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.