This isn’t the largest ‘Caja de los truenos’ (can of worms) we’ll open in this series as the pool of which to choose from isn’t vast; but the circumstances in which certain señors vacated Anfield clearly plays a part and that’s the tricky bit. In fact, we feel, in pretty much all five cases, that these players have/had more to give.
So let’s do it in traditionally dramatic reverse order…
5 – Alvaro Arbeloa
Arby joined the club as a relative nobody; some utility defender from Spain, but what seemed like a potential baptism of fire turned out to be his finest hour as he man-marked Messi in the Nou Camp, snuffing out the little Argentine genius with relative ease as the reds came from behind for a famous 2-1 victory in the Champions League.
Never the most gifted but arguably the sort of player every top club needs; versatile, dependable, not injury-prone, and a workhorse happy to do a job for the team whenever called upon. The fact we sold him for a measly £5m galls somewhat; he was in his prime and had a role to play. Has spoken glowingly on a few occasions of his love for Liverpool since his return to Spain.
4 – Luis Garcia
Little Luis was far from perfect but hardworking, creative, packed with guile and, as we all know so well, sublime finishing. Incredible in the air for his size too – Anderlecht anyone? He was the archetypal jack-in-the-box player that would do nothing or frustrate and then pop up with a piece of genius or a goal from nowhere.
Who could ever forget the semi-final goals against Chelsea – Champions League 2005 in front of the Kop (my ears are still ringing) and a year later at Old Trafford in the FA Cup with a left-footed beauty – did that one cross the fucking line, Mr Mourinho?!
Such a humble, likeable fella and someone intrinsically associated with the glorious feelings of Istanbul which would not have been possible were it not for him – his contribution stands out alongside Stevie’s and Carra’s throughout the competition – and we don’t just mean that Juve volley.
Will always remember his wide, cheesy grin as the camera passed during the Istanbul player line-ups and his touching letter to us all, upon his departure, won’t be forgotten. A class act.
3 – Fernando Torres
This section alone could be 500 words but we’ll try and keep on the straight and narrow. Our thoughts on Torres are clearly double-sided. He started like a house on fire, hitting 24 goals in his debut season, breaking all kinds of records, fastest to 50 goals and so on. From 2007 to 2009 he was arguably the greatest striker on the planet and we had him. And just as importantly, he felt towards us and the club the same way we did towards him. But being the greatest Spanish player isn’t only about on the pitch, it’s about their character, which truly comes to light when things aren’t going well and the often frustrated, pent-up Torres soon cut a frustrated figure off the pitch which, with the club struggling under Hodgson, spelt trouble. In late January 2011, it all came crashing down.
We could go on forever; we really could. At his best in a Liverpool shirt, he was simply enthralling. The goals were incredible in their quality, quantity and variation. The volley against Blackburn, the slaloming run and finish in Marseille, home and away thunderbolts against Middlesbrough and let’s not forget torturing Chelsea and the Mancs on numerous occasions.
His form since leaving has helped heal the wounds but there’s a sense that both Liverpool fans and Torres himself wonder what might have been had he stayed and potentially linked up with Suarez…
2 – Xabi Alonso
In early discussions about this piece, Xabi has been a common denominator in the upper echelons and it’s not hard to see why. In five years, we watched this floppy-haired Spanish kid go from a talented distributor of the ball to a midfield general of world class standing – playing a vital role in winning the World Cup with Spain.
When he arrived from Sociedad in 2004, we’d never have guessed what he’d face in the Ataturk Stadium some 10 months later. Even watching it back now brings back that moment of sheer dread before he took it; the heart wrenching pain when he missed; and the delight when he smashed in the rebound. The image of him wheeling away with Baros all over him is ingrained eternally.
He kicked on and scored some wonderful goals and yes, he did stall somewhat around 2007 but overall, Xabi was the man that conducted the whole side. Iconic strikes from inside his own half against Luton and Newcastle will live long in the memory, along with his stunning goal against Arsenal after a flowing move, as will his performance in Turin where we turned to him, just back from a long injury lay-off, to steer us through without Stevie and what a performance he put in.
His performances in 2008-09, despite uncertainty surround his future, spoke volumes about his character and it was a sad day to see him go.
“I miss lots of things. I miss the lads, I miss the atmosphere at Melwood – it was a great place to work, and the scenario of Anfield is unbeatable. The special nights I have been privileged enough to live, those will be in my memory forever and they are difficult to compare anywhere in the world.”
“Since I arrived I have known so many big, big legends as Kenny, Hansen, Souness, Fowler, Stevie, Carra – these will be forever. Sami Hyypia as well, for me he was a big example and someone I learned a lot from. I don’t think I belong there but if I am a step below them I am happy to be there.”
1 – ‘Pepe’ Reina
As we type this on a quiet Friday evening in, we come across Tony Evans’ finest Liverpool XI on Twitter that he’s just posted, creating a flurry of fervent debate. The goalie – Clem? Brucie? Pepe? Nope, Elisha Scott, still Liverpool’s longest-serving player with two spells spanning 20 years. But even though Pepe’s been with us for just six, we don’t think he can be far away and is already our finest Spanish player of all time. In fact, it could be argued that he is not only our leading Spaniard but our best ever ‘keeper having played in teams that haven’t been as strong as teams of years gone by, finding himself with much more to do. Granted, our wealth of knowledge doesn’t date back to Elisha confronting Dixie Dean in the 1930s but compared to Clemence and Grobbelaar, Pepe is right up there.
Three-times Golden Gloves winner, LFC Player of the Season 2009/10 (unheard of for a Liverpool goalie) and numerous other statistical accolades such as becoming the first man to keep 100 league clean sheets in fewer than 200 games shows that Pepe is a truly outstanding goalkeeper – without doubt the finest in the Premier League over the last few years. In terms of proper trophies, it’s criminal that he’s only won an FA Cup with us; he deserves more.
His presence is monumental, his shot-stopping world class, his kicking at times Molby-esque. His penalty record has taken a battering in the last 18 months so he’s due some on that front!
One thing you note with Pepe – his expression in matches will often mirror the fans behind him. He kicks every ball with this team and feels every result as much as any thoroughbred scouser – the man is top class.
So there you have it, the top five greatest Spanish lads. Agree?
LFC Greatest – Top 5 Spanish Players, a LoveFollowConquer.com blog post