Xabi Alonso: An ode to the midfield conductor

14 March 2017

With Liverpool legend Xabi Alonso announcing his retirement this summer, Nimish Varadkar pays tribute to the Reds’ former midfield maestro.


In a domain filled with silence, countless senses eagerly awaited his arrival. They hoped to be thrilled by an interpretation of the art which they loved. For a little over 90 minutes the audience would experience all sorts of emotions; joy, sorrow, shock, fear and elation. This beautiful spectacle encompassed all that and more. On this particular evening there was something special on display: the performance was going to be driven by a celebrated conductor.

The sprawling rectangular stage of green housed three groups of musicians, who were armed with different instruments and varying degrees of talents. Those weren’t their only dissimilarities. They came from different places, spoke different languages and even bore different mentalities. And yet, when the time came to manifest their skills, they seamlessly bonded, as if they had known each other for ages. The reason behind their smooth unison was always a conduit, the conductor. Tonight, he was going to work his magic again.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - WEDNESDAY, MAY 25th, 2005: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the first come-back goal against AC Milan during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The band in red was led by an Englishman, who was equal parts subtle and flamboyant. He could easily switch between multiple genres and tempos. The tune that emanated from his saxophone always sported a distinct identity, leaving his fans mesmerised. He had presented many memorable performances in the past. Behind him sat the brutal, grim-faced Argentine with his double bass. He rarely tolerated indiscipline. He was cushioned between the two Spanish flautists. One was a short, merry man, who often mistimed his moves but made up with moments of sheer brilliance, while the other, a smooth technician, glided through his recitals, while being obsessed with his blonde mane.

Sitting behind them was the hardworking trio on trombones. It was made up of a Brazilian, a Dutchman and a funny Scouser, who also liked to crib and moan. A handsome, heavily tattooed Dane sat nearby; a perfectionist known to delicately manoeuvre melodies using his violin. He was accompanied by the cool-headed Finnish bloke and a dopey German. Both men, wise and old, worked on the bassoons. The band was completed by the lovable, bald Spaniard with cymbals. His infectious smile and vibrant personality could light up even the darkest rooms.

MADRID, SPAIN - Tuesday, November 4, 2014: Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo in action against Liverpool during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The group in the middle of the stage, dressed in an attire of white, was hardly visible to the audience. Most of them were covered by a giant piano. It belonged to a man with an even bigger ego. He was one of the greatest pianists of his time, apart from being a marketable entity.

There was only one other person, who could match up to him. Unlike his naturally gifted Argentine rival, the Portuguese pianist had honed his skills by incomprehensible dedication. And he always craved to be the centre of everyone’s attention.

Behind the huge piano sat a big-haired Brazilian; a hot-headed, bald Portuguese and a tall, young Frenchman with their trumpets. A Spaniard, in the twilight of his career and the star of the band before the Portuguese pianist arrived, sat quietly with his vibraphone on the side. He was accompanied by his fellow countryman with a xylophone.

The two had risen through the ranks together, but their varying levels of skill had been appreciated differently over time. Another Spaniard with giant gloves held the cello, while a soft-spoken, smiling Brazilian shook the maraca, as the Welshman with the crwth looked on. Standing atop this group was another bearded Spaniard holding a giant gong. The man, who was known for his perfect timing, always delivered an effective sound at the end of every performance, lifting its quality by a notch.

MADRID, SPAIN - Wednesday, April 25, 2012: FC Bayern Munchen's players celebrate during the penalty shoot out against Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. L-R: Luiz Gustavo, captain Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller, Holger Badstuber, David Alaba, Mario Gomez, Toni Kroos.  (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The general of the third band was a mild-mannered, short German with a huge stature. He preferred to work on the harp, but was always willing to play other instruments when called upon during moments of innovation or emergency. His deputy, another German, was the world’s most unique drummer.

Unlike his peers, he hated being tied to a spot, and therefore his set of drums was attached to his tall frame, allowing him to gallop around the stage while playing his instruments. There were three temperamental clarinettists, who tried to play over one another.

That trio was made up of a Frenchman with a scar, a Dutchman with the world’s most brittle bones and a German with the face of a child. Behind them sat the man with the terrible dance skills. This Bavarian, holding the tambourine, never cared what the world thought about his clumsy moves. No one, however, could question his talent with the round object. His friend, the Polish gentleman, was equally effective with his triangle.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 23, 2008: Liverpool's Xabi Alonso against Middlesbrough during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The wait finally ended, when the conductor walked in. Like always, he was smartly dressed in his expensive suit. He waved to the cheering audience before quickly studying the five sheets placed on his stand. They were crafted by different composers who were also in attendance; the methodical Spaniard, the unassuming Chilean, the pragmatic Portuguese, the innovative Catalan and the suave Italian. Despite the five creations being distinctly different from one another, the conductor was expected to create a soulful fusion.

The task didn’t scare him. The enormity of the job didn’t deter him. He enjoyed the challenge. The conductor winked at his best friend, the Englishman with the saxophone, before tapping his baton on the stand and began the grand gig. What followed was 90 minutes of pure bliss.

He discreetly pulled the right strings and controlled the tempo, ensuring a melodic flow. He allowed each and every artist and their tools to shine. He elevated every player to the highest level, using the right amount of nudge and restraint. That was, after all, his greatest asset.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 11, 2009: The adidas boots of Liverpool's Xabi Alonso as he prepares to take a corner-kick during the Premiership match against Blackburn Rovers at Anfield. (Photo by: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The conductor, the controller, the schemer, brought the best out of others. Without him, they would have been a disorganised mess. With him, they were a grand spectacle, meant to be admired, as a team and as individuals.

Now, only few such gigs would be overseen by the genius. No one knows what he will do next. Compose his tunes, or critique others. Time will answer that query. Till then the world is left to witness the last, few remaining performances of the man who was always the unnoticed force behind many spectacular shows. A maestro called Xabi Alonso.

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