You can never stop yourself from getting old, and your relationship with football is constantly changing. I am starting to realise that I am of the age where it would be seen as dangerously worrying if I plastered my bedroom with torn posters from Shoot or Match magazine, which are lovingly framed with long strips of sellotape on my Dad’s carefully hung wallpaper.
I sometimes wonder whether I am a bit too old to have the names of my footballing idols over the back of my football shirt. I certainly know that I can not turn up to a game in football shirt and matching shorts, but some people could also argue that I am too old to even a wear a football shirt. I do have friends and family who refuse to join me when I am out and about if I am wearing anything connected with my team.
I am 29 and I have to accept that things have changed. I am less dewy-eyed about footballers, and I am not interested in the colour scheme of Gerrard’s kitchen, and whether Torres likes to enjoy his Saturday evenings with a bottle of red and Britain’s Got Talent.
I hope that I value the top players on the basis of their footballing ability, and I am particularly interest in those players who are 100% committed to the cause. These stars have jaw-dropping football ability, but are under the radar of the glossy celebrity mags, and those in the cheesy quarters of the media, who want to turn English football into a sporty version of High School Musical.
Xabi Alonso ticks every single box in terms of the sort of midfielder that I want to see on the pitch. Gerrard understandably takes the headlines for a wide variety of legitimate reasons, but it is Alonso with his work rate, endeavour, and ability to make the crucial tackles, which has been a key component of Liverpool over recent seasons.
What I find interesting about Alonso is his ability to act as a true professional on and off the pitch. I do not know much about him outside of Anfield, and that is probably the reason why Alonso falls underneath the radar of the twenty-four hour news channels, and the various football websites. I do not know what his favourite lesson was at school, and whether he likes to play golf on a Sunday morning, but I know that he has been one of Liverpool’s players of this season and should be in the running for THE player of the season award.
Let us consider the evidence. Xabi Alonso is not afraid to take a shot on goal from outside the box with devastatingly accuracy, bringing a sense of dynamism to the side. He was unlucky to score two potentially sensational goals against Newcastle, but when it works it lights up Anfield. It also silences all those primeval football fans across this nation, who still believe that English football can only function in two solid banks of four, and goals can only be scored by dribbling the ball over the line. This brand of football would not look out of place on a 1973 edition of Granada Soccer Night but totally alien to the football environment in 2009.
At the start of this season, Alonso had already suffered a summer of transfer speculation that he was going to be sacrificed for Gareth Barry. The saga gripped the media and filled the void between the Euro 08 final and the start of the new Premiership season, as well as providing a welcoming diversion from Big Brother oblivion. However, it was understandable to wonder if this would be the ideal transfer, and what effect could the gossip and speculation have on Alonso’s state of mind. Would he really want to play for Liverpool if everyone seemed to be disinterested in him and his footballing ability.
Despite the evidence from this season, as well as from the past, there still remains the argument that Alonso was the best diver in the Premiership during the 2008/2009 season, but in comparison to certain other Premiership players, there is no comparison. This ‘˜diving’ insult is also based on a total lack of understanding about what makes Xabi Alonso part of the Premiership elite.
Alonso’s pace with the ball twists defenders into knots, and they launch a flailing leg in desperation. Some opponents do not waste their time by being humiliated at the feet of Alonso, and launch an outrageous tackle on Alonso’s shin, which subsequently sends the Liverpool midfielder into the treatment room for the rest of the game.
It seems as if life has turned full circle. Having scored some spectacular goals and given his all for the Liverpool cause at home and abroad, there is new speculation that Xabi Alonso will be sacrificed for Gareth Barry, who wants to play Champions League football before the end of his career.
We can debate about whether Barry has the ability to be a success in the Champions League. It would also not be that surprising if Xabi Alonso was enjoying his football away from Anfield next season. I appreciate that it would be difficult to fit all of the Liverpool midfield talent as well as Gareth Barry onto the pitch, but it would be sad to see Alonso leaving Anfield.
Some people say that you get sentimental in their old age, and I may be starting to be a bit gushy towards certain players, but I appreciate those players who show a 100% work rate. They look for that positive pass, prepare themselves to run with the ball, and they are more than willing to take an energetic shot on goal. Xabi Alonso is one of those players, and I can’t help thinking that he needs more respect and better treatment at Anfield.