Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Misery on the Mersey

Step outside, dear reader. If you can hear a loud exhalation - nay, sigh of relief, coupled with the fainter wailings of lovelorn Scousers, that’s the sound of Britain reacting to one of the summer’s most drawn-out and irritating transfers finally being laid to rest.

Like a pregnant Paula Radcliffe, Liverpool have finally given up the chase and accepted a £30m bid from Real Madrid for Spanish playmaker Xabi Alonso. And once the brief period of satisfaction at having seen the last of the tedious to-and-fro between Anfield and the Bernabeu is over, one understands that Liverpool’s title bid could be over before it’s began.

For the last 5 years, Alonso has been the calming genius in the testosterone-fuelled mad dog of the Liverpool midfield. It is he, coupled with his partner Javier Mascherano, who has given the Reds’ midfield wile and brains, stopping opponents attacks whilst - crucially - starting their own. It is he who has allowed the previously inconsistent Steven Gerrard to shine.

Gerrard has frustrated Liverpool managers during his long career at Anfield, displaying the physical and technical abilities that suit him to all manner of positions, yet displaying a mental naivety that betrays him to nearly all.Over the last ten years, the Liverpool captain has played an attacking and defensive role in central midfield, sat on the right and left wing, even helped out at full back, yet too often his lack of discipline drifted him in and out of games, gifting opponents a foothold in the match.

It was not until Rafa Benitez’s master-stroke of buying Alonso in 2004, and the later purchase of Mascherano, that the midfield could be solid defensively, meaning Gerrard’s talismanic attacking abilities could be unleashed without doing harm to the team.

While this is undoubtedly a great loss for Liverpool - and one they tried vehemently to avoid - the opposite is certainly true for his new club, Real Madrid. It has already been confirmed by the Spaniards that this is a signing requested (for once) by Manuel Pellegrini, the Madrid manager, and not by the publicity-shy and notoriously frugal owner Florentino Perez. Which suggests that despite his hefty price-tag, Alonso will be seen not as a ‘Galactico’, but as a team player who allows the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo, Benzema and Raul to play. An unassuming and modest character, this will suit Xabi fine, and will not be unlike his role at Liverpool, where he often faded into the background compared to the power and flair of Gerrard and Fernando Torres and the beautiful face of Dirk Kuyt.

In the north of England, the chances of finding an available central midfielder with the passing ability and football brain of Alonso will be very long indeed for Liverpool. Many are suggesting that this will prove a massive stumbling block for their title aspirations. Whoever they land as replacement - optimists suggest Alberto Aquilani or even Cesc Fabregas, while United fans suggest Lee Cattermole - history suggests they may take a while to bed in, and history is one thing that becomes more of a burden year after year at a Premiership-less Anfield.

No comments: