Liverpool and Spain legend Xabi Alsonso turns 35 today and, along with the retirement of midfield partner Steven Gerrard, the occasion is causing many to cast their minds back to his time at Anfield.
Here at Shoot! we love a trip down memory lane to happier climbs, and Alonso’s spell brought some of the happiest times to the red half of Merseyside.
Having signed from Real Sociedad under Rafa Benitez, Xabi Alonso wasn’t immediately looked at as a quality ball playing midfield. He went about his business slowly but surely, forming a destructive relationship with legend Steven Gerrard.
The 34 year-old’s best attributes included his calmness on the ball, ability to pick a pass and long range shooting. But overall, the passion he showed when he put on a Liverpool shirt made him a fan favourite.
Along with Gerrard, Alonso was the Spanish cog in a strong Liverpool spine that challenged at the top and nearly won the league, finishing second in what can only be seen as a successful yet disappointing season. Pepe Reina kept everything out while Fernando Torres hit the form of his life. How Liverpool didn’t become champions with a midfield three of Alonso, Gerrard and Mascherano is still a question asked by many today.
However, Alonso was a member of a cup winning side for the Reds, in a game which defined his cult hero status. Istanbul is a name that all Liverpool fans greet with amazing memories and stories, all of which couldn’t be retold if it weren’t for Alonso.
Having clawed two goals back from being 3-0 down, Liverpool were on the verge of completing the greatest comeback in Champions League history. Up stepped Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard had his penalty saved following Gerrard’s burst into the box, but met the rebound sweetly and fired into the top of the net. Liverpool drew the game 3-3 and went on to win on penalties, completing their fifth Champions League victory.
The Spaniard worked well with Gerrard and Torres, but another two significant strikes in a Liverpool shirt were created all by himself, against Luton Town and Newcastle United. A phenomenal strike from inside his own half sealed a thrilling cup tie against Luton, firing into an empty net with his left foot. However, it was easily bettered with another long range effort against Newcastle. After winning the ball, Alonso saw Steve Harper off his line and pinged a ridiculous effort over the slipping keeper. The Anfield crowd erupted, and Alonso was written into Liverpool history.
Not many fans could argue with his departure in 2009. Real Madrid came calling and it was a chance he couldn’t pass up. But it was one Alonso didn’t originally want to take. Interest from Benitez in Gareth Barry made Alonso feel unwanted and he was even told that he would be sold. His love for the club was still evident despite his departure, and all Red’s fans acknowledge and appreciate that. Many look out for the midfielder now and get excited at the prospect of his return, should that day come.