Xabi Alonso announced this week that he intends to bring the curtain down on his playing career at the end of the season and, deservedly so, has been inundated with fitting tributes from those who have watched him and played with him over the years.
In his Daily Mail column, ex-teammate Jamie Carragher has spoken glowingly of the Spaniard who won the 2005 Champions League on that famous night in Istanbul defeating AC Milan having gone in at half time 3-0 down.
That famous night in 2005 was part of 16 honours, including the World Cup with Spain, which the 35-year-old has won in a glorious career that saw him represent Real Sociedad, Eibar and, more famously, Liverpool, Real Madrid and current club Bayern Munich.
Carragher spoke of the talent Alonso immediately showed upon his arrival at Anfield in 2004.
“It was the pace he put on a pass and the expert way he delivered a ball that showed him to be a top player. In one of his first games against Norwich, I had never seen a display of passing like it. You knew as a defender if you gave him the ball, it was in the safest hands.”
“He could use both feet — look at how he took a penalty in the 2005 Champions League final with his right foot, saw it saved and converted the rebound with his left foot to bring us back to 3-3 — and scored spectacular goals, with two of his 19 for Liverpool coming from the halfway line! There was much more, though, than what you saw on the pitch.”
Carragher goes into great detail of how there was uproar at the club when Rafa Benitez wanted to sell their star player in 2008, and replace him with Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.
“He was a strong character, loved by the fans, so when Benitez wanted to sell him in 2008 there was uproar and there was an episode during a pre-season game with Lazio at Anfield when the Kop sang ‘You can stick your Gareth Barry up your a***’ about his potential replacement.
“Rafa’s intention was to off-load Xabi for £30million and buy Barry for half that price. The appeal of Barry was that he was English and could play in two or three positions. But, believe it or not, only Juventus and Arsenal were keen to take Xabi.
“When it became clear those interested in Xabi were only prepared to pay £15m — and Aston Villa wanted £30m for Barry — the club pulled the plug. I, along with a lot of others, was delighted but there’s no doubt the intervention caused problems, with Rafa and Xabi, and Rafa and the board.”
Carragher’s joy was short-lived though and Real Madrid came calling a year later, still uncomfortable at how his manager had tried to ship him out, along with the lure of returning to Spain to one of the greatest teams in the world, Alonso departed to the disappointment of his Liverpool teammates and fans.
The Sky Sports pundit is still angry when he thinks back to that period and wonders what might have been if Benitez hadn’t unnecessarily rocked the boat by trying to offload one of his best players.
“Benitez had his best team in five years at Anfield. We were close to having a team that could win the Premier League and perhaps reach another Champions League final. Why did he have to continue the fight with Xabi?”
While Carragher reflects on what might have been at Liverpool, he knows his former teammate deserves all the plaudits that will come his way, and can see the 35-year-old continue to be involved in the game.
“I can see him managing a top club or, perhaps, being a sporting director but, knowing him, he will not rush into any decision. When June comes, he deserves the chance to reflect on what has been a beautiful career.”
Damien McEvoy, Pundit Arena