Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Xabi Alonso

654 days since his emotional leaving of Liverpool - and six years on from the glory of Istanbul, Xabi Alonso has a story to tell.

Alonso's Liverpool story is one of Champions League and FA Cup success, ridiculous long-range goals, defence splitting passes and general midfield mastery.

But the way it all came to an end left something of a bad taste in the mouth.

Fans all over the world were left devastated when the deal to take Alonso to Madrid - a deal which had been on the cards for 12 months after then manager Rafael Benitez confirmed his interest in pursuing the signing of Gareth Barry in the transfer market - finally went through in the summer of 2009.

Suddenly the club's midfield play-maker had gone; the man who made it all happen in the centre of the field and the man who had driven Liverpool to within touching distance of the league title with a record number of points.

Surely he would want to stay and help the Reds take that next, big, elusive step? We had gone so close - why did he have to end his Liverpool love affair now?

The truth can be found by rewinding 12 months when the manager dropped an end of season bombshell on his Spanish star.

Xabi Alonso has revealed he had no choice but to leave L
iverpool once Rafael Benitez made it clear he was planning to sign a replacement in midfield and he no longer had the full confidence of the manager.

Alonso left Anfield for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, after Liverpool had finished second in the Premier League within four points of champions Manchester United, and the Spain international has now lifted the lid on the reasons for his departure.

After 12 months of speculation over Liverpool's interest in Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry, Alonso ran out of patience and decided to leave Merseyside.

Benitez never managed to adequately replace Alonso, despite telling the player he would be one of the first out of the door. Alberto Aquilani arrived from Roma in a £20 million deal, but his time at Anfield was dogged by injuries and he was loaned to Juventus shortly after Benitez was sacked 12 months ago.

Alonso may now wear the white of Real Madrid but throughout our chat it's clear the red of Liverpool still has an extra special place in his heart.

Before the camera started rolling on our interview, he was keen to hear about the latest news from Anfield and Melwood, about what the atmosphere is like at the training ground and about the general feeling around the club at the end of another season.

His last visit to Anfield was for a game in December during the closing weeks of Roy Hodgson's reign and he remarked of getting a strong sense that all was not well. He was clearly pleased when reassured the club today is vastly different to how it was just a few short months ago.

While talking through the ups and downs of his five years on Merseyside it's clear one date and one night in particular still brings out a bigger smile than any other.

May 25, 2005. Istanbul. The Champions League final. It may have been six years ago today but for Xabi, and most probably for everyone else glued to their TV sets or inside the Ataturk Stadium on that famous night, the memories come flooding back as though it all happened yesterday.

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