Losing any league game is a disappointment, but the disappointment is always magnified if it’s the first game of the season. If that season was supposed to be “the one”, that disappointment goes off the scale. It’s too early to write the season off, of course it is, but instead of getting the little boost many said we needed to push us that bit further, Liverpool have had another kick in the teeth.
Xabi Alonso wanted to leave, his mind was made up well before the end of last season, and Rafa Benítez knew this. Florentino Pérez wasn’t actually the Real president, so Xabi wasn’t actually in talks with Real, but there was a genuine expectation at that time that Liverpool might even be persuaded to sell Xabi for as little as £18m. But £18m wasn’t Rafa’s expectation, he had a far greater say in transfers than he’d had before, and he wasn’t going to let Xabi go on the cheap.
It doesn’t require a massive stretch of the imagination to see Rafa in a position where he doesn’t need to wait for Real to show their hand to know what cards they’ve got.
If a player desperately wants to leave, and discussions to persuade him to stay don’t get anywhere, all that’s left is to try and get the best possible price for him. Few would argue that the £30m fee, plus up to £5m of add-ons, was less than Liverpool could have expected.
Whilst Liverpool were holding out for Real to offer the right amount, negotiations were going on elsewhere. It’s to the credit of those involved in the talks at both clubs that Alberto Aquilani’s transfer from Roma was kept from the back pages right up to the eleventh hour.
It looked like Liverpool had turned a corner. Not to be messed with in the transfer market, for buying or selling, Liverpool were going to build on that progress of last season.
But that wasn’t the case at all. Liverpool didn’t even hand the manager a budget for transfers.