The Midfield Maestro. The Long Ranger. Flawless GQMF.
It is with equal parts shame and pride that I’ll confess to not liking him when news first broke of his move to Liverpool from Real Sociedad in 2004. Firstly, he was one-half of the Spanish twosome (the other being Luis Garcia) whose purchase was partly-funded by the money Real Madrid CF paid Liverpool FC for the sale of Michael Owen, and since my “I’ve-just-lost-my-favourite-footballer-to-another-club” wound was still so raw that it was seriously impairing my ability to think clearly, it was with near-complete disdain that I assessed his arrival. Secondly, he was handed the number 14 shirt, which was then an empty number for several years, and since it’s my favourite number, my line of thinking was that even a football demigod wouldn’t be deemed worthy to have that number on their back (real mature of me, I know). I immediately decided that I was not going to like this Spaniard–Ever.
However, Alonso proceeded to prove me wrong on every account of my rather-superficial and highly-irrational disdain for him with every single match that he played, with every single pass he completed. The fluidity of his passing and sheer awareness of the game made me appreciate the midfield wars and tactics as much as I anticipate the elusive attacking breakaways. I consider him as one of the most clever and intelligent footballers out there–he’s calm in the face of a storm, confident without being arrogant and a natural leader without being an usurper. Far from being a flashy player, he still ends up as one of the most powerful and influential players in any match when he is at his absolute best. From club football to international football, his sheer class shines through. Eminence grise, indeed.
Even though he resisted the overtures of Juventus, when Real Madrid came a-calling, it was an offer he could not refuse, and when he left Anfield to come back to the Spanish La Liga to join Los Blancos, I felt a deep and immeasurable sadness stemming from the knowledge that Liverpool FC will never be the same again.
This year though has brought about a double whammy: His time in the International stage and in La Liga has come to a close. True, he will still be very much visible in club football terms as he is now part of the German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, but now that he has vacated the number 14 La Roja and Real Madrid shirts, the hole that was left is truly a Herculean task to fulfill.
And so in the end, I was (partly) right—in my eyes, no one can possibly wear the number 14 shirt of Liverpool FC (and La Roja) ever again and be really, truly, categorically worthy of it. It’s just not possible. Xabi Alonso set the bar far too high.