Xabi paints the town red

Xabi Alonso, who was born in nearby Tolsa, came through the youth ranks at San Sebastian club Sociedad and broke into the first team in the 1999-2000 season, writes Andy Hampson.

Spaniard Xabi Alonso is a talented playmaker renowned for his passing and technical ability. Often deployed as a deep-lying and central midfielder, Alonso is one of Liverpool's most influential players when in form. He has also earned a reputation for long-range strikes since joining Liverpool — with whom he has won the UEFA Champions League — from Real Sociedad in 2004.

Football is in Alonso's blood. His father Miguel `Periko' Alonso was a star with Sociedad and Barcelona in the 1980s while brothers Mikel and Jon are also involved in the game, one as a midfielder for Sociedad and the other a referee respectively.

Alonso, who was born in nearby Tolsa, came through the youth ranks at San Sebastian club Sociedad and broke into the first team in the 1999-2000 season. He continued his development by joining smaller neighbours SD Eimar on loan the following year and by the time of the 2002-03 season, he was really starting to make a name for himself. He caught the eye as Sociedad finished second to Real Madrid in the Primera Liga and he earned his first international caps.

The following season was to prove his last in Spain and one memorable goal against Valencia was particularly timely as the manager of the opposition, Rafael Benitez, was soon to take over at Liverpool and tempt Alonso to join him.

Alonso featured in Euro 2004 and then moved to Liverpool in a GBP10.5 million deal soon after.

His form for Liverpool since has not met consistently high standards but he has certainly been influential and one of the men Benitez has built his side around.

The Reds have not mounted the Barclays English Premier League title challenge hoped for when Benitez arrived at Anfield but there have been plenty of highlights, not least in the UEFA Champions League.

Liverpool had endured a difficult 2004-05 campaign before suddenly embarking on an incredible run in the second half of the season to win Europe's premier competition against all the odds.

Alonso was a star of the remarkable run and scored in the final as Liverpool staged an unbelievable comeback from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan.

There were further rewards last year as Liverpool won the FA Cup in another thriller against West Ham, despite Alonso having to come off in the second half. Earlier in the tournament, Alonso had scored from inside his own half with an opportunistic strike in the third-round win over Luton. He repeated that feat earlier this season with a brilliant lob in a Premier League game against Newcastle at Anfield.

Alonso also featured in last summer's World Cup in Germany and scored his first international goal in a 4-0 win over Ukraine.

Alonso could have missed the stunning 2005 UEFA Champions League success after breaking his leg under a Frank Lampard challenge in a New Year's Day defeat by Chelsea. Benitez initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season but he made a full recovery and was able to play his part in the European run. He returned for the quarterfinal win over Juventus and even though a harsh booking denied him the chance to play in the semifinal second leg against Chelsea, he was back for the final.

Alonso is dating long-term girlfriend Nagore, a childhood sweetheart. They have a house on Merseyside, where they live next door to Everton's Mikel Arteta, a close friend. Alonso and Arteta lived on the same street as children in San Sebastian.

Alonso says he loves driving and owns an Audi A3, one of the more popular cars with Premier League players. The A3 is proclaimed by the German manufacturer as "dynamic, modern and highly distinctive." It is apparently a "sleek city performer" and an "open road adventurer." There are two main models in the A3 range, the hatchback and the sportback, with prices touching GBP25,000.

* * * Factfile Name: Xabi Alonso Position: Midfielder Club: Liverpool DOB: 25/02/81 Spain Caps: 33 Spain Goals: 1 Spain debut: v Ecuador, April 2003 Moment to remember

The UEFA Champions League final success in Istanbul is undoubtedly the highlight of Alonso's career to date. Alonso played a full part in the comeback and got the equalising goal when he scored on the rebound after having a penalty saved by Dida.

Moment to forget

Alonso was harshly sent off for two bookable offences late in a match against Arsenal last season. The second of his yellow cards came for fouling Mathieu Flamini after stumbling, with replays showing the referee was not looking at the moment of his slip. He saw only the impact and the decision cost Liverpool as they conceded an 83rd-minute winner.

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