"Benítez wanted to sell me, but that's not why I joined Madrid"
In an interview for The Guardian plucked from extracts from the book 'Ring of Fire', Xabi Alonso spoke about his relationship with Benítez and life on Merseyside...
In an interview published in The Guardian today, author Simon Hughes plucked a handful of the juicier soundbites from his new book 'Ring of Fire' in which the player looked back over the key moments of his playing career - being spotted at Sanse by John Toshack who gave him his first real break, a proposed move to Real Madrid which never came to fruition and ended in him instead becoming a legend on Merseyside for Liverpool and eventually arriving at the Bernabéu after being told by Rafa Benítez he was surplus to requirements at Anfield.
Madrid dragging their heels to sign him in 2003: “It dragged on and on and on and on; it was exasperating. Then Liverpool approached with a very serious interest. Madrid had taken a couple of months to reach the same point in negotiation that Liverpool reached in a couple of days. I was like, ‘Come on, it’s either going to happen or it is not – decision time.’ I decided that if Liverpool wanted me so much, I preferred to go there. I saw Liverpool as a great chance, a top club”.
Coming within a whisker of winning the Premier League in 2009: "to win the league you need to have everything. These were my happiest times at Liverpool: Pepe [Reina] to [Daniel] Agger, Agger to me, me to Stevie and Stevie to [Fernando] Torres. Sometimes it would take less than 10 seconds. The spine in that team was the best I’ve played in. You also have Carra and [Javier] Mascherano in the side – top-class players. There was skill, steel and speed; it was very competitive, very intense. Very, very determined and committed; That side didn't win anything together but we felt we could win everything. We had a few stupid draws at home and in the end that’s why we did not win the league. We always had that feeling, that belief and confidence. Nobody scared us.”.
The leaving of Liverpool: “Rafa came to me and was very clear. He said, ‘Xabi, we need the money to sign other players that I want’. In order to make that money, my name was the first on the list to be sold. I said, ‘OK, Rafa, no problem. I am a professional. I understand that’. There was interest from Juventus. There was interest from Arsenal. But the clubs could not agree terms. I was ready to leave, because the manager wanted me to leave. It did not happen, though. So the next year, the situation was different. 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”.
Finally joining Madrid at the second attempt: “It's not in my character to hold grudges. It's not nice to discover your boss does not rate you as highly as previously believed. I was surprised and disappointed too, because I was very happy in Liverpool. I could walk down the street and people would beep their car horns and wave. None of this would matter to Rafa, of course, but why should it? He was the manager. He has his way of doing things. Moving from Liverpool to Madrid was the most difficult step to make in terms of the decision. But I felt that I had new things to learn, new challenges to take".
Benítez, Mourinho, Ancelotti and Guardiola: “People ask me all the time: what links these four guys? It sounds simplistic but, fundamentally, they are all leaders. They are the ones who, at their best, know how to take the pressure and worries away from the players”.
The full Guardian interview with Xabi can be read here: