Steven Gerrard has labelled Xabi Alonso one of his three favourite signings at Liverpool, and has criticised Rafael Benitez’s “disastrous” decision to sell him.
Alonso became a fan favourite at Anfield after signing from Real Sociedad in 2004, winning the Champions League in his first season and forming an excellent central midfield partnership alongside Gerrard.
The Spaniard was sold in 2009 to Real Madrid for £30million however, with Benitez’s decision to pursue a move for Gareth Barry the summer before spelling the end of Alonso’s time at Anfield.
Gerrard has name-checked Alonso alongside Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres as his three favourite Liverpool signings during his time at the club in his new autobiography, serialised by the Daily Mail. The 35-year-old also reserved some delightful man love for Torres, who made him feel “invincible”, and Suarez, who once ‘sprinkled his selfless magic’ over the former Reds captain.
‘I had seen a staggering number of new signings walk into the Liverpool training ground. I watched every single one of their first training sessions with close attention, wondering whether we’d bought a star or another dud, a king or a prat, a Xabi Alonso or an El Hadji Diouf, a Luis Suarez or a Mario Balotelli.
‘Three players stand out in my time at Liverpool. They all speak Spanish. Each of them unleashes a wave of emotion in me and in every Liverpool supporter: Fernando Torres. Xabi Alonso. Luis Suarez.
‘It was clear Alonso was royalty after our first training session together in August 2004, and Rafa Benitez, who had been so clever to buy him in the first place, was equally stupid to sell him to Real Madrid five years later. He was, by some distance, the best central midfielder I ever played alongside.
‘It was a disastrous decision to sell Alonso, and especially for just £30million — which looks a snip now when you reflect on all he has achieved subsequently, both at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and with Spain, winning the Euros and the World Cup. I blame Rafa entirely for the loss of Alonso. He could still have been playing for Liverpool six or seven years after he left in 2009.
I think more about the special players we lost — Alonso, Torres and Suarez — than the terrible signings with which we got lumbered.
‘Suarez, who ran and pressed and fought for the ball and ran again — while producing extraordinary moves and sublime goals. There was a sustained period when playing with Luis was like being under a magical spell. He blew me away with his talent.
‘Fernando came the closest to matching Luis. I had two years with Fernando when he made me feel invincible. I always knew where he was, where he was going to move next. I’m not a natural No 10 but, for a couple of years, Fernando helped me become one. I had my best season then, as a No 10, and that was down to Fernando in 2007-08.
‘But, ultimately, Luis stands out. I would have loved to have played with Luis when I was a lot younger, and peaking, as we could have been phenomenal together for years. That’s my only tinge of regret with Suarez.
‘Here’s an example of what he did for me. On March 13, 2012 I scored a hat-trick at Anfield against Everton. It was the first hat-trick in 30 years of Merseyside derbies, since Ian Rush scored three at Goodison Park in 1982. It was made even better by the selfless magic Suarez sprinkled over me that night. Luis is no saint — and I’m not sure he would have done the same for Daniel Sturridge. There was always a little bit of needling rivalry between Sturridge and Suarez.
‘But when it came to me, especially against Everton, Luis went out of his way. He helped Liverpool – and me – play like kings.
‘All the people who revile Suarez, never having met him, might be surprised if they had the chance to benefit from his unselfish willingness to sacrifice himself for his team. He will run himself into the ground. He scores goals. He creates goals. He’s hard and horrible to play against. He’s right up for it. You’ve got a chance of beating anyone in the world with Luis Suarez in your team.’