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Benitez: Alonso will fight for place

Benitez: Alonso will fight for place

Jun 9 2007

by Ben Thornley, Liverpool Daily Post Correspondent

Xabi Alonso

RAFAEL BENITEZ yesterday warned Xabi Alonso he faces a fight for a first-team place after the midfielder became the fourth key player to commit his future to Liverpool this week.

Alonso ended months’ of speculation linking him with a return to Spain this summer by putting pen-to-paper on a five-year deal yesterday.

The 25-year-old’s signature concludes a satisfying week of business for the Liverpool manager, having already tied-up Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Jose Reina to long-term term contracts. Momo Sissoko – a target for Juventus – and Steve Finnan, who has agreed terms, are expected to follow suit over the weekend.

There may no new faces but at last business is finally being conducted at the pace the manager demands.

While finalising new contracts for captain Gerrard, Carragher and Reina had always been viewed as a formality by Benitez, Alonso’s situation had brought the former-Valencia chief some concern, with Barcelona waiting to swoop.

Yet, both player and manager have now insisted that Alonso always intended to remain at the club, whom he joined from Real Sociedad for a fee of £10.6m in 2004.

However, while insisting Alonso remains an integral part of his plans, Benitez has challenged the Spain international to compete for his position in the side.

He said: “We knew Xabi wanted to stay and he knew we wanted to keep him.

“Some other top clubs were interested in doing something, or at least wanting to know what the situation was, but we were always clear that we wanted to build a strong team for the future and Xabi is part of that future.

“He has had some fantastic years with us and he will be just as good in the future. When you know you are settled, and that the team is ready for another challenge, then you can work with total focus.

“From my point of view, I know I have a lot of options all over the pitch now, and especially in the centre.

“Xabi is a key player but he will need to fight to compete for his position and that can only be good for the team.”

The emergence of Javier Mascherano as Benitez’s holding midfielder of choice towards the close of last season, meant the Spaniard was no longer viewed as an automatic choice in his manager’s line-up for the first time during his stay.

The player regarded by many as being his manager’s closest confidant was left fearing for his place in Athens following his omission from the side which beat Chelsea on penalties in the second leg of the semi-final tie.

La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona had both asked to be kept informed about Alonso’s position, when discussions between his agent and the club stalled last month.

His name had even been mentioned as part of a mooted swap deal that would see Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o arrive at Anfield.

But Alonso, who concluded the deal from his native San Sebastian, said: “I knew there was interest from other clubs but it was always my idea to stay here.

“I have been here for three seasons now and have such special feelings for the club and the supporters. I understand what Liverpool FC means to so many people. It is such a special club and I just didn’t want to leave.

“We agreed that the talks would take place after the Champions League final and, to be honest, in the end it was a simple decision for me because I could see right away that the attitude of the club towards me was spot on.

“I greatly appreciate all the hard work that Rick Parry has put in on this contract and the faith that Rafa Benitez has shown in me. We all wanted to reach an agreement and we’re all happy with the outcome.

“I want to be part of what lies ahead because I know it is going to be exciting. I’ve signed for another five years and there’s no reason why we can’t be successful.

“It’s also good news to see that other players have signed new contracts this week. Stevie, Carra and Pepe are all big players for us and it’s great they have all shown their commitment. I’m sure the manager will be bringing in new players as well and that the new owners will be making a big effort to improve the squad.”

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