There is little room for sympathy in the modern game. Just ask Xabi Alonso. For years a consistent staple in the Liverpool side and a coveted favourite of his manager, the mercurial Spaniard was surprisingly compromised this summer.
Indeed the Reds main architect could be forgiven for thinking he’d committed some kind of gross misdemeanour. Drafted from one deal to another, his future looked as botched as a Dannii Minogue smile. In a league which gives Joey Barton’s second chances it seemed nonsensical to outcast Alonso on the back of a handful of ropey performances.
Of course it is no secret that Rafa Benitez craved the signature of Gareth Barry. Even Rob Styles could identify that particular pursuit. There were pros and cons to this purported deal.
On the one-hand we would be acquiring a combative midfielder, likely to add much needed balance to the team. Barry, now a proven England regular, also collaborates to great effect with Steven Gerrard. A tough tackler with an eye for a pass and goal, the Villa ace would undoubtedly have offered another dimension to a methodical outfit.
But for me, and many other supporters at the time, it was what we risked losing which cast the biggest cloud of doubt over this already murky chase. Priceless attributes which have never been better projected since the beginning of this campaign.
Exquisite passing, intuitive assists, slick control: an overall touch of class. Alonso is without doubt one of our most gifted performers. To lose his presence, especially to a rival of the magnitude of Arsenal, would have been quite simply unforgivable.
Had Martin O’Neill not maintained his impersonation of a freedom fighter quite so long, Liverpool may not be sitting at the summit of English football right now.
Yes, Xabi has been THAT vital. An imperious cog in a midfield which outshone Chelsea last week and managed to breach the rearguard of a disciplined Portsmouth, just. On Wednesday he was one of few in a red shirt who tried the unpredictable; spraying the ball wide when others sought safe, in-field, possession earners.
Indeed it says something about the character of the man also. Who would have thought in July that Alonso, a redundant commodity clumsily gift-wrapped and hastily presented to rival suitors, would be keeping Javier Mascherano out of a Liverpool side?
Liverpool fans know their football and a barometer of support for Alonso was canvassed against Lazio in pre-season. Here, the Kop left the manager in no doubt whatsoever who’d won their hearts in this transfer bout.
Rafa is not the kind of coach who dishes out praise on a whim. Indeed, our lads are more likely to receive a glowing reference from their pet goldfish. However, he must be delighted at the resurgence of his Spanish international. And, dare I say, mightily relieved his summer-long chase proved in vein.
Unfortunately the season does not end in November. But if Liverpool really are to last the distance in this, an appetising relay, Xabi Alonso can be relied upon to carry the baton.
A brief note on current affairs; Albert Riera has been a revelation to date. As can be noted from my last article, I was hardly enamoured with his capture. Nevertheless, this is a player who has improved twofold from his time at Manchester City. Unflustered and seldom squandering possession he has added the balance that Barry looked set to provide. Long may it continue.
Philipp Degen. No … I don’t know who he is either? Apparently he’s on our books though, would be good to see him at some point, if only to ensure Nicky Tanner hasn’t rejoined under a fake alias.
Fabio Aurelio and free-kicks go together like Mariah Carey and Ian Hislop. There seems greater likelihood of Elvis emerging from the grave and announcing a comeback tour than our Brazilian hitting the net from such range. To see our full-back get the nod over Steven Gerrard in such positions is then infuriating. Sort it out Fabio lad!