Why Xabi Alonso left Liverpool back in 2009

Liverpool are linked with Xabi Alonso again - this time as a manager. But why did the Spaniard leave Anfield as a player back in 2009?

Liverpool are currently in the market for a new manager, with Jurgen Klopp stepping down at the end of the campaign. Xabi Alonso reportedly tops their list of targets as the Spaniard has Bayer Leverkusen flying this season at the top of the Bundesliga.

Reports claim Alonso can leave his Leverkusen contract for one of his former clubs, including Liverpool. He spent five years on Merseyside between 2004 and 2009, winning the Champions League and FA Cup, before departing for Real Madrid.

While already highly regarded during his time at Anfield, Alonso would go on to become known as one of the world's top playmakers, winning another Champions League and the 2010 World Cup among many other honours.

But why did the Reds let go of one of the world's best midfielders? Here's everything you need to know about his exit.


Alonso joins Liverpool

Xabi Alonso was Rafa Benitez's big summer signing as new Liverpool manager in 2004. He paid around £10m to sign 22-year-old Alonso from Real Sociedad, immediately inserting him into the Reds' midfield.

Xabi Alonso

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It quickly looked like a bargain signing as the Spaniard starred in the middle with his passing.

The highlight of his debut season was scoring Liverpool's third goal in the 2005 Champions League final, netting the rebound after his penalty was saved by Dida.

2005/06 was another fantastic year for Alonso, too, and his passing jumped up another level. He was instrumental as Liverpool won the FA Cup, including a goal from inside his own half against Luton Town, scored with his weaker left foot no less.

Gareth Barry or Xabi Alonso?

2006/07 started well for Alonso as he scored from his own half, once again, against Newcastle United, while he formed one of the strongest midfield's on the continent alongside Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano, with Liverpool reaching the Champions League final once again.

However, while the silverware dried up for Liverpool under Benitez, Alonso was among the players accused of stagnating.

Xabi Alonso, Gareth Barry

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Xabi Alonso (Liverpool, li.) gegen Gareth Barry (Aston Villa) - PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK; Vdig, quer, Zweikampf English Premier League 2008/2009, 1.Liga, Aston Villa - Liverpool FC 0:0 Birmingham Spannung, Fußball Herren Mannschaft England Gruppenbild pessimistisch Aktion Personen
Image number 03919965 date 31 08 2008 Copyright imago Sportimage Xabi Alonso Liverpool left against Gareth Barry Aston Villa PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Vdig horizontal duel English Premier League 2008 2009 1 League Aston Villa Liverpool FC 0 0 Birmingham Tension Football men Team England Group photo pessimistic Action shot Human Beings

In 2008, Benitez, now infamously, attempted to replace his once pivotal No. 14 with with Gareth Barry.

New homegrown rules were coming in, increasing the value of English players. Barry was playing as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League at the time and Benitez felt the swap made sense.

"As a manager you have to think of the bigger picture, and in this case there was Barry, an English player who could play in a number of positions," he told FourFourTwo in 2018.

"With the rules that were coming in we knew we would need more English players so we were trying to be prepared for that. It became more complicated, but I think it was the right thing to try because Alonso was not playing at the same level as before."

However, ultimately the move didn't go through, though, and Alonso remained at Anfield for the 2008/09 season.

Alonso leaves Liverpool

Perhaps it was because of the attempt to move him on but Alonso's form jumped to new heights in 2008/09.

Liverpool had one of the best teams on the planet that year, with Alonso playing alongside Mascherano and Steven Gerrard, with Fernando Torres up top.

Xabi Alonso, Real Madrid

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Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxITA; Mailand Herren Fussball 2009 2010 EC 1 Champions League PK Pressekonferenz Porträt vdig xub quer
Image number 05084680 date 02 11 2009 Copyright imago Buzzi Xabi Alonso Real Madrid PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxITA Milan men Football 2009 2010 EC 1 Champions League press conference Press conference Portrait Vdig xub horizontal

They'd eventually finish trophyless but the Spanish midfielder built his reputation right back up. However, now considered one of the world's best midfielders, Real Madrid came calling and Alonso felt ready to move on.

The Spanish giants were starting Galactico Project 2.0, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Alonso was also on their list, though, and they offered £30m to sign him in 2009.

Liverpool accepted - a club-record record sale at the time.

"The pursuit of Gareth Barry took some time for me to accept and, in all honesty, it changed the course of my future," he told The Sunday People. "I did get over it but it did take time for me to accept what had happened to me.

"Leaving Liverpool was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but after what happened with Barry I knew in my heart I had to tell Rafa that I wanted to go to Madrid when they came knocking at the door."

Alonso also said this in the book Ring of Fire: "So the next year [2009], the situation was different," he said. "I went to Rafa: 'OK, a year ago you wanted me to leave and I accepted it. Now I want to leave.' In the end, there was an agreement but it was not easy because he wanted me to stay by that point."

Liverpool post-Alonso

Liverpool essentially collapsed without Alonso.

He'd been the deep-lying playmaker in the side and was, essentially, the one who consistently got the ball to Gerrard and Torres. His replacement, Alberto Aquilani, failed to consistently get on the pitch and when he did, was nowhere near Alonso's quality.

alberto aquilani

Bildnummer: 05297139 Datum: 29.12.2009 Copyright: imago/Sportimage
Alberto Aquilani (L) and Steven Gerrard of Liverpool FC Barclays Premier League Aston Villa v Liverpool 29th December, 2009 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK; Fussball Herren England Premier League 2009 2010 Aktion vdig xcb 2009 quer o00 Birmingham
Image number 05297139 date 29 12 2009 Copyright imago Sportimage Alberto Aquilani l and Steven Gerrard of Liverpool FC Barclays Premier League Aston Villa v Liverpool 29th December 2009 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK Football men England Premier League 2009 2010 Action shot Vdig 2009 horizontal o00 Birmingham

Without him, Liverpool struggled to break teams down. Gerrard had to drop deeper and deeper, isolating Torres. The struggles were enough that Benitez lost his job in 2010, amidst entirely justifiable fighting with the club's owners at the time.

"I had no issue with Xabi [Alonso] wanting to join Real, for Spanish players that is the pinnacle, but I couldn't understand why Benitez didn't hold out an olive branch to sort things out," Jamie Carragher told the Daily Mail in 2017.

"Benitez had his best team in five years at Anfield. We were close to having a team that could win the Premier League and perhaps reach another Champions League final. Why did he have to continue the fight with Xabi? He had won the initial battle by getting the upturn in his form.

"The team suffered in what proved to be Benitez's final year. The way our team functioned broke down. Xabi's departure affected everyone."

Alonso in 2024

Alonso could well return to the Reds in 2024, though - 15 years after leaving the club for Real Madrid and 20 years after his initial arrival as a player. It may provide him the opportunity to fix his one regret.

Xabi Alonso

06.02.2024, Fussball, Saison 2023/2024, DFB-Pokal, Viertelfinale, Bayer 04 Leverkusen - VfB Stuttgart, Cheftrainer Xabi Alonso Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Leverkusen BayArena NRW Deutschland xRHR-FOTO/DEx *** 06 02 2024, Football, Season 2023 2024, DFB Cup, Quarter-finals, Bayer 04 Leverkusen VfB Stuttgart, Head Coach Xabi Alonso Bayer 04 Leverkusen , Leverkusen BayArena NRW Germany xRHR PHOTO DEx Copyright: DennisxEwert/RHR-FOTOx RHR-FOTO/DE

"Moving from Liverpool to Madrid was the most difficult step to make in terms of the decision," he told Ring of Fire. "But I felt that I had new things to learn, new challenges to take.

"The only thing I regret is not winning the Premier League with Liverpool."

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