24 March 2009

Xabi Alonso – Player of the Year

My biggest blogging regret – and there are a few – is writing ‘if Rafa wants Barry over Alonso, it should happen’ over the summer. I could not have been more wrong, but thanks to Martin O’Neill’s intransigence, it never came to that.

I don’t mean to downplay Gerrard’s importance to the team – 20+ goals, one of the finest seasons of his career, a smashing partnership with the game’s top striker, and he’s probably the best all-around player in the world. The kudos from Zidane, the flirtation from Real Madrid, all proof of Gerrard’s value. But Xabi Alonso makes this team tick.

There was a quote from the Daily Telegraph report after last Sunday’s match against Villa that I absolutely adore. “…[T]he star of the show was Xabi Alonso. The Basque appears to operate in a vortex, time slowed around him so he always seems to have space. It is a rare gift.”

Rare to say the least. Alonso doesn’t move into space, he creates it from thin air with his positioning and close control, and has the vision to play a pass to any part of the pitch from anywhere else. He is an absolute artist – directing traffic seemingly without a care in the world, coolly spreading the ball wherever he sees fit to start the attack.

I’m reminded of a Renaissance book I read as an undergraduate called The Book of the Courtier. One had to have many talents to fit into a Renaissance court, but most important was:
“…[T]o practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”
That’s Alonso. That’s Alonso to a tee.

And it’s his absences that truly demonstrate his importance.

On the bench for the opening game against Sunderland, he comes in to play a perfect throughball for Torres to score the winner. Plessis hasn’t gotten a sniff in the league since. Alonso was similarly important off the bench against Pompey last month.

Suspended against Manchester City in February, Liverpool plays out an unimpressive draw. He didn’t play against Wigan a month earlier as well, another which ended 1-1, or in the second draw against Stoke, where Liverpool struggled to pass through a paper bag, in early January.

It’s not as if Liverpool hasn’t been crap at times when he’s played – the Middlesbrough loss and the first draw against Stoke stick out – but those are exceptions rather than rules. I firmly believe that if either the Mancs or the Arse had him, they’d walk to the title.

And that’s not even touching upon his personality – how he’s classy, cultured, and seemingly Benitez personified on the field. I’d put a hefty wager on him becoming a top manager after his career.

What a player. So glad he’s ours.


Ed said...

Well said, he's been our best, so glad we *had* to hang on to him.

You seem inspired ever since that Run of Play post about Kuyt, you're getting all deep and shit, referencing the Renaissance and Oppenheimer, it's great.

nate said...

Hahaha, called out. And you're right. I read too much, might as well put it to use. Plus, I love pretending to look smart for a worldwide audience.

Ed said...

I love it, I've been trying to figure out a way to reference Graham Greene lately without sounding smarmy, I'm holding out until someone on the squad has a spiritual crisis...probably Dossena, he looks existential enough.

vinnie said...

i still remember the nil all draw against stoke city with lucas playing for alonso due to the injury he picked up in the league cup

lucas just doesn't have the cool head (yet?) to distribute passes and make the play when stoke players are closing down the midfield swiftly and orderly

Abhiram said...

Very well written post... Surely inspired by the run of play post. You are a very good writer nate! Expressing ideas such that it is understandable by a lame man(me :)) and be worthy of appreciation is a gift indeed.

Alonso is indeed our player of the year. He has been magnificent. I still feel we have a place for Barry. He will and should not replace Alonso though.

I remember clearly that Rafa wanted Alonso to stay too. Since we were short of funds and the owners asked us to sell players before buying, Alonso's name came up. Every one would agree that even if Alonso stayed with us after we bought Barry, he would definitely not be on bench. He's too good for that. We need this kind of quality midfield if we are to challenge for the Premier league title. Compare our midfield to other club midfields.

Mancs - Hargreaves, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Anderson and Giggs

Chels - Ballack, Lampard, Obi Mikel, Essien, Deco, Belletti

Arsenal - There are many...

My point is Barry will only add to our squad. Only if we can get Barry keeping Alonso.

irfaanfr said...

Well said great post!!Alonso must stay I want a winger in the likes of David Silva!!

Anonymous said...


I think one of the reasons we've been able to beat the other Big Four teams this year is directly related to our midfield being much better. They may have more depth, but I don't think any team aside from Barca has as much quality in the middle of the park as us when we play Alonso and Mascherano.

nate said...

Thanks for the compliments, all.


Would Barry be happy playing some of time compared to being a big fish in a smaller pond, to put it as inartfully as possible?

The more I think about it - and maybe this is just trying to rationalize what I wrote over the summer - the more I think it might have been Barry instead of Riera rather than Barry instead of Alonso. This sure looks like a Rafa line-up:

Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Barry

Wouldn't explain the Alonso transfer gossip, but maybe he just would have recouped the most money, with Lucas/Barry filling his role, if his sale was needed. Him staying is far better than that option though.

And, if the above were the case, I'd still rather Riera. Similar goal return (Barry's 7 to Riera's 5, but consider where they play and that Barry takes pens), but Riera's ability to hug the touchline has given Liverpool an added, much-needed dimension.

So yeah, I don't really see the need for Barry. I see the need for a Robben/Silva type (ideally one that's not a irritant cough*Arjen*cough), but that's about it.

nate said...

Oh, and I'd rather a midfield of

Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Lucas, and Aurelio, Spearing, Plessis if needed

rather than Chelsea or United's.

Squad depth is good to a certain extent, but it seems like some of those players are wasted with the amount of time they see. Players only see playing time if they're in the top two in their position (so 4 CBs and CMs).

Tanuj Lakhina said...

The best part of Alonso's game for me as a midfielder is his ability to spread the ball and send out long balls from one side of the pitch to another.That is sheer accuracy and a great dimension of a players' game.The same tirade can be/was used by him with goal attempts from half way line and I think he scored one from half way line two years back in the FA cup.

Anonymous said...

^ We drew Luton Town in the FA cup
Xabi and the keeper had a race
Xabi took a shoot from 70 yards
You should've seen the look on Gerrard's face!

Tanuj Lakhina said...

Yep that's the game am talking about.Awesome goal that!

Anonymous said...

A-L-O-N-S-O! It's Alonso!