Xabi Alonso at 40: Liverpool idol en route to becoming Anfield rival to Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso formed a fantastic partnership in Liverpool's midfield

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At Liverpool, he often operated in the shadow cast by the iconic number eight in front of him, Alonso quietly kept things ticking over while seemingly never misplacing a trademark cross-field diagonal pass.

Having been enticed to Anfield from boyhood club Real Sociedad in 2004, Alonso took just one season to write his name into Liverpool folklore.

Say the word 'Istanbul' to any football fan let alone a Reds supporter and anyone of an age to remember it will immediately be transported back to May 25, 2005.

After a disastrous start against AC Milan in the Champions League final, Rafael Benitez's side found themselves 3-0 down to the Italian giants come the half-time whistle.

The millions of Reds fans unable to make the trip to the Turkish city can now afford to look back and chuckle at the words of co-commentator Andy Gray following Hernan Crespo's third for the Rossoneri – "Game well and truly over at half-time, and I hate saying that."

That's because, contrary to Gray's prediction – the game was anything but finished, as Liverpool enthralled fans watching the world over while they fought back to level the score at 3-3.

In six glorious minutes, Liverpool turned the tie on it's head – the scorer of the crucial third? Alonso himself, gratefully accepting a second stab at the ball after his penalty had been saved by Dida before he hammered home the rebound.

Milan could barely believe their eyes come an hour later, when Alonso stood alongside midfield partner Steven Gerrard holding the trophy aloft after winning the most important game in club football via a penalty shoot-out.

Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League final at Ataturk Olympic Stadium with Xabi Alonso notching the goal to take it to penalties
(Image: Liverpool Echo)

More honours duly followed in the form of the FA Cup the season after, Liverpool yet again enjoying shoot-out success.

Though he wasn't on the scoresheet in the final, Alonso scored a goal that still makes highlight reels to this day in the third round of the competition – a 65-yard effort from behind the halfway line against Luton Town.

To prove it wasn't a fluke, he scored an eerily similar goal the following season in the Premier League against Newcastle United.

Perhaps unfortunately for Liverpool fans, Alonso's career highlights go well beyond his Anfield exploits, the midfielder swapping Merseyside for Madrid in August of 2009 when he signed a £30m deal with Los Blancos.

Former teammate Gerrard has previously spoken at length about his heartbreak at watching Alonso head for the Anfield exit, but 'La Barba Roja' (the Red Beard) had lofty ambitions only the Santiago Bernabeu could match.

Xabi Alonso won La Liga with Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

One La Liga title, two Copa Del Reys and a Spanish super-cup followed, but it was arguably the Champions League title won at the end of his final season in the Spanish capital that defined his Real Madrid legacy.

After a 12-year wait for another European title, Los Blancos finally secured their tenth Champions League crown – 'La Decima'.

Alonso, however, was ruled out of the final in Lisbon, having been cautioned against Bayern Munich the game prior for an ill-timed tackle on Bastian Schweinsteiger.

There is some irony in a meeting with the Bavarian giants ruling him out of a final glorious curtain call with Real Madrid, as just three months later he would arrive at the Allianz Arena on a two-year contract.

Three successive Bundesliga titles won under the guidance of Pep Guardiola saw Alonso at his best despite approaching the twilight of his playing days.

Xabi Alonso joined forced with Pep Guardiola to win three Bundesliga titles at Bayern Munich

Less then 10 games into his Bayern career, Alonso shattered the record for most passes completed in a German league game – 196.

It is fitting then, that a man who loved and craved such control from the middle of the park, made the transition into dictating things from the touchline after hanging up his boots in May 2017.

Alonso's honours list as a player reads – to name just a few, two Champions Leagues, one FA Cup, one La Liga, two Copa del Reys, three Bundesliga titles and the small matter of the 2010 World Cup won either side of two European Championship titles in the colours of La Roja.

Having ended his 18-year career on the pitch as a Bayern player, Alonso has started his coaching career back in the familiar surroundings of sunny Spain.

Beginning the journey by taking charge of Real Madrid's U-14's side, Alonso made a significant step up just a year later when he was announced as the new manager of Real Sociedad B.

In just his second season at the helm, Alonso guided his former side back to the Segunda Division, otherwise known as La Liga 2.

This sparked interest from German outfit Borussia Mönchengladbach, but Alonso resisted a return to the Bundesliga and instead penned a one-year extension with the White and Blues.

Xabi Alonso is now the manager of Real Sociedad B

His transition into management has inevitably led to speculation surrounding whether he plans on succeeding Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool one day.

Alonso could rival Gerrard for a role in the Anfield hot-seat if Klopp were to depart anytime soon.

A departure for Klopp does not seem imminent, but it is widely believed the former Borussia Dortmund boss will not coach for as long as most other managers at the elite level.

However, Alonso has played down any talk of his being handed the keys to the Anfield hot-seat just yet, telling CNN : "I am here in San Sebastian and Liverpool fans, they salute me and I still feel that support.

"For me, that feeling in life is great. Right now, Jurgen [Klopp] is doing a great job, so I think that the job is fulfilled, but for sure that Liverpool is top, top club for me, very, very, special."

Alonso has admitted he has utilised the kind of qualities that made him one of the best midfielders of his generation since becoming a coach, explaining: "Sometimes the manager, he doesn't have time to give an instruction on the pitch.

"So you need players to be able to take those decisions when you are playing so quick. And that was my job, and that's why it became natural to me, to me, that process to try to be a manager."

Alonso has previously stated "I am still a Liverpool fan and will be forever, absolutely", therefore likely to at least be tempted by any kind of offer from the Reds hierarchy should it come.

For now, however, as he celebrates hitting 40, Alonso can simply take comfort in the adoration and respect he commands from every member of the Anfield, Bernabau and Allianz faithful.