Rafa’s revolutionaries: 16 years since Xabi Alonso and Luis García signed for Liverpool

It’s 16 years to the day since Liverpool signed two Spaniards who would go onto become legends at the club.

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On Friday August 20, 2004, two Spaniards arrived on Merseyside from Real Sociedad and Barcelona. The pair, costing an estimated £6 and £10.7million respectively, would go on to prove key components of Rafael Benítez’s time at Anfield.

With attacking midfielder Antonio Núñez and right-back Josemi having already joined that summer, Alonso and García completed a quartet of Spanish acquisitions in Benítez’s first transfer window as Liverpool manager.

While there were moments of promise for the two earlier arrivals, it would be the new No.14 and No.10 who would become key figures in the ex-Valencia boss’ Reds squad.

The high regard in which both are still held is a reflection of that; Liverpool fans will forever fondly remember how each contributed to the club’s success.

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Both Alonso and García left with a Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup and Community Shield medal. In truth, there probably should have been more.

Forward García would score 30 times in 121 appearances for the club before his July 2007 departure to Atlético Madrid, while playmaker supreme Alonso notched 19 goals and 19 assists in 210 games. Tellingly, his £30 million move to Real Madrid in August 2009 is widely seen as one of the moments that marked the beginning of the end of Benítez’s 2004-2010 Liverpool reign.

Much like Benítez, despite both players having relatively lengthy stays, their most memorable contributions arguably came within their most famous maiden season.

Both debuted in a somewhat inauspicious 1-0 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on August 29 — a game in which García had a legitimate-looking second-half equaliser flagged offside — but they were catching the eye soon enough.

García would net his first goal for the club as soon as September 11, in a 3-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion. Alonso’s would come on October 16, when his half-time introduction and 79th minute free-kick helped earn a dramatic 4-2 comeback victory at Fulham. Even before that decisive impact, the range and quality of the Spaniard’s passing had seen him identified by many.

Still only 22 at the time, that would be one of only three goals for the midfielder in his first season at the club, but they simply served as evidence of his impeccable sense of timing.

His second was a 20-yard screamer which put the Reds 1-0 ahead in November 2004’s famous 2-1 Anfield victory over then champions Arsenal. His third, of course, made it 3-3 in the Champions League Final six months later.

There would likely have been more had a broken ankle, sustained against Chelsea on New Year’s Day, not kept him out until mid-April.

García and co put in plenty of good work while he was recovering, though. The then 26-year-old would finish the season as the club’s joint top-scorer in all competitions, tied with Steven Gerrard and Milan Baroš on 13.

What further enamoured García to the fans was his ability to score in high-pressure games; five of his 13 strikes came in the victorious Champions League run. That all of them came in the knockout stages simply accentuates his legacy.


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The forward scored once at home and twice away in the Round of 16 victory over Bayer Leverkusen, as Liverpool won both legs 3-1. 

Then he displayed his taste for the spectacular when his dipping 30-yard volley beat Gianluigi Buffon to put the Reds 2-0 ahead in the 2-1 quarter-final first-leg win over Juventus. A night when a six-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold watched his first game at Anfield, as it happens.

Alonso returned for the Turin second-leg, where a 0-0 scoreline sent Benítez’s side through. He also featured in the goalless draw at Chelsea in the semi-final first-leg, but a booking there saw him suspended for the Merseyside return.

Once more, García led the charge in his absence. Then came the night which will always define his Liverpool career. On one of Anfield’s most raucous European nights, the no.10 scored his now-famous, often-controversial and supposedly-supernatural ghost goal.

Just three minutes into the game on Tuesday May 3, 2005, Petr Čech brought down Baroš, with William Gallas’ attempts to hack clear García’s close-range effort not enough. The ball was adjudged to have crossed the line.

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It took the roof off Anfield and took Liverpool to that most unforgettable of finals in Istanbul.

That comeback and that victory over AC Milan to earn the club’s fifth European Cup was enough, in isolation, to earn the likes of Alonso and García legendary status.

That might have been the ultimate highlight but, as we know, there was more.

García headed the third in extra-time as the Reds came from behind to beat CSKA Moscow 3-1 and claim the Super Cup in Monaco in August 2005.

Liverpool, too, became considerably more consistent in the league in 2005/06 as they rose two places from the previous campaign to finish third with 82 points — then the club’s record Premier League total. Both were key players within that campaign but, once more, their most notable moments arguably arrived in knockout matches on the way to a trophy.

Alonso found an open net with his weaker left-foot from inside his own half to round off an enthralling 5-3 win at Luton Town in the FA Cup Third Round in early January. Then, in April’s Old Trafford semi-final, García came up trumps against Chelsea once more.

His looping 20-yard left-footed shot put the Reds 2-0 up against the side about to retain their league title.

Didier Drogba’s late header couldn’t stop the Reds reaching the Cardiff final, where Gerrard’s heroics — and another penalty shootout victory following a 3-3 draw — saw Liverpool overcome West Ham United to claim a seventh FA Cup.

García, unfortunately, missed out on that showpiece after a red card in a league match against the Hammers a couple of weeks earlier earned him a three-game ban.

2006/07 again began with silverware, as a 2-1 win over Chelsea back in Cardiff earned the Community Shield, but there would be no further major trophies for either Alonso or García on Merseyside.

This would prove the latter’s last season at the club, though it was sadly curtailed by a knee injury sustained in a January League Cup quarter-final defeat against Arsenal.

The two-and-a-half-years in which he was able to play an active part were very well-spent by the No.10, though. The sheer value, quality and variety of so many of his goals and assists — paired with the trophies won — go some distance to evidencing that.

Alonso – who had again netted from inside his own half in a 2-0 Anfield league win against Newcastle in September 2006 – would be around for a further two years, of course. He, at least, was able to be a part of Liverpool’s run to a second Champions League Final in three seasons. Milan, though, would be the victors in Athens this time around.

By this stage, he was one third of the ‘Best Midfield in the World’ — as Kopites sang. For his final couple of seasons at Liverpool, Alonso was part of a midfield unit whose quality was amongst the best he would ever play alongside. With Javier Mascherano sitting, and Gerrard ahead in the Number 10 position, the trio — alongside the newly-signed Fernando Torres — were unstoppable.

Fourth-place in the Premier League and a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League followed in 2007/08, then second-place and the quarter-finals in 2008/09 — but no silverware.

It felt like a harsh reflection on this incarnation of Benítez’s Liverpool, given some of the performances they put in and moments they produced. Yet consistency — and oftentimes a lack of ruthlessness — would expose the the team when compared to the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Alonso’s final season at Anfield was widely viewed as his best. After helping Spain to victory at Euro 2008, there was talk that he may be on the move and that Gareth Barry was set to come in from Aston Villa to take his place. Instead, he scored five goals in 47 largely impressive appearances.

Interestingly, six opponents were sent-off during that campaign for fouls on the Spaniard. Paul Scholes, Tim Cahill, Pablo Zabaleta, Antonio Valencia, Frank Lampard and Joey Barton all dished out that particular backhanded compliment.

Alonso’s return to Spain then arrived, with his relationship with Benítez supposedly slightly strained after he’d almost been sold 12 months earlier.

The drop-off in the 2009/10 season, in which Liverpool finished seventh in the Premier League and were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage, can at least partially be attributed to the midfielder’s transfer. Alberto Aquilani, who was effectively brought in to replace him, never truly found to his feet due to struggles with both fitness and form.

Even so, the degree to which it appeared the No.14 was missed only served to reinforce how shrewd a double-buy the acquisition of Alonso and García was back in the summer of 2004.

Come 2020, with the former now manager of Real Sociedad B and the latter working on a range of post-retirement projects, the contributions of both continue to endure in the eyes of the fans.

(Transfer fees taken from www.lfchistory.net)

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