02 July 2009

I will pay you money to make the Alonso rumors go away

With all the gossip about a transfer to Real making me queasy, I’ve been trying to think of a way to quantify Alonso’s importance to the team. Stats are a frequent fallback, and are usually better at elucidating what I struggle to put into words.

But, as I’m quick to remind, stats don’t often tell the whole story, and that’s the case with Xabi. Liverpool’s win/loss record wasn’t much different whether Alonso started, came off the bench, or wasn't in the squad last season. He played in 47 of the team’s 55 games this season (only Carragher, Reina, and Kuyt played more), starting 40. Liverpool was 25-11-4 in games he started, 5-1-1 in games off the bench, and 5-3-0 in games he didn’t feature.

Alonso had five goals (matching his previous high from ‘05-06) and five assists – nothing special, but not too shabby (ba dum ching) for a deep-lying midfielder. And this was a season I suggested he was player of the year. And I wasn’t the only one. You just can’t get across sentiments like “…[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.” with stats.

Liverpool’s record in Alonso’s substitute appearances is interesting, but still doesn’t paint a pretty enough picture. These were:

1-0 Sunderland 8/16 (on for Plessis 46’)
3-0 WBA 11/8 (Gerrard 80’)
2-4 Spurs LC 11/12 (Plessis 64’)
0-0 Fulham 11/22 (Mascherano 64’)
5-1 Newcastle 12/28 (Benayoun 60’)
3-2 Pompey 2/7 (Dossena 66’)
2-0 WBA 5/17 (Masch 51’)

Eight of the 16 goals scored came after Alonso entered. Highlights came against Sunderland and Pompey, with an assist to Torres for the winner at the Stadium of Light and his entrance sparking an epic comeback at Fratton Park (including an assist on the first goal). He scored the fifth against Newcastle from the spot and started the move that won the penalty with a timely interception.

Again, stats don’t tell the whole story, but that’s a respectable haul off the bench. It doesn’t show, and I’m not claiming, that Alonso’s better as a sub. But I think it helps to demonstrate – and this is the point I want to get across, no matter the stats – that he’s a game-changing footballer. You can’t say that about many. And you can’t expect a team to get better by selling players like that.

You can’t quantify the only player who’s a recurring goal-threat from his own half. You can’t quantify the jaw-dropping beauty of defense-splitting passes like the aforementioned assist against Sunderland. Or moves like this. The best stat that I can come up with that emphasizes Alonso’s uniqueness and ingenuity is the fact that he got six players (Vidic, Cahill, Zabaleta, Valencia, Lampard, and Barton) sent off this season, which has to be some sort of record. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool won all six of those games.

It’s easy to see why Madrid are wooing Alonso so intently. No matter how much money they’ve spent on other players this summer, or whomever else they deign to purchase, Alonso would represent the signing of the summer. Kaka, Ronaldo, Benzema, et al are incredible attackers in their own right, but someone has to get them the ball. And while Gago and Diarra (either Diarra) are serviceable ball-winners, neither has the passing range Xabi provides. Wesley Sneidjer’s the only one who holds a candle, and there doesn’t appear to be room for him (or any of his Dutch comrades) in Perez’s team. And that Alonso's actually Spanish represents the ultimate coup for Real.

Madrid’s spending spree was infuriating before all the attention was on Alonso (and Arbeloa, but that’s another matter). This, unfortunately and obviously, makes it personal. They’ve thrown around a distasteful amount of money so far, outspending even the nouveau riche City, and yet the figures proposed for a player of Alonso’s caliber have been at least £10m too light.

But even if Real offered a legitimate fee for Alonso, Liverpool’s response should be Xeroxed copies of Benitez’s behind. Because there are few, if any, who could replace what Alonso brings to the team and Rafa’s style of play.


Abhiram said...

Great article nate. We don't want to lose Alonso and atleast not this year. I feel if we are able to keep hold of Alonso and Mascher, we'll win the league this time around.

But, if i play the devil's advocate and say if Alonso leaves, what then? We can also look into the condition of Mascher leaving but that is looking remote after Toure signed his new contract with Barcelona. Added to that, only one of them will go if anyone goes at all and Alonso is the likely candidate. So what do you think we might do?

I have a vague idea of what Rafa might do and i am sure that will not be even remotely similar to what Rafa's going to do but i'll speak about it after you givu out your thoughts.

Fan Futbol said...

Selling Xabi seems insane to me -- I just can't even think of an available possible replacement. Abhiram -- definitely speak up if you've got the answer!

Methinks Benitez played this one very badly. The shameless (and puzzling) Barry pursuit last year really soured his relationship with Alonso, apparently. While Rafa's not exactly known for his people skills, I think even he could have made a better effort to maintain a warmer relationship with Xabi.

Money always talks, but I cannot help but think (like many) that a Xabi transfer would be much less likely if the Benitez-Alonso relationship were better.


nate said...

I honestly have no idea what Benitez would do if Xabi forced an exit.

I can't think of any similar players who're either affordable (even considering what Alonso's sale would recoup) or young enough to be considered (aka not Pirlo).

My best guess is Benitez would buy someone (some names mooted have been Javi Martinez, Felipe Melo, Gaetano D'Agostino, but I don't know enough about any of those three), but a lot of the playing time would go to Lucas, just because he's familiar with the system and Benitez is familiar with the player.

Mike Georger said...

I cannot believe Alonso, who has such a strong personal and family connection to Sociedad and Basque soccer, would want to play for Real. If he goes, I sadly think it will be about money. And if he goes for anything less than forty million, the new CEO or whatever they're calling him needs to get fired immediately. You cannot bargain for players if you just bought someone for eighty million pounds.

As for Mascherano, if he really is only making 20-30k a week, we need to increase his wages.

vinnie said...

yea, i couldn't believe maschie's wage is so humble

i'm pretty sure rafa and xabi himself know that xabi is the core of the system. w/out xabi, gerrard can't get the supply or play freely in the hole behind torres, thus limiting his attacking capabilities

off topic, man utd is after owen, that's if he passes strict medical test. i have always thought that owen might work out well as a squad player, to back up torres when in need. he's old but we don't have to pay a cent to get his signature. problem is he wants first team football, which is not going to be the case here, nor at united

mjs said...

Brilliant take. And if Xabi flees, perhaps Rafa shifts tactics?

Gerrard falls back, a striker comes in, and perhaps another dutch player comes north? Robben? Sneidjer?

Abhiram said...

Guys, we all know how important Alonso is to our team. But since he's silent on these rumors, i am inclined to think he'll be leaving us at the right price. Rafa will surely not let such an important player in our setup to go without finding a suitable replacement. When I say ‘a suitable replacement’ its not necessarily the player himself, it can be the system we play, change of style etc One thing is for sure. If Alonso stays, I am quite confident we’ll win the Premier League but if he doesn’t, we might still win it but it will be a lot tougher. Most of you will agree with me if I say we can’t replace Alonso and expect results from his replacement immediately. So we’ll have to make do without that kind of game.

We might revert to 4-4-2 with Gerrard coming back to the CM position. Then, we’ll have to bring in a good striker who can complement Torres. This can work. If this amounts to solidity in the middle and a few less goals to Gerrard, fine with me. Or we’ll have to play the 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2

Gerrard-(Silva type player or)
Torres-(A good striker)

Mascherano’s agent is making too much smoke just to get him a pay rise. If he’s getting 20-30k as mentioned in the tabloids, he surely needs a hike.

Mike Georger said...

"Rafa will surely not let such an important player in our setup to go without finding a suitable replacement"

I realize this isn't a perfect analogy, but remember when we sold Keane and sat on the money we got without trying to get another offensive player? That could have come in handy when Torres and Gerrard were hurt at various times.

The fact that we played the second half of the season with one true striker on our books, when United had a minimum of three, was ludicrous.

Abhiram said...

I might be wrong here Mike Georger but i think we played pretty well after the mid transfer season than before it. Nate might be able to give us numbers to prove what i am going to say.

I want to drive home the point that we did not do any better with an extra striker in the first half of the season than what we did without him in the latter half. Gerrard and Torres had their share of injuries even even in the second half of the season. But the team had adjusted by then. We played better even in games where we missed important player. Benny came good and Kuyt found form.

This can mean Benitez understood that Keane was redundant and was to be shipped off pronto. He did not wait till the end of the season because he probably knew he'd not play him much in the next 6 months anyway and decreasing his price further down. So i guess its not a good (read correct) analogy.

Abhiram said...

I got to know one more thing. Mascherano got 9 mil of his 17 mil transfer as a part of the contract and that was the reason he was signed on for 30k a week. I think its a fair evaluation. If he's not happy with it, he needs to speak to the Manager and the club and not the media.

I know its not him creating the ruckus but he can always call his agent and ask him to shut the f**k up! He's not doing that and thats irritating.

nate said...

Keane leaving was good for the club. He should have never been bought, and I'm glad that he was sold, even if there was no time to buy a replacement.

Admittedly, Liverpool might have done better had Benitez been able to buy someone else, but there wasn't anyone really available, and being January, Liverpool definitely would have paid over the odds.

Abhiram is right; the numbers completely tell the story:

Keane’s last appearance was the 1-1 draw against Everton in the league on 1/19, but he made the bench in the 1-1 draw at Wigan on 1/28. So I guess we’ll use the Wigan game as the divider.

With Keane: 20-13-2
Goals scored: 56 goals (1.6 goals per game)

Post Keane: 14-3-3
Goals scored: 50 goals (2.5 goals per game)

It's not even close. Now, Benitez's teams have always been better in the second half of the season, and Torres was healthier in the second half as well, but that's an enormous disparity. And I think it shows Keane's true impact on the team.

Mike Georger said...

That's why I said it wasn't perfect, because Keane leaving was good, but I still think it was odd nobody was brought in. Did we really only draw three times after he left?

Mike Georger said...

Oh and the larger point was: you never, ever, ever, know what Benitez is going to do in the transfer window, especially since it's so hard to tell what moves were his and what moves were Parry's (aside from buying Keane of course).

Vinnie said...

I still think Alonso is indispensable even with 50M. It's a proven system and remembers clearly the match against stoke. Lucas was closed down so systematically and had no time to control the ball, let alone playmake. Whereas closing down Alonso is not easy n look at the red cards he attracted. Like Nate says, time slows down with him on the ball. He can breakdown defensive trench like stokes.

My mate told me football365 reported that Alonso set the deadline for Madrid to mid July or he's staying, in other words it's up to the manager or owners decisio. The reason he's not playing down the speculation is due to Barry saga last season

Mike Georger said...

"You cannot bargain for players if you just bought someone for eighty million pounds."

Well if the media is to believed, and they aren't, then Real may have gotten themselves in exactly this position. 35 million is a steal considering what they've been throwing out this summer. I still wouldn't let him go for that.