Once again the rumours of Xabi Alonso making a return to Liverpool have surfaced - but should the Reds look to sign their former star this summer?
All Liverpool fans would love to see Xabi grace the Anfield turf in the famous red shirt once more. I would welcome his return if it were to happen. But it pains me to say that thinking rationally, I am in the small minority with the controversial opinion that in Liverpool’s current times of financial hardship, they should avoid buying him back.
I am to this day one of his biggest supporters. I adore the man and couldn’t praise him enough. I was heartbroken when I heard he had left for Real Madrid in 2009, but his signature would be no more than an attempt to rekindle the romance.
Undoubtedly, every Liverpudlian had/has a soft spot for Xabi’s exquisite passing and the Spaniard’s ginger beard, but looking to buy him would be nonsensical.
Consider it financially, if a deal was to be struck with Real, it would be likely that Liverpool would be Alonso’s final club before retiring, and he would therefore retain no re-sale value. He would likely be on wages in the region of £100,000-a-week.
Only several other Liverpool players are on such monumental wages, with Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Pepe Reina likely to have wages in excess of that value. Brendan Rodgers however, seems to have earmarked Reina as a potential departure, hence the arrival of Simon Mignolet on drastically lower wages.
Other Liverpool players with salaries nearing the six-figure mark are those who have been at the club for several years, like the loyal Daniel Agger.
But as we all know, Rodgers is attempting to decrease the wage budget so that it is as minimal as possible. Reports have suggested a possible £10 million transfer fee, which may sound a good deal for a man of such experience, right?
However, say he was to sign a three-year contract for a £10m fee on wages of £100,000-a-week. By that contracts’ conclusion he would have cost the club just short of £26m in wages and transfer fees, then contemplate possible additional bonuses based on appearances etc.
That could further escalate the money spent. Perhaps even if it were not to be Alonso’s last club and he was to move again, it would be likely that only clubs from less significant foreign leagues would be interested and the sum received would be relatively low.
For example, Dirk Kuyt’s move to Fenerbache, in which Liverpool only recouped £1m. Other leagues, such as the MLS, seem to be interested in taking on older players, with Frank Lampard receiving continuous links to a stateside move.
There’s unquestionably a fair argument for his return. Not only is he a legend amongst Kopites until this day, but he’s an extremely talented midfielder, arguably the best I’ve seen beside Gerrard in my 16 years of supporting the Reds.
He was instrumental in the days where we had the capability to beat anyone we were drawn against in the Champions League, and his departure was our downfall. Ever since he left, we have never recovered, and only now have we replaced his creativity and vision in the face of our young Brazilian number 10, Phillipe Coutinho.
He would help replace some of the experience lost after Jamie Carragher’s retirement, in that he has played consistently at Champions League level for several years, having also featured in finals for Liverpool in Istanbul and Athens. Not only this, but he has experience of the Premier League and coped more than adequately last time around.
Nevertheless, at a fee of £10m and the age of 31, he would be going against the Fenway Sports Group transfer policy and his signature would be a risk. FSG showed their mentality when they refused to sanction Clint Dempsey’s transfer, though Rodgers could have captured the American international for a fee of around £6m.
Our failure to sign him inevitably proved to be a blessing, with Dempsey’s form being rather sporadic whilst at Tottenham.
Tactically, signing Alonso would provide diminutive benefit. Some argue that Alonso’s arrival would give us some much needed experience in the squad and boost our midfield quality close to that necessary for a top four finish.
Whilst we do need experience and it is evident that he is better than a vast majority of our current midfield options, the central midfield position is perhaps the position that Liverpool have most depth in. Therefore, the issue stands at how often would Alonso actually feature?
During Xabi’s previous Liverpool spell, Gerrard was significantly younger and played ahead of him in an advanced creative role behind Fernando Torres. Stevie could still utilise both his attacking and defensive abilities across the whole pitch, as he had overwhelming stamina.
This meant that Javier Mascherano was the defensive lynchpin, an Argentinian terrier that harassed the opposition when they were in possession. Upon winning the ball, Alonso could then dictate the play with his superb variety and range of passing. On their day, Liverpool indisputably had one of the best midfields in European football.
It’s doubtful though that he would cement himself into the starting line up as soon as he returned, because that would mean Rodgers would face the dilemma of sacrificing Lucas Leiva in the defensive midfield role if we were to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Although Gerrard adapted to play a similar role in Lucas’ absence last season, it is almost inconceivable that Gerrard’s starting spot would be in jeopardy. Therefore, with Lucas making way for Alonso, Stevie would operate behind Coutinho, whose objective would be to create chances in the final third.
On paper, that probably sounds fantastic to a lot of fans, but at the ages of 31 and 33 Alonso and Gerrard no longer have the stamina to venture forwards and provide defensive protection simultaneously.
In contrast to when we had Mascherano in our midfield several years ago, our system is now different, so we do not have an extra midfield position which Jordan Henderson could play in to make up for a lack of workforce.
This means that Gerrard and Alonso would have to sit deeper in midfield to deny counter attacks against the faster sides.
Despite Jonjo Shelvey’s departure to Swansea and Jay Spearing seemingly on his way to Blackburn, the possible arrival of Alonso would still leave Henderson, Lucas and Joe Allen all vying for a place in the midfield, in addition to up and coming youngsters such as Conor Coady and Lloyd Jones.
We would simply have an unnecessary amount of options in central midfield. Unnecessary in that we are currently not in Europe and not in need of huge squad depth in that position in the meantime.
To achieve our Champions League aspirations, our priorities at the minute should be securing another attacking midfielder, ideally someone with the quality of Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Christian Eriksen, so that we are not solely relying on Coutinho for creativity.
We also need to shore up the defence. We desperately need a central defender that can ideally walk straight into the starting line-up, such as Toby Alderweireld of Ajax, as it looks increasingly likely that Sebastian Coates and Martin Skrtel may be on their way out of Anfield this summer, and Kolo Toure should only be a third choice centre-back.
Furthermore, the priority after that should be to strengthen our left back options, as Jose Enrique is a liability. Consequently, should Luis Suarez leave, another striker should be pursued to help replace his goal threat.
Another possible problem remains in the form of the question; could Alonso be as successful as his first spell at Anfield? It is more than likely that on a player’s return their previously commendable reputation can become tarnished by below-par performances in contrast to their first spell with the club.
Exceptions to this are erratic, with Ian Rush and Craig Bellamy the most prominent examples, and perhaps even Robbie Fowler. Ultimately, we should concentrate on other matters and strengthen positions in which our cover is weak.
For those desperate for the former number 14’s return, an ideal scenario would be to let Alonso run out his contract with Real Madrid and have him join us on a free next season, saving us £10m in the process.
However, football journalist Richard Buxton tweeted; “#LFC fans, look away now: Xabi Alonso on rumours of him returning to English football: "The Premier League? No. No way no chance"
This would seem to suggest Xabi will not be returning, but it’s probably for the best.
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