As football icon Xabi Alonso announces his impending retirement, we take a look at the best moments of his glittering career.
Former Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder and general footballing icon, Xabi Alonso, has decided to call it a day on his glittering career and is set to retire at the end of the season. Currently at Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich, Alonso, 35, has entered the final months of his contract and has allegedly already informed the club’s hierarchy of his decision.
In his 18 years as a footballer, Alonso has had an esteemed career. Beginning his playing days at his local club Real Sociedad, Alonso moved to Liverpool in 2004 for a fee of £10.7m, lifting the Champions League in his first season at the Reds, as well as the FA Cup, Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup. A big £30m move to Spanish giants Real Madrid beckoned and Alonso went on to win another Champions League, a La Liga title and two Copa del Reys. At Bayern, Alonso added two Bundesligas and a DFB-Pokal Cup to his trophy cabinet.
Internationally, Alonso accrued over 100 caps for Spain and tasted success on the international stage, lifting two European Championships in 2008 and 2012 as well as Spain’s first World Cup in 2010. He was also on the receiving end of Nigel de Jong’s ‘kung-fu kick’ in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands, though referee Howard Webb controversially decided to let de Jong play on with a yellow card. In fear of a broken rib and clearly in pain, Alonso powered through the rest of the game to lift the trophy.
In light of the news that Alonso, one of the best deep-lying playmakers of his generation, has decided to hang up his boots, we take a look back at five of the Spaniard’s greatest moments.
The comeback of all comebacks
For any Liverpool player to have played in that famous 2005 Champions League team, this will undoubtedly be one of their greatest ever moments. Alonso was ruled out of action for three months following a broken ankle in January, but returned in time for the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Juventus, playing the full 90 minutes despite lacking fitness. It’s, of course, the final that Alonso will remember most fondly. The Reds fell three goals behind to Milan in the first half, but a spectacular second-half comeback saw the deficit reduced to just one-goal.
The whistle blew and Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Up stepped Alonso, as cool as you’d like, and he fired the spot-kick past Dida, Milan’s acclaimed Brazilian goalkeeper, into the roof of the net to complete the comeback. Neither team could score in extra time and Liverpool went on to win 3-2 on penalties. Alonso was praised for his instrumental role in the team’s comeback and, speaking at the time, he described the achievement as “the best moment in [his] professional career.”
A cold night in Luton
The date was January 6th 2006. The venue was Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road. It was the FA Cup. The magic was alive. It will go down as one of the most magical games in FA Cup history because of the 5-3 scoreline, but it was Alonso’s role in this match that stands out the most. It may not be the most prolific of his achievements across a highly successful career, but Alonso was spectacular. With Liverpool trailing 3-2 to the then-Championship side, Alonso won the ball 40 yards from goal and his looping, swerving shot sailed past Marlon Beresford in goal and into the roof of the net.
Florent Pongolle put Liverpool ahead and Luton’s misery was compounded when Beresford went up for a corner, the ball was cleared and Alonso struck from all of 60 yards, well inside his own half, to hit the net for the final nail in the coffin of Luton’s FA Cup dreams. That goal also made one lucky Liverpool fan a cool £25,000 from a £200 bet on the midfielder to score from within his own half. Alonso just loves to spread the joy.
Ending the Stamford Bridge record
This is a memory that is likely forever etched in the memory of Liverpool fans. Arriving at Stamford Bridge, the home of their rivals Chelsea in October 2008, defeat was almost expected. Chelsea, managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari, were in the midst of a ridiculous 86-game unbeaten run at home, stretching all the way back to February 2004. It was a wildly impressive feat, but Alonso was having none of it. Ten minutes had gone and Alonso’s shot was deflected into the back of the net.
Despite long spells of Chelsea possession, Liverpool never flinched and could have doubled their lead had Alonso’s free-kick not struck the post. It was a deserved victory for the Reds, who were without Fernando Torres and a one that cemented Alonso’s place in Liverpool’s history books, as if it this wasn’t already the case.
First league title
Although he claimed to move to Real Madrid somewhat against his will, citing personal differences with then-Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez as the driving force, Alonso arrived in the Spanish capital with the hope of winning his first league title. Real Madrid pushed Barcelona close in his first season at the Bernebeu, finishing second on 96 points, the club’s record points haul, but it was in the 2011-12 season that this dream was realised.
In his third season at the club and firmly established in the first team, Alonso had a stellar season for Los Blancos, playing 36 out of their 38 La Liga games, third only to Iker Casillas (37) and Cristiano Ronaldo (38) and was the midfield driving force behind the title win. He was subsequently named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI for the second time in his career later that year and won the La Liga Best Midfielder award for that season.
An international trophy…again
Coming to the twilight of his international career, the 2012 European Championships proved to be Alonso’s last Euros for Spain. It’s a good thing it ended in victory then! On 23rd June, Alonso lined up for Spain for his 100th cap and proceeded to score both goals in a 2-0 quarter-final victory over France. The first of which was a fantastic header from a Jordi Alba cross, whilst the second was a penalty given away by France’s Anthony Reveillere in the dying minutes of the match.
Although Alonso missed a penalty in the semi-final shootout against Portugal, Spain progressed as 4-2 penalty victors and subsequently demolished Italy 4-0 in the final. It was the ultimate cherry on top of the cake of Spain’s four-year international dominance and Alonso was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament as a result of his standout performances. It proved to be Alonso’s third and last major title win with Spain.