Rafa Benitez must be scratching his head in despair now. The man who is often so stubborn and single minded, often so oblivious to all comments by pundits and observant watchers must have a sense of regret that Xabi Alonso has left for Real Madrid.
No doubt he has got the £30 million he wanted Real to pay, I am sure he knows deep inside he has lost a player that can be described as the “engine” of the Liverpool team. No doubt Alonso handed in a transfer request to demand a move to Perez’s project, I am just wondering if Benitez has so infuriated Alonso that now Alonso sees his future with the galaticos.
When Benitez first arrived at Liverpool, Alonso was the player he embarked upon to build the team around. Alonso has been instrumental in the way the team plays, he Really makes a difference when he is on the pitch. His ability to see passes others don’t, his ability to open up the play has been crucial. It is by no exaggeration to say he and Xavi at Barcelona are the best passing midfielders in the game now.
So we have again seen a crucial figure in the English game move across to the La Liga this summer. Alonso could be the “Xavi” type player for the team. If there are doubts that the galaticos will gel as a team, the arrival of Alonso could be the one that quash all doubts. He in my view, could turn out to be the most crucial signing for Fiorentino Perez this summer.
It is sad to see Alonso leave Liverpool, sad in the fact that he was the one that forced the move. It is also sad to see that Benitez’s relationship with Alonso has soured. I am absolutely sure that Benitez lost the trust Alonso had in him as a mentor and manager the previous summer when Benitez so aggressively tried to sign Gareth Barry. At that time, Benitez was willing to sacrifice Alonso to Juventus to bring in Barry. However, Juve wasn’t to be held for ransom by Benitiz’s valuation of the player and both deals did not materialize. That did it for Benitez and Alonso never had the same commitment to Liverpool and Benitez. All Pool fans will know that Alonso was likely to leave once the season ends.
Alonso responded to Benitez’s attempts to replace him with Barry by having one of his best seasons in a Liverpool shirt. Benitez on the other hand responded to Alonso’s desire to move away by almost freezing him out for pre-season friendly games. Alonso was brought on against Espanyol 6 minutes from the end when Pool were already 3 goals down; that seems to be a message by Benitez to Alonso that he’s the gaffer and he is not be messed with.
This summer, Benitez has openly declared his wish for Alonso to stay. That seems a cowardly move and one totally opposite to his stance the previous summer when he wanted to sign Barry and sacrifice Alonso. So at the end of the day, Benitez have not got Barry, the player he so desired to have in his team and now he has lost Alonso as well. To know what kind of man Benitez is, just look at the way he morphed into Barry, calling Barry a mercenary for moving to Man City. You might remember that Barry was indeed very keen to move to Anfield last summer; it was Benitez who was unwilling to match Villa’s selling price that the deal did not go through.
I also have doubts over whether Benitez really wanted to keep Alonso at the club. Many a time when players are linked with a move away from the club, they will be offered new contracts to keep their desires of moving away in check. (The same happened to John Terry at Chelsea) However, there has been no mention of this when it comes to Alonso.
So now Alonso is history at Liverpool. Gone with Alonso might be Liverpool’s title hopes even before the season starts. No doubt Torres and Gerrard are crucial and often described as the heartbeat of Liverpool, the effect of both Alonso and Javier Mascherano cannot be discounted as well.
So often we have seen when Alonso is not on the pitch, Pool have struggled. Having Alonso on the pitch to spray the passes and sitting deep allows Gerrard the freedom to join Torres as a supporting role.
Liverpool had a magnificent chance of winning the League last season, they did the double over Man Utd and Chelsea and accumulated 86 points, in many a season that should be enough to ensure they are the champs. However, Benitez’s often tinkering of the team and probably under-estimation of the smaller teams have seen Pool dropped points against the lesser likes, draws at home against West Ham, Fulham, Stoke just ain’t good enough.
Most observers will agree that it will be hard to do the double over Man Utd and Chelsea 2 seasons on the trot. So, to win the League, Benitez must have his focus fully on the League and not tinker against the smaller likes. Had he not learn the when the smaller teams play against the big 4 teams, they often up the efforts they put in and make themselves hard to beat?
The desire in Pool’s camp and the pressure on them to win the title must be huge. Now that Man Utd have matched their record of 18 league titles, they must be quaking now, fearing that Man Utd will go on and win the 19th. That will see Liverpool being dispelled into the shadows of English football. They will have no claims to be the greatest English team in history anymore. Worse still if Man Utd managed to do it with a former Pool great, Michal Owen providing the crucial goals.
Alonso’s departure might mean more responsibility on Gerrad’s shoulders now. I suspect that Benitez might use the money and sign another striker that the team so much needs. However, playing a second striker along or just behind Torres is bad news for Gerrad, whose best position is just behind the single front man as he proved last season. Gerrad needs players like Alonso and Masch sitting behind him, thus allowing him the freedom to bomb forward. With him in that position and in full flight, the team was in devastating form in the second half of the season, scoring for fun against the likes of Real Madrid, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Man Utd.
Gerrad have so often had to be the one to rescue Liverpool, such as his heroics against AC Milan in the Champions League Final in 2005 and against West Ham in the FA Cup Final in 2006. However, not until last season when he was in the sort of second striker position have we seen his really prosper, with the responsibility to carry the team single handedly off his shoulder. He was just great to watch in a very fluent team. That is the effect of team play. A good example of how a brilliant player can prosper in a team working in tune to his style of play. I really do not wish to see Gerrard being forced to drop deeper due to Alonso’s departure.
I may sound so negative, however my heads tells me that Alonso’s departure might really rock the team and disrupt the pattern of play the team is now so accustomed to. We shall see by Christmas if this is true and if Liverpool are to seriously challenge for the title.