greatness along with his younger brother. Xabi’s career in life was clear from an early age as football was already bred into him.

After his father joined Barcelona, the family made the move to Barcelona and Xabi lived there for the first 6 years of his childhood. It was really here where his passion for football really ignited as he spent a lot of time on the training ground with his father honing his footballing skills paying particular attention to his passing skills, and it was already extremely evident for all to see the talent he exuded.

After joining a local youth team Antiguoko, it wasn’t long before Xabi started attracting on-looking scouts from top Spanish teams and he soon made his dream move to Real Sociedad. His older brother Mikel was a talented young player aswel and had joined Real Sociedad the previous year.

FC Barcelona Brazilian Ronaldinho (L) vi : News Photo

Xabi skills were unquestionable and his passing ability was so impressive for such a young lad that he quickly moved through the ranks at the club. In 2000 the then manager Javier Clemente sent Xabi out on loan to Eibar to gain further experience. Real Sociedad were struggling as a club at the time and the turnover of managers including Alonos’s father resulted in the club been left in dire straits.

Then enter new manager and ex-Liverpool player John Toshack in 2001, who immediately recalled Alonso back from his loan spell in the hope that the young talent could help reverse the teams bad fortunes. In a surprise move the Welsh manager made the 20 year-old the team captain, a position generally held by senior players, but by the end of the season Sociedad had climbed out of the relegation zone and finished in 14th place. Toshack applauded Alonso noting that the impression he had on the team was exceptional especially from a player from the youth team.

Toshack’s decision was proven to be correct when doubters were lurking at every corner. Xabi went on to make 30 appearances the following season with the team finishing 13th in La Liga. In 2002 there was another change of management but Xabi kept his 1st team position with the undeniable talent he’d already displayed over the previous seasons.

In 2002/03 the club finished 2nd in the league just behind Real Madrid and qualified for the much coveted Champions League. Alonso won “Spanish player of the year” and received much praise for his contribution to his team’s success.

The following season was a tough one as the extra games involved in the Champions League took its toll on the team, but a certain Rafa Benitez had seen enough of Alonso to be convinced of his undeniable ability, and on the 20th of August 2004 Xabi Alonso joined Liverpool FC for £10.7 million.

ARRIVING AT LIVERPOOL

Xabi Alonso arrived at Liverpool the same day as Luis Garcia from Barcelona. Rafa Benitez wanted to exert his own management style on the club and in a way revolutionise it by bringing in new talented players and declared that these players possessed more skill than strength which he hoped would help improve the team and give it something different.

 

Alonso made his debut for the ‘Reds’ on the 29th of August 2004 against Bolton Wanderers playing as a central midfielder and even though Liverpool lost the game on the day Alonso was already receiving praise from the critics for his passing ability. He was an immediate hit with the fans on the Kop. It’s hard to describe as a supporter but there was just a natural connection that we felt and he felt aswell saying,

“I really loved it from the first moment. The expectations were high but the moments and the feelings were even bigger. The mystique of coming down that tunnel at Anfield and touching the famous sign, then watching the Kop singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and having that made it easier to have such a close attachment with the fans and the club straight away”

As the games marched on Alonso’s talent was shinning bright and the more games he played the more his talent shone. Alonso was brought on as a substitute against Fulham after the break when the team were deflated after going 2-0 down. Alonso went on to score his first goal for the club which was a cracking free-kick and he went on to revive the whole team, and the match ended up 4-2 to the ‘Reds’.

 

Xabi continued to score important goals for us and one particular stand-out goal was his first at Anfield against Arsenal. Liverpool won the game 2-1 on the day.

Xabi’s talent consisted of his sublime passing, his perfectly weighted balls were second to none, his touch and control on the ball was otherworldly at times, and he possessed an unbelievable long-range shot which was perfect for taking free-kicks or shooting in open play at goal. He was also a tough player and possibly one of the best tacklers the Premiership had seen at the time. You could say without any hesitation that we had a World-class player on our hands and a majestic one at that.

The Arsenal game marked the return of a certain Steven Gerrard who had been missing due to injury. Finally Alonso and Gerrard could partner each other in midfield and what a partnership it would prove to become, but not immediately as Alonso suffered a broken ankle at the hands of a tackle from Frank Lampard in a home defeat against Chelsea on New Year’s Day in 2005 and Xabi was ruled out of action for three months.

Liverpool v Chelsea : News Photo

Alonso made his return after a lengthy absence in the second leg of the Champions League quarter final against Juventus. Alonso was not at full fitness, however Steven Gerrard was injured so Xabi played the full 90 minutes and Liverpool held on to a 0-0 draw with Juventus, eventually beating the Italian Champions on aggregate progressing to the next round. Alonso received much praise for his performance considering the serious injury he had just overcome. The ‘Reds’ faced rivals Chelsea in the next round but Alonso received a yellow card which would rule him out of the next tie. The game finished in a scrappy 0-0 draw and Xabi was devastated to be missing the next game and went on to appeal the decision with no avail and had to sit this one out.

However, Gerrard returned from injury for the next tie and our captain fantastic along with a goal from Luis Garcia gave Liverpool a 1-0 win on the night putting Liverpool into the final of the Champions League in Istanbul against AC Milan. What an incredible achievement for the team. LFC now had the chance to win the most coveted trophy in Europe for the first time since 1984 which would make it their 5th win.

 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL

May 2005, the Champions League final – Liverpool vs AC Milan in Istanbul. Yes, Liverpool had reached the final and this was to prove to be a memorable night to say the least!

We had the worst first half imaginable; going in at half-time 3-0 down, and we looked dead and buried.

But then the second half began. It was time for Stevie to do his job as captain and, rally his troops like never before, and try to get us back into the game!

Gerrard scored the first goal to keep the fight alive. Two minutes later, Smicer added another, and Alonso played his part by stepping up to take a penalty to bring us back into the game at 3-3. Xabi was up against Dida the Brazilian goalie, and after Xabi took the shot the Brazilian made the save but spilled the ball and Xabi was straight in after it and fired the ball into roof of the net. He had scored and brought us back into the game..

UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan v Liverpool : News Photo

Unbelievable!!! The fans nearly lifted the roof off the stadium. Fans at home, like me, were screaming, shouting, hugging, and on the verge of having a heart-attack – all at the same time!

The final whistle blew after extra time and we went to a penalty shootout. Every player and fan’s worst nightmare. But thanks to the fancy leg work by Dudek and his amazing save of Shevchenko’s penalty, Liverpool won 3-2 and we were European Champions once again. Not a bad first season for Xabi Alonso to go on and win a Champions League winners medal. This was his and every other of his teammates dream come through.

The emotion, the elation, the adrenaline, the excitement, and most of all, the pride – Xabi and the boys had won the biggest accolade in European football. The one prize that every club, player, manager and fan could ever wish for.

This was what most teams can only dream of and it was coming back to Liverpool. What an achievement; especially in the manner of our comeback after looking dead and buried at half time.

Our pride for the whole team was overwhelming. Stevie was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ which was more deserved than he will probably ever know. He got the team initially back into the game, and everyone will remember the passion on his face when trying to get all of the players to play their hearts out just like he was.

No Liverpool fan will ever forget one of the best nights of their lives – when their team staged possible the greatest comeback in footballing history. That famous night in Istanbul will stay with every single one of us forever. The memories will never fade. What a time to be a Liverpool supporter!

UEFA Champions League Final - AC Milan v Liverpool : News Photo

As Liverpool had finished outside of the top four in the Premier league that season, it resulted in them not receiving automatic qualification for the following Champions League campaign even though they were the champions. It was an absolutely ludicrous situation for the club to be embarked in and UEFA pondered for three full weeks before letting the club know if they had come up with a solution, which they did but it meant that Liverpool would enter the competition at the first stage and have to play a lot more games than the other top teams to even get near the qualification rounds. UEFA later went on to change the rules so that the winners of the cup would automatically qualify for the following campaign regardless of their League position.

The following season in an FA cup 3rd round tie on the 7th of January 2006 against Luton, Xabi contributed to the team getting back into the game by scoring two impressive goals from long-range, one was from 45 yards and the other was from 65 yards from behind the half-way line. The fans watched on as the ball bounced a few times before finally hitting the back of the net. It was incredible and only a few talented players could pull off such a goal. It was revealed after the match that one lucky fan had placed a £200 bet on Xabi scoring a such a goal and netted a wholesome £25,000. Not a bad day at the office for him or Xabi.

On the 20th of September 2006 Alonso scored what could be only described as a wonder goal in a PL encounter against Newcastle. Alonso struck the ball from 70 yards in his own half and the ball bounded straight into the goal. The stadium erupted and onlookers couldn’t believe what they’d just witnessed. It was just magical to watch such a talent. One pundit described the goal ‘as one the most audacious goals in Anfield’s rich history’ Liverpool went on to win 2-0 on the day but what a day to remember for all.

Alonso later went on to say that a lot of luck was involved in the goal but did admit however that he did practice long range shots in training, and also said that this goal was better than the one he had scored against Luton earlier in the year.

Alonso went on to suffer another ankle injury during an FA cup 3-1 win against Portsmouth which put Liverpool into the final, but Xabi was a serious doubt as to whether he’d recover in time for the tie.

He subsequently went on to start the match against West Ham, and after the ‘Reds’ received a free-kick, Xabi stepped up. He passed the ball to Gerrard who put the ball in the net. The perfect assist. However, Xabi’s injury was causing him concern and he had to substituted in the second half. The game ended in a tie and went on to a penalty shoot-out. Liverpool were victorious again and Xabi earned his first FA Cup winners medal which was fully deserved. He made only 27 appearances that season due to his reoccurring injury but still remained an integral part of the team.

FA Cup Final: Liverpool v West Ham United : News Photo

In 2007, Xavi Alonso went on the sign a new five year contract with Liverpool FC. Xavi went on to say,

“I knew there was interest from other clubs, but it was always my idea to stay at Anfield. I have been here now for 3 seasons and have such a special feelings for the club and the supporters. I understand what Liverpool fc means to so many people. It is such a special club and I just didn’t want to leave.”

The Following season of 2007/2008 had started well for Xabi. Gerard was absent due to injury and during his absence Xabi played in a more forward position scoring twice against Derby in a 6-0 thrashing, but things spiralled down-hill per-say as Xabi picked up a minor injury which became more aggravated during a training session leaving his out of action again.

The metatarsal injury left him side-lined for 6 weeks but due to his passionate nature he wanted to play every game and rushed back from injury only for it to reoccur in his first game back. Unfortunately his passion and determination were to be his downfall and he later said,

I had been feeling tired at the time because it was my first match back and the match was very fast but as a player you don’t want to come off particularly when your team is winning so I stayed on much to my own detriment”

Alonso returned fully fit on December 2007 but he now had tough competition for his place with the new boys Lukas and Mascherano. His role in the team was however assured by manager Rafa Benitez as he regarded Xabi as ‘a top class player’ and boy was he that and more! Rafa stated that Xabi had the ability to change games and breakdown the opposition’s defence. Alonso went on to make his 100th appearance for the ‘Reds’ on the 12th of January 2008 against Middlesbrough.

In 2008, the transfer window hinted that he could make a move further a field as Liverpool pursued Gareth Barry to replace him.

By the start of 2008/2009 season Alonso had stayed put at Anfield, nor did Liverpool sign Gareth Barry. The fans were relieved to know that one of their favourite most admired, and talented players was staying put for now. This left Xabi unsettled at the club as it would any player, and unsure of this position going forward!

The fans did everything they could to show the love they had for him, and tried to lift his spirits by supporting him every minute on and off the pitch, Alonso responded by saying,

The fans couldn’t have done more to show me how they felt. If I went out for lunch or coffee there was always someone who would come over and say “we’d love you to stay”. I’m glad in the end that the transfer didn’t happen as I never wanted it, nor did I ever asked to leave”

Xabi went on to impress again at the start of the new season and he was praised from a height particularly from his teammates for his strength of character and his attitude to the game considering the goings-on that had happened during the summer. He was responsible for the team making a positive start to the season and Alonso went on to score the only goal in a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge making Liverpool the first team tto beat Chelsea at home in 4 years.

According to a player form analysis by opta sport Alonso was the first Premier League player to make 1000 successful passes in a season. His final goal for Liverpool came in a 1-3 win away to Hull City on the 25th of April 2009 from a free-kick. He made a total of 47 appearances that season scoring 5 goals. In the PL he made a total of 143 appearances for the ‘Red’s’ scoring 15 goals and made a total of 210 appearances in all competitions scoring 19 goals, before departing Anfield and making his controversial move to Real Madrid on the 5th of August ’09.

The club and fans was devastated by his departure with conflicting reports coming from both the manager and the player at the time. Alonso claimed that Rafa was not happy when Xabi pulled himself out of the squad prior to a European tie and that this strained relations between the two but Xabi remained a true professional and got on with things.

During the next transfer window in 2008 Rafa approached Alonso and informed him that the club were looking to buy new players and he was first on the transfer list. Alonso was beyond dissappointed, as he was very happy at Liverpool but accepted the decision. Even though the transfer didn’t happen that season it did however happen the following season where Alonso admitted to handing in a transfer request against his will but felt he had no other option at the time.

This is a tough one, as there’s so much love in our club for both of these men. Was Rafa’s agenda financial based, or did the two just not see eye to eye. It’s such a shame as nobody wanted Xabi to leave. He was one of our best players and absolutely adored by every fan who felt he was Irreplaceable. He gave his heart and soul to our club and what a world-class talent he was. Here are some quotes from his fellow teammates.

Steven Gerrard; “ It was clear that Alonso was royalty after our first training session together in August 2004 by some distance. The best central midfielder I have ever played alongside. Alonso played with me for 5 years and was simply world class and I’m absolutely devastated that he is leaving us.”

Jamie Carragher: ”Alonso was a cool customer and was always telling me to relax and to use my brain more. It didn’t always work, ha! Ha! But he was a dream to play with.”

John Arne Riise: “ The ‘pass master’; nobody can pass the ball like Xabi Alonso. I remember him on his debut at Anfield. It probably took him 39 minutes to misplace a pass. He was an absolutely unbelievable player.”

Pepe Reina: ” He’s a quiet person and a lovely guy and a great team-mate. People know how good he is and he’s got everything. He is one of the most complete midfielders in the world.”

Jurgen Klopp: ”Xabi Alonso is an absolute world-class player. I wonder if the people at Liverpool are asking themselves was it a good idea to let him go.”

 

REAL MADRID

Xabi Alonso completed a £30 million transfer to Read Madrid on the 5th of August 2009 where he remained for five seasons. During his time in Spain he excelled and went on to win the La Liga in 2012, and the Champions League in 2014 for the second time. He went on to make 158 appearances for Real Madrid scoring 4 goals.

Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao - La Liga : News Photo

BAYERN MUNICH

Xabi joined Bayern Munich on the 29th of August 2014 on a two year contract. He made his debut the following day. His contract was later extended further by a year. He went on to win three consecutive Bundesliga titles in his three seasons at the club. The DFB-Prokal 2015/16, and the DFL-Supercup in 2016. What a career he had. He made it public in March 2017 that in the summer he would be retiring from football at the age of 35.

Real Madrid CF v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg : News Photo

INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Xabi had a glittering international career with Spain. He went on to win the European Championship in 2008 and 2012. He also won the World Cup in 2010. He was capped 114 times scoring a total of 16 goals for his country. What a fantastic achievement for any professional player to receive such honours, ones that most can only dream of, but if anyone deserved it our Xabi did. He was such a special talent and was worthy of every accolade that pursued him.

FIFA 2010 World Cup Champions Spain Victory Parade And Celebrations : News Photo

RETIREMENT

Xabi Alonso was adamant that when he decided it was time to hang up his boots he was determined to go out on a high and not to be pushed out of a club. While playing for Bayern Munich, Xabi announced in March 2017 that would be retiring from playing professional football at the end of the summer. Alonso’s decision to call time on his playing career came after more than a decade of trophy-laden success at the top level possible. Xavi went on to say;

I’m incredibly proud and I’ve experienced so much as a player with Real Sociedad, Liverpool FC, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. They’re all great clubs with world-class managers and of course with the Spanish national team. I never would have thought I’d have such a great career and I hope there’s more to come before it ends for me”

“I’ve been lucky, and have been in the right places at the right time. I would never have dreamed of such a nice career. I love football and this has been a really nice football journey”

“ I have lived it and loved it”

FUTURE PLANS

Xavi has already completed his coaching badges as his next move in his already outstanding career is to become a successful manager, and he admitted that his dream would be to become the manager of Liverpool FC but he knows first of all that he needs to prove himself as a manager first. Xabi went on to say,

if he ever got the chance to manage Liverpool my strong link, my commitment, my passion with Liverpool will always remain in his heart”

HONOURS

Liverpool

• FA Cup: 2005–06
• FA Community Shield: 2006
• UEFA Champions League: 2004–05
• UEFA Super Cup: 2005

Madrid

• La Liga: 2011–12
• Copa del Rey: 2010–11, 2013–14
• Supercopa de España: 2012
• UEFA Champions League: 2013–14

Bayern Munich

• Bundesliga: 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17
• DFB-Pokal: 2015–16
• DFL-Supercup: 2016

International

Spain

• FIFA World Cup: 2010
• UEFA European Championship: 2008, 2012

Individual

• Spanish Player of the Year: 2003
• BBC Goal of the Month: November 2004
• FIFA FIFPro World XI: 2011, 2012
• FIFA FIFPro World XI 2nd team: 2014
• FIFA FIFPro World XI 3rd team: 2013
• FIFA FIFPro World XI 4th team: 2015
• FIFA FIFPro World XI 5th team: 2016
• La Liga Best Midfielder: 2011–12
• UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament: 2012
• UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season: 2013–14
• Bundesliga Team of the Season: 2014–15

Decorations

• Gold Medal of the Royal Order of Sporting Merit: 2011

(Source: Wikipedia)

SUMMING UP

Before I begin my own summing up of this ‘Red-Legend . I went onto Twitter prior to writing this article as I wanted to hear Liverpool fans own perspective of Xabi Alonso. The response was overwhelming with the admiration and respect the fans had for him. I asked them to describe Xabi in one word and you will see some of their replies through the article as they are highlighted in red. These are links that will bring you back to their personal Twitter accounts. I have also chosen some more as I felt they deserved to be included due to their brilliance so here they are.

Clinician, Exquisite, Legend , Doyen, Joga de terno- Plays in a suit, Magnifico, El Maestro, Sauve, Perfection.

How do I beat that?

Well I’ll start by saying that Xabi Alonso was just about as good as they come. From the get-go he was the absolute perfect fit for Liverpool FC. From the moment he arrived at Anfield something very special happened between Xabi and the club but especially with us fans. He felt it and we felt it too. He felt at home immediately in Liverpool and got the people straight away. Xabi went on to say on his arrival;

The personality of the people of Liverpool is very particular. They like you to be one of them. If you’re in a bar they will offer you a pint as they want you to feel welcome, and I felt that from the very beginning when I arrived in Liverpool”

Xabi will be remembered for his all round exceptional talent his possessed. His passing skills were quiet simply sublime, and he was known as ‘the pass master’ . He was strong in defence and going forward and his vision to pick out perfectly weighted passes and execute them was magical to watch at times. He was very comfortable in possession and turned out to be one of the best tacklers in the Premier League.

Few players have ever been so universally admired world-wide, achieved so much success and played with so many top players and top managers including Rafa Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini, Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho ( ouch! that one hurt a little)

The devastation that hit Anfield the day that it was announced that Alonso would be parting ways was genuinely heartbreaking to the fans. Such a connection and love for Xabi was unanimous and that was aside from the incredible talent we were losing from our team. He was without question one of our best players and such a huge integral part of the club. Conflicting reports about his move still remain as Rafa confirmed that the player wanted to leave the club initially, but Xabi strongly denied this stating that he never asked, nor wanted to leave Anfield as he was extremely happy there. Whether the real reason was that the pair didn’t see eye to eye on things remains to be seen, but what I do know is that it’s a tricky one as there’s so much love and admiration for both of these men at Liverpool FC that any bitterness has hopefully long faded into the distance.

Finally, I want to thank Xabi Alonso for all he did for our club for the four seasons that we were so lucky to have him grace our club, and giving us fans the pleasure of watching his pure brilliance on the pitch on a weekly basis. He is still one of our biggest supporters to this day which just multiplies his popularity even more. What a true servant he was to our club and a true gent that showed nothing but respect to everyone his came in contact with. He exuded class and demure and was the complete example of a true professional. We hope to see you back at Anfield in the future Xabi as our manager as I think I speak on behalf of every fan saying that it would an honour to have you back.

XABI ALONSO  YNWA!

I just want to say a special thank you to all the fans on Twitter that contributed to my article. It was very much appreciated ???

Anneliza Walsh

I have a Twitter account called Annie's Anfield, so you can call me Annie.??

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