How Important Was Xabi Alonso?
The man, the myth, the legend.
All the reasons surrounding Liverpool’s decline have one thing in common. They center around the fact that there are too few great or even very, very, good players in the squad. The owners are terrible, but only because they spend all the club’s revenue on interest payments instead of transfer payments. Hodgson and Benitez aren’t the greatest managers in the world (I’m still a fan of Rafa, especially now), but if you put them in charge of Chelsea, they’d at least be in the Champions League places. What it all boils down to is squad quality.
The lack of big names with big ability hits hard especially in central midfield, where Liverpool have shoehorned Gerrard because he gets scraps in the hole behind Torres. There is nobody to spray passes wide, thread balls through, give the offense at the very least some bite, some edge. The last time Liverpool truly had that, they came second in the League, and a man named Xabi Alonso had his best season in a red shirt, and ever since fans have groaned at his absence.
Stats will tell you he had three league goals, and five league assists. If he played a direct part in only eight goals what was all the fuss? He wasn’t an enforcer, winning back possession with tackles, Mascherano did that, and could retain possession perfectly well. So why is Alonso widely known as the better half of that pairing?
What he does, isn’t spectacular, (well he scores goals from over the half-way line sometimes but aside from that), he not only retains possession, but unlike Lucas, who only plays short, safe passes, Alonso moves the ball to people in space where they can make a difference. He doesn’t provide finishing touches so much as he initiates a move. Keeping the ball on the ground while simultaneously advancing up the pitch seems to be something Liverpool have forgotten how to do.
Entire sides have been built on players such as Alonso, Scholes has a hand in almost everyone of United’s goals, and Pirlo plays a similar role for AC Milan. Moving the ball wherever they want, always on point, they can run the opponent ragged, especially when part of a team that presses its opponents a lot, and the ball is won higher up the field. They also free up other players to score, providing a more balanced attack. The 2008/9 season saw Liverpool with an attack where at least four players could be relied on to score (Benayoun/Babel, Torres, Kuyt, Gerrard), whereas now most of those are preoccupied with creating chances, rather than taking them.
So how important was he? Pretty important, but even without him Liverpool should have finished higher than seventh last season and should not be in the relegation places this season. What he does can be done at, not quite the same level of success, but with reasonable quality, by lesser players, such as Meireles. His breakout year might not even have occurred if Benitez hadn’t angered him by trying to replace him with Barry. Yet, not another season of FIFA goes by that I don’t overpay to get him back, at the very least for the memories.