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The Rise and Rise of Xabi Alonso
- Updated: 4 May, 2012
When Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez paid Spanish club Real Sociedad £10 million to bring Xabi Alonso to Anfield in 2004, few could have predicted the impact the midfielder would have on the Merseyside club; both while there and in the years following his departure.
The Spanish international became a fan favourite at Anfield and was the driving force, along with Steven Gerard, behind Liverpool’s amazing 2005 Uefa Champions League triumph in Istanbul. The team played some of the best football in Europe and it appeared only a matter of time before they finally ended their long wait to bring a league title back to Anfield.
Five years later, however, and Alonso was gone; sold to Spanish giants Real Madrid for £30 million. Liverpool slumped in his absence and have struggled to replace the player who has just helped Jose Mourinho’s side break the four-year Barcelona-domination of La Liga. The sale of Alonso has proven to have had an almost terminal effect on Liverpool, in no way compensated by the fee the club received for him. Not that they are complaining in the Spanish capital of course.
Xabi Alonso and Real Madrid are a match made in heaven. Stylish, suave and imperious, they complement each other perfectly and the player seems to have finally found his calling at the famous club.
His influence on the game is often seen as low key, but so vital. He conducts himself with immaculate professionalism and his passing is sublime to watch.
Xabi is renowned as an accomplished ball player with his passing and awareness making him the perfect holding midfielder, breaking up attacks and then quickly distributing the ball to the more attack minded players. However, he has also greatly improved his tackling since his early days at Liverpool.
Like all the best players, when he is in possession he seems to have so much time on the ball; yet another product of the “golden generation” of Spanish Football.
Xabier Alonso Olanso was born in Tolosa in 1981, the son of ex-Real Sociedad and Barcelona midfielder Miguel Alonso who also won 20 caps for his country. As a youngster he befriended fellow local prospect Mikel Arteta, with both going onto enjoy highly succesful professional careers – including a eriod when they played on opposite side for the two Merseyside giants of Liverpool and Everton.
At the age of 17 Alonso signed for La Liga side Real Sociedad, along with his brother Mikel, and the youngster impressed enough in the B team to earn a first team debut aged 18. His rise into the first team coincided with a slump in the clubs fortunes and, midway through the season, new coachr John Toshack came in with the club bottom of the table and in dire straits.
Toshack saw something in Xabi Alonso and, in a surprise move made him captain at the tender age of 19. The team turned the season around and managed to avoid relegation. The next season the experienced Toshack continued to mould and develop Alonso, whomade 30 appearances as the club finished mid-table.
The end of 2002 saw Toshack’s departure, however new coach Raynald Denoueix came in and took the club to new levels. The 2002-2003 campaign saw the club finish second in the league – their best finish for 20 years.
Alonso was unanimously praised and he won the Spansih Player of the Year award award as well as being rewarded with a call up to the national team.
It would prove difficult for the club to replicate the success of the previous season, and in 2003/04 they struggled, finishing 15th in La Liga. However they did reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, thanks to some great performances from Alonso.
It was following his 2004 move to Liverpool that the Spaniard really came to global prominence however. He was new manager Rafa Benitez’s marquee signing, costing just over £10 million, brought in along with Luis Garcia from barcelona to add some flair to the Anfield club.
A promising first season saw him become an integral part of the Liverpool line up and his partnership with Steven Gerrard ended on the grandest of stages, the Uefa Champions League Final. In Istanbul, Alonso sealed an eternal place in Liverpool fans hearts as he scored the equaliser against Milan before his side went on to lift the trophy on penalties.
An FA Cup triumph came the following season, as the club went from strength to strength. Alonso was now at the hub of one of the best teams in England.
The signing of Javier Mascherano in 2007 saw Liverpool flourish and with the Argentine playing a holding role, Alonso was given the freedom he needed to exert more influence on the game. Continued success in the Champions League saw the team reach another final; again against Milan, however they were unable to reproduce the heroics of 2005 as they lost 2-1 to the Italians in Athens.
Soon after reports began to circulate that Alonso could be set for a potential move back to Spain – something which caused uproar among Liverpool fans, however these soon subsided as he remained on Merseyside.
The team continued to improve with a backbone of Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres making Liverpool one of the strongest sides in European football.
During the 2007/08 season, Beneitez’s side pushed eventual champions Manchester United right to the wire in the Premier League, and again performed well in the Champions League again, however Xabi Alonso’s time at Anfield was now nearing an end.
Alonso insisted he was happy at Liverpool, but Benitez’s attempt to move him on the previous season had now convinced the playerit was time for change.; it is a testament to his professionalism that he played so sensationally in his final season despite knowing he would be leaving.
In the summer of 2009, Alonso moved to the Santiago Bernabeu for a Liverpool record £30million and has excelled ever since. The stability and quality that he has imposed on the Real Madrid midfield is arguably as influential as Ronaldo’s attacking and he has been instrumental in the club’s charge to the La Liga crown this season.
In a team that has seen it’s fair share of controversy this season, Xabi Alonso has had substantial influence at the heart of the team; keeping his head when others around him may have lost theirs. A consummate professional and a world-class footballer. A true legend of the modern game – just ask the Liverpool fans who still idolise him today.