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.