Xabi Alonso was Liverpool's pass master and it broke my heart when we got rid of him... the wounds have never healed and the game will miss him
I came from my hometown team, to the best team in England; to the best team in Spain; to the best team in Germany. It’s a beautiful career
And this summer that 'beautiful career', which has taken him from Real Sociedad to Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will be over. So far, there have been 16 major honours — including the World Cup and two Champions Leagues — and he collected 114 caps for Spain.
Every word of praise that has come Xabi's way since he confirmed his intention to retire on Thursday has been deserved. The decision to call time, while not unexpected, was another sign this golden era for midfielders — which included Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard — is almost over.
The tributes you will have seen show his standing in the game but what I want to do is give you an insight into why Xabi is so revered and how, in some ways, his departure from Liverpool in 2009 was so significant in the club's modern history. It's not a topic I have discussed in great detail before.
When I think of Xabi, my mind goes back to the first training session he had at Melwood in August 2004. And the same word always leaps out: wow! Rafa Benitez had talked him up before he arrived and immediately you understood.
It was the pace he put on a pass and the expert way he delivered a ball that showed him to be a top player. In one of his first games against Norwich, I had never seen a display of passing like it. You knew as a defender if you gave him the ball, it was in the safest hands.
He could use both feet — look at how he took a penalty in the 2005 Champions League final with his right foot, saw it saved and converted the rebound with his left foot to bring us back to 3-3 — and scored spectacular goals, with two of his 19 for Liverpool coming from the halfway line! There was much more, though, than what you saw on the pitch.
Xabi embraced life in Liverpool. He lived in the Albert Dock, in the heart of the city and he, along with Pepe Reina, became a great link in the dressing room between the new lads who were arriving from Spain and the old guard of me, Stevie, Sami Hyypia, Didi Hamann and John Arne Riise.
He was a strong character, loved by the fans, so when Benitez wanted to sell him in 2008 there was uproar and there was an episode during a pre-season game with Lazio at Anfield when the Kop sang 'You can stick your Gareth Barry up your a***' about his potential replacement.
Rafa's intention was to off-load Xabi for £30million and buy Barry for half that price. The appeal of Barry was that he was English and could play in two or three positions. But, believe it or not, only Juventus and Arsenal were keen to take Xabi.
When it became clear those interested in Xabi were only prepared to pay £15m — and Aston Villa wanted £30m for Barry — the club pulled the plug. I, along with a lot of others, was delighted but there's no doubt the intervention caused problems, with Rafa and Xabi, and Rafa and the board.
It was a pivotal moment. Xabi stayed and his form surpassed the level of his spectacular first year. We finished runners-up to Manchester United in 2009 but when Real Madrid arrived on the scene for him, I became fearful he would go as the wounds of 12 months earlier had not healed.
This is where I have my biggest problem. I had no issue with Xabi 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.
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.
What's more, Xabi was under contract, so Liverpool didn't have to sell. They proved that the same summer when not letting Javier Mascherano join Barcelona. But the writing was on the wall for Xabi and things were never really the same after he left.
The team suffered in what proved to be Benitez's final year. Alberto Aquilani, Xabi's replacement, arrived from Roma with an injury — he didn't play until October 2009 — and he wasn't good enough to fill the void. The way our team functioned broke down.
At a basic level, I would give the ball to Xabi, he would pass it on to Stevie and the final ball would go to Fernando Torres. It was quick passing, Xabi's impeccable touch made it all come together, but Aquilani was never able to have the same input. Xabi's departure affected everyone.
Our loss, of course, was Madrid's gain and his c.v. accurately reflects his ability. I used to tell him when he first arrived at Liverpool that Spain would never win anything because they lacked power and stamina in tournaments and, in the 2006 World Cup, that point was proven when France beat them 3-1.
My words, however, would come back to haunt me. In 2008, when they won the European Championship in Austria, I got a phone call late in the night following their 1-0 victory over Germany to begin a spell that changed football for a generation.
'Carra! Carra!' it was Xabi, in party mode, on the end of the line. 'You said we'd win nothing!'
He then put on a fake Scouse accent: 'Spain? Spain! Can't run! Can't run! You can **** off!'
That was followed by howls of laughter from him, Pepe, Torres — who had scored the winning goal in Vienna — and Alvaro Arbeloa. I had to take my medicine and it was one of the rare occasions when I was happy to be proven wrong!
One thing I will predict with certainty, though, is that once Xabi finishes playing for Bayern Munich — the dream send-off would be the Champions League final in Cardiff on June 3 — he will not be lost to football. He has too much to offer.
I can see him managing a top club or, perhaps, being a sporting director but, knowing him, he will not rush into any decision. When June comes, he deserves the chance to reflect on what has been a beautiful career.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-4302578/Liverpool-getting-rid-Alonso-broke-Carragher-s-heart.html