It would have been a bittersweet moment for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez when the transfer of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid was finally agreed upon. Subject to a successful medical, Alonso should be officially unveiled in a white jersey. But once the victory of squeezing more than 30 million pounds from the Spanish club sinks in, the real dilemma will return to haunt the manager and the fans. Just who will fill the boots of the now-departed Alonso, who has been Liverpool's playmaker and creative midfielder for the past couple of seasons?
Benitez brought Alonso to Liverpool from Real Sociedad in 2004 for a mere 10.5 million pounds. The new manager went about overhauling the squad to introduce his own tactical nous. Alonso, as a technically gifted player, prospered under his guidance as a deep-lying playmaker. His control and precision created superior chances for the attack to flourish.
Relations between the duo soured to a certain degree last season after the manager was willing to sell him to Juventus for 18 million pounds. Benitez wanted to bring in Aston Villa skipper Gareth Barry to Anfield. But the move fell apart, Juventus were unwilling to accept Liverpool's asking price, and Alonso ended up staying in England.
But his departure now, a mere 10 days before another football season begins, will leave the manager to negotiate new arrivals. Alberto Aquilani, the Italian midfielder from AS Roma, has been touted as a possible replacement. Liverpool have been reported to be preparing a bid of close to 18 million pounds for Aquilani. With the money from Alonso's sale, and the 5 million pounds added to it by Alvaro Arbeloa's transfer to Real Madrid, Benitez has quite a lot of cash in his kitty to splurge. The only big summer signing so far has been Glen Johnson, bought for 17 million pounds from Portsmouth. This, however, will not resolve the midfield conundrum, as he will fill in the left-back position.
The name of Belgian midfielder Steven Defour has also been doing the rounds, with a number of clubs interested in the youngster from Standard Liege. Wigan midfielder Lee Cattermole's name has also been bandied around, with Benitez enquiring about the hard-tackling English player. Another substitute could be local lad, Jay Spearing. A youngster who graduated from the Liverpool Youth Academy, it could prove to be a big year for him if Benitez decides to hand him more chances in premiership matches.
Alonso's transfer to Madrid will end Madrid's spending. With their second version of Project Galacticos, the club left no stone unturned to bring in Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Raul Albiol. Club president Florentino Perez said that Alonso had always been a target and would prove to be the missing link in the puzzle, one that could eventually help them bring to an end arch-rivals Barcelona's success. And Madrid had no qualms in spending more than 200 million pounds in a market hit by recession to rope in shiny new players to do the job.
Alonso spent five years at Liverpool. He won the UEFA Champions League with the club in his first season. The final against AC Milan, also hailed as 'The Miracle of Istanbul', had Alonso scoring the equaliser in the 59th minute of the game. Alonso could never be criticised for slacking, or not putting in his best performance. Some of his most phenomenal performances came last season when Liverpool had their most competitive campaign, notching up a whopping 86 points (their highest-ever point tally) and finishing behind eventual champions Manchester United. His long-range goals, like the one against Newcastle United in November 2006 scored from his own half, gave the fans many reasons to celebrate.
Another galactico has been added to Madrid's swollen ranks. It should be well worth all the trouble.