Xabi Alonso has admitted that his penalty during Liverpool’s famous 2005 Champions League final comeback was the first time he’d taken one in his career.
The Reds were 3-0 down at half time to AC Milan before Steve Gerrard and Vladimir Smicer pulled it back to 3-2 when the Liverpool captain was brought down in the area by Gennaro Gattuso.
Alonso took the resulting spot kick and missed, before following up the rebound into the roof of the net to draw Liverpool level to complete the memorable comeback.
But the Bayern Munich midfielder has revealed that he was chosen as penalty taker in the pre-match meeting after usual taker Gerrard lost the responsibility because of a missed spot kick against Tottenham in the Premier League.
And with other candidate Harry Kewell off the pitch, the duty feel on Alonso, who had never carried out the task in his professional career before.
“I remember most of the things during the game and after but before I don’t remember doing anything special to prepare for it,” he told The Anfield Wrap.
“The last game in the Premier League, Stevie missed a penalty against Tottenham so Rafa said in the pre-match talk that in the case of a penalty it will be Xabi or Harry Kewell.
“Harry was not on the pitch so I was the one. It was my first professional penalty. I’d never taken one at Sociedad so it was my first one. I knew it was a big responsibility, come on, but I wasn’t nervous!
“The story would have been different if I hadn’t have scored the rebound then maybe we wouldn’t be talking here now. The mystique [about missing first] makes it all the better!”
While Alonso found the miss made the moment all-the-more memorable, his manager Rafael Benitez clearly disagreed and refused to allow the 35-year-old to take one in the shootout, through fear he may miss again.
“When Rafa was deciding the penalty takers he asked me, I said yes but asked which one [and he said] no, you’re not taking! I got it, I got it. It’s football history, everyone has heard about it. Everyone will remember that final.”
That was Alonso’s first of two Champions League titles – and three finals – having later completed La Decima with Real Madrid. But it is his performance in that 2005 final which adhered him so much to the Anfield faithful in what was his first season at the club.
He formed a formidable partnership with Gerrard during his time at Liverpool but admitted while his captain was a world class player – and in Alonso’ “top five” players he’s played with – he did admit that there is a noticeable difference between English players and foreigners coming to the Premier League.
Alonso said that to understand football, you need to appreciate that you only have a good game if you make everyone else have one.
“That is probably the biggest issue about the English game,” he added. “You need to be a great player and great at striking the ball, of course, but it’s also about your head and being able to understand the game, especially for a midfielder.
“That’s what I think in my position and that’s something that I did in my years at Real Sociedad, at Liverpool, in Madrid and here at Bayern.
“That’s why I understand football. I don’t want to just play well, I want the players around me to play better and that’s when I feel that I have done my job.”
Alonso this month announced that he would retire from football at the end of the season, despite showing no signs of slowing up and still performing at the top of his game.
At 35 years old, Alonso will be involved in yet another Champions League quarter final next month – this time against former club Real Madrid – but he admitted he would rather keep his future in his own hands and depart the professional scene while still at his peak.
“That’s one thing that I’ve always wanted, to make my own decisions and not to be pushed,” he said.
“That has happened in my career and I wanted to leave football, not football to leave me.
“I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could and to leave it a little bit earlier than too late. I wanted to leave at the peak and hopefully I will leave at the peak with Bayern.”
The full 50 minute exclusive interview is available via TAW Player at www.theanfieldwrap.com