Studs Up

Alonso Finally Goes.
August 6, 2009, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Football, Liverpool FC


It’s been a ridiculously long time coming, but Alonso has finally signed for Real Madrid. Rafa Benitez himself confessed yesterday day that Alonso had voiced his desire to leave way back in May, so the fact that it has taken 3 m0nths for the transfer to finally conclude must be frustrating for all concerned. Certainly from a Liverpool fan’s perspective, the fact that the whole thing has become a public saga chronicled daily on the back pages of every newspaper suggests that the trend of poor administration which saw Owen leave and Gerrard nearly follow him a few seasons back has not ended with the departure of Rick Parry. 

Reports in the media suggest that Liverpool have already agreed a fee with Roma for their midfielder Alberto Aquilani. However, since Liverpool have been in contact regarding the player’s availability for weeks, this is not really significant news. Aquilani’s medical is the next major hurdle in that particular transfer. Either way, Alonso was widely regarded as a key player at Anfield, and Aquilani does not represent an exact replacement. So as many Liverpool fans make their voices heard in protest at what they perceive to be a voluntary and thus misguided sale on the part of Benitez, it’s interesting to ask the question, how badly will Alonso be missed by Liverpool this season?


Jan Molby was one of the finest central-midfield playmakers to play the game. His control and awareness were 2nd to none to the extent that he achieved a reputation as a truly top-class footballer whilst carrying an extra couple of stones in weight for his entire career. Indeed, since Alonso delivered his first passing masterclass on English shores on his home debut (Norwich gave him space and didn’t know what had hit them), he’s often been described as “at least the best passer of the ball since Molby”. So the fact that the rotund Dane regards Alonso as at least Liverpool’s 3rd most influential player is significant. And while I wouldn’t like to say that Alonso is necessarily more influential than the likes of Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Jamie Carragher and Javier Mascherano, I do feel that Alonso had an outstanding 2008/2009 season. At his best, he shows a wonderful ability to make maintaining possession significantly easier for his team mates by offering for the simple pass and then moving the ball on to another teammate who is in a decent amount of space. In terms of the process pundits refer to as “recycling possession”, there are none better than Xabi.


On the other hand, you could argue that during a season in which Liverpool scored more league goals than any of their domestic rivals, Alonso’s relatively meagre contribution of 3 goals and 4 assists suggests another view. Moreover, arguably Liverpool’s best result of last season (their 4-1 win at Old Trafford) was achieved with Lucas Leiva in central midfield, not Alonso. Dave Prentice, the Liverpool Echo’s Deputy Head of Sport, recently put forward his views on the matter in an interesting v-log. Although I’m not sure about the accuracy of his statistics, I think his argument that Alonso represents something of a luxury in midfield is worth considering. Prentice suggests that having 2 deep-lying central midfielders places too much responsibility of wide players to create and score goals, and argues that the money from Alonso’s sale could be used to strengthen those wide areas whilst bringing in a more attack-minded central midfielder. And the fact that recent successes of teams such as Man Utd, Barcelona and Chelsea have been achieved with only 1 holding midfielder supports this. So perhaps Liverpool will have a better balance next season if they replace Alonso with Aquilani (or a similarly attacking central midfield player) and use the surplus money from Alonso’s sale plus anything extra raised from selling remaining fringe players to reinforce the wide areas. It’s an interesting argument, but not one I actually buy into. Last season, Liverpool scored more league goals than any other team, and Alonso was voted the fans’ player of the season. As far as I’m concerned, any debate about his contribution and how he affects the balance of the team ends with those two simple facts. He was a key player, and not one who ought to have been sold voluntarily.

Which brings me to the next issue in the Alonso saga. Did Rafa Benitez decide to sell him? Could he have kept him? As I said above, Rafa Benitez admitted yesterday that Alonso had made his desire to leave clear right back in May, and Alonso confirmed this when speaking to the Spanish press following the completion of his transfer. Last summer, Gareth Barry and Cristiano Ronaldo were examples of clubs managing to withstand the rise of “player-power”, but those are the exceptions to the rule. These days, when a player wants to leave, he leaves, and a contract only gives the club who hold the player’s registration a little bit of extra bargaining clout in terms of the transfer fee. So in defence of Benitez, he might have had no choice. But actually, whether or not it would have been possible to deny Alonso his wish this summer, I think Benitez himself has contributed significantly to that the player having that wish in the first place. Firstly, it was clear to everyone last summer that Benitez wanted to sell Alonso and buy Gareth Barry, only financial constraints prevented him from doing so (and if he’d succeeded, then bearing in mind that he also signed Robbie Keane and Andrea Dossena, it would have been a summer of business on a par with Houllier’s infamous Diouf-Diao-Cheyrou fiasco). Ever since then, Alonso must have felt less wanted and valued on Merseyside. Secondly, even if he was wanted after last season’s vast improvement, since Benitez is notoriously aloof with his players, he may never have felt properly appreciated. Finally, although agents and journalists ensure that there can actually be plenty of smoke without an actual fire during the transfer window, I think Javier Mascherano has flirted with the idea of a move abroad this summer. Benitez’s response has been to completely deny him that option, so it can be done if the manager really wants it. Therefore, in my opinion Rafa Benitez will stand or fall by what I regard as his decision to allow Alonso to leave. If we slump back into a race for 4th place next season, with a midfield that lacks the balance of last season, then he’ll definitely have reason to feel hot under the collar. On the other hand, if our squad is stronger overall, then it will go down as a wonderful judgement. For now, all we can say is, “we’ll see”.

Don't shake his hand Xabi!

Don't shake his hand Xabi!

In the meantime, Liverpool fans will remember Alonso as one of the finest passers of the ball to wear the red shirt. His penalty in Istanbul, both his goals from inside his own half, his tremendous display during the 10-men demolition of Everton and his constant and total level of professionalism and dignity will not be forgotten. He travels to Madrid with the best wishes of every proper Liverpool fan.

Oh the man is a midfield maestro
And his passing is so delightful
Everyone wants to know
Alonso, Alonso, Alonso.

Good luck Xabi (I’ll miss that song).



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