Birthdate: 25 November 1981
Birthplace: Tolosa, Spain
Other clubs: Real Sociedad (1998-2004), Eibar (loan 2000-01), Real Madrid (2009-)
Bought from: Real Sociedad
Signed for LFC: £10.7m, 20.08.2004
International debut: 30.04.2003 vs. Equador
International caps: 107/15 (49/5 at LFC) - 26.03.2013
Liverpool debut: 29.08.2004
Last appearance: 24.05.2009
Debut goal: 16.10.2004
Last goal: 25.04.2009
Contract expiry: 05.08.2009
Win ratio: 58.1% W: 122 D: 45 L: 43
LFC league games/goals: 143 / 15
Total LFC games/goals: 210 / 19
Xabier Alonso Olano made his debut for Real Sociedad against Logrones on 1 December 1999 in Copa del Rey. He made 14 further appearances that season, but was then loaned out to second division Eibar. Sociedad were however struggling in the Primera Liga and new manager and former Liverpool great, John Toshack, recalled Alonso from his loan and in a shock move made the 19-year-old captain of the side. The team cemented their position in La Liga the following year and blossomed in the 2002/03 season, finishing two points behind champions Real Madrid. The respected football magazine ‘Don Balon’ chose Alonso Spanish Player of the Year. Alonso made his international debut against Equador on 30 April 2003 and featured against Russia and Portugal in Euro 2004, but Spain failed to get out of the group stages. Sociedad qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League, but got knocked out by Lyon and struggled in the league, finishing fifteenth. Rafa had seen enough of Xabi to convince him of the qualities he could bring to Liverpool: strong in defence and going forward and possessed an excellent passing range. If there ever was a player moulded in the Liverpool way, it was Alonso as he was comfortable in possession with the vision to spot passes and the ability to execute them. He was also a tough customer and maybe Rafa didn’t expect that he would boast one of the best rates of successful tackles in the Premiership.
Alonso made an instant impression at Liverpool, but suffered a broken ankle in the 2005 New Years’ Day clash against Chelsea and the difference in the team’s performance was noticeable. Alonso returned to the side three months later just in time to feature in the second leg of the quarter-final clash with Juventus in the Champions League when Liverpool drew 0-0 in Turin after beating them 2-1 at Anfield. Reds were concerned when he was banned for the second leg of semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield, after Gudjohnsen got him yellow-carded at Stamford Bridge. Fortunately his absence didn’t prevent Liverpool from reaching the final where he scored the equalising goal against Milan, pouncing on the rebound after seeing his penalty saved. Alonso was incredibly a European champion in his debut season at Liverpool. Alonso’s speciality became his extra-long-range strikes, scoring twice from inside his own half. His first effort was from 65 yards in the 5-3 FA Cup win over Luton in January 2006, guaranteeing a Liverpool fan £25,000. Adrian Hayward had placed his £200 bet at 125-1 after noticing that Alonso had tried several times in his debut season to score from his own half. “I’ve always had a vision in my mind that it would come when the opposing ‘keeper came out for a corner in a cup game. I couldn’t believe it when Luton got a corner and the ‘keeper started to run upfield... I thought I was going to pass out. When it went in, I went crazy,” said a delighted Adrian. In the 2005/06 season Alonso looked forward to an FA Cup final against West Ham. Unfortunately, he picked up an ankle injury in the last League game of the season, but convinced Rafa and the medical team that he was ready for the final. Alonso managed 67 minutes before he was taken off at the Millennium Stadium where Gerrard-inspired Liverpool went on to win a winners’ medal for him after conquering the Hammers in a penalty shoot-out. Alonso repeated this incredible feat of scoring from his own half, against Newcastle in September 2006 in a League game at Anfield. This time the distance was 70 yards and Steve Harper tried desperately to reach the shot, but to no avail. The Independent described it as “one of the most audacious goals in Anfield’s rich 115-year history.” Despite this wonder goal Alonso seemed to have lost his way a bit. His usually sublime passes were quite wayward and he didn’t contribute as he did before. Rafa kept faith with him in the 2006/07 season that ended disappointingly in Athens where Alonso featured in the 2-1 loss to Milan in the Champions League final.
The Basque played in fewer first-team competitive matches during his fourth season at Anfield than the season previous, just 27 out of a possible 59. He was picked from the start in the opening five League games and scored twice as promoted Derby County were thrashed 6-0 at Anfield on the first day of September. He was substituted due to a slight injury against Portsmouth in the middle of September and was out for six weeks. Alonso was rushed to action to face Arsenal on 28 October 2007 but limped off and missed seven weeks more. Rafa struggled to find a suitable midfield combination in his absence rotating between Sissoko, Mascherano and Lucas to partner Gerrard. When Alonso returned Benítez accommodated him alongside the respective holding midfielder by moving Gerrard further forward as a second striker behind Fernando Torres. Alonso played 163 minutes in Spain’s successful Euro 2008 tournament and came on as substitute in the sixty-third minute in the final against Germany. After the tournament speculation was rife that Alonso would be moving on from Liverpool with Gareth Barry the man expected to take his place. In the end Barry’s transfer from Aston Villa never happened and Alonso went on to have perhaps his best season as a Liverpool player, making 47 first-team appearances and scoring five times, including the goal that ended Chelsea’s record-breaking unbeaten home run in the League. His tenacity was back, prompting his opponents to foul him on a constant basis, which resulted in six sending-offs for fouls made on him! Benítez’ willingness to sell him on a year previously lingered and soured their relationship. Real Madrid were monitoring the situation and Alonso wanted to return home to Spain. Liverpool agreed to sell the midfielder to Madrid for a fee that is believed to be around £30 million, certainly a significant profit on the £10.7 million Liverpool paid Real Sociedad for Alonso’s services in 2004.
Alonso only missed four La Liga matches as Real finished runners-up to Barcelona and three points behind their Catalan rivals in his debut season. Alonso had a happy summer as he started every game as Spain won the World Cup after beating the Netherlands in the final. The 2010/11 season followed a similar pattern as the first, in that Alonso played in 34 of the 38 league matches as Madrid again finished runners-up to Barcelona. Real did, however, win a stormy Copa del Rey final by beating their Catalan rivals 1-0 at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium. Alonso was Jose Mourinho’s playmaker extraordinaire in the 2011/12 campaign when Real finally managed to wrestle the Spanish championship away from Barcelona, who had held it for the previous three years. Alonso has always been linked with a return to Liverpool one day and he is still in love with the club. “I am still a Liverpool fan and will be forever, absolutely,” Alonso told The Times in 2011. “The things that I have lived and the experiences I had during those five years are deep in my heart and the passion and respect I had for the club and its supporters are still the same. Hopefully I can transmit to my son what Liverpool Football Club means and how special it is, as he was born in the city.”