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Liverpool legend missing from Anfield match could be set for huge role in club’s future

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Liverpool legends were back in force at Anfield – but one man was conspicuous by his absence.

Fernando Torres was the star attraction as he made a belated Liverpool Legends debut in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Ajax.

The Spaniard had originally been scheduled to play in the 2020 iteration of the annual charity match against Barcelona, only for it to be postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, supporters have had to wait a further four years to see ‘El Nino’ make his Anfield return.

Pulling on the famous Reds jersey at Anfield for the first time in over 13 years, the 40-year-old marked the occasion in style as he gave the crowd what they came for by scoring the Legends’ fourth goal late on in front of the Kop. It wasn’t pretty, scrambling home Mark Gonzalez’s low cross from close-range, but neither player nor fanbase cared, seeing as it seemed that a goal would remain elusive for the striker after he missed chance after chance throughout the afternoon.

He would admit after the game that one point he feared such a goal would not come, before suggesting he would like to return to Anfield again in next year’s Legends match.

“I always have the hope to do it (score),” he said. ”These things take time, scoring for Liverpool is a big thing.

“I tried many times, I couldn’t do it. I did in the end and I was happy. I just wanted to score in my first Liverpool game after many years. I did it!

“It’s the first time I’ve been back since I finished football five years ago. I’m not fit, trust me. I’ll do my best to train every day and come again next season, and come back a little bit better.”

Of course, such a return will depend on Torres’ coaching commitments with the striker now enjoying his third season in charge of Atletico Madrid Under-19s.

“It’s the first time I can come because normally I am coaching and cannot find the time so I was really looking forward to it,” he admitted over the course of the weekend. “I’ve been lucky enough to be invited many times from the foundation to play that match.

“But for different reasons, I couldn’t go. And now that I’m coaching, it’s more difficult to find gaps in the calendar to be able to go. I could manage to go this time.”

Of course, he isn’t the only former Red now in management, with such commitments often dictating whether they can participate for the Legends or not.

Gregory Vignal, Igor Biscan, Daniel Agger, and Sami Hyypia have all managed in the past but are currently unemployed, though the Dane did return to face Barcelona in 2022 during his managerial stint with HB Koge.

Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt also both played, with the pair currently in charge of Al-Ettifaq and Beerschot respectively.

Gerrard is a Legends regular, of course, and has played for Liverpool’s veterans while in charge of both Rangers and Aston Villa. However, he sat out both 2022 editions of the game against Manchester United, with the Anfield leg in September coming at a time when the Villains were struggling in the Premier League table.

He would be sacked barely a month later, before, when unemployed, returning to score in the 2023 annual legends match against Celtic the following March.

It was in stark contrast to when he featured for both the Reds and Rangers at Ibrox in October 2019, at a time when he was considered one of the favourites to be the next Liverpool manager when the time comes. Such talk has now all but evaporated, following his Villa sacking and move to Saudi Arabia, with another club legend instead emerging in his place.

All but one of the Legends’ starting XI against Ajax (Bjorn Tore Kvarme) played for Rafa Benitez during their Liverpool careers. Even looking at the bench, only Sander Westerveld, Vignal and Jari Litmanen pre-dated the Spaniard.

As a result, the bulk of Benitez’s ‘all-star squad’, that most memorably nearly won the Premier League in 2009, were in action against the Dutch giants on Saturday, including Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt, Agger, Hyypia, Martin Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio, and Ryan Babel.

There were some well-loved absentees too though, of course. Jamie Carragher hasn’t played for Liverpool Legends at Anfield since March 2022, when they lost 2-1 to Barcelona, while Lucas Leiva understandably hasn’t featured since retiring last year because of a heart condition.

Pepe Reina is still an active player of course, playing for Villarreal at 41 years of age, while Javier Mascherano is never going to be able to return while in his current position as Argentina Under-20s manager. And despite being named in the 2022 squad to face Manchester United, Alvaro Arbeloa missed that match and is yet to make his Legends debut as he continues to manage Real Madrid’s youth sides.

But there was one other legend who was most conspicuous by his absence – Xabi Alonso.

The Spaniard has played in two of the LFC Foundation’s annual charity matches before, featuring for both sides when the Legends faced Bayern Munich in 2018, having only retired the previous summer, before captaining the Reds when they defeated Manchester United in September 2022 – having stepped down as Real Sociedad B manager the previous May.

Taking over as Bayer Leverkusen just weeks after facing United, in truth it would have been a surprise if he had returned. He did not feature last March against Celtic for after all, having led his side to a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich the week before as they moved up to eighth in the Bundesliga table.

Also through to the Europa League quarter-finals, it marked a remarkable turnaround considering Leverkusen were second from bottom in the table off the back of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bayern when Alonso took over. But this year, he has taken it to a whole new level entirely with his side continuing to get the better of the Bavarians.

Leverkusen, who have never previously won the Bundesliga, are currently enjoying an unbeaten season and boast a 10-point lead over Bayern at the top of the table with eight games left to play. Should they finish the season as champions, Alonso will become the first manager to stop the German giants winning the league since Jurgen Klopp with Borussia Dortmund in 2011/12.

But that’s not all Leverkusen have still to play for. with a DFB-Pokal semi-final clash with Fortuna Dusseldorf and Europa League quarter-final against West Ham United looming, as Alonso prepares to make his first return to England as a manager. Should he side go all the way in the tournament, they could end up facing Liverpool in the final in Dublin on May 22.

Such commitments are of course enough to excuse him from accepting a Legends call-up, but that will likely not be the only reason behind his absence. He remains one of the favourites to replace Klopp as Reds manager in the summer, after all.

Any Anfield return on this occasion would have been accompanied by mass speculation. It was best for Alonso, Liverpool, and Leverkusen that, this time, the Spaniard stayed away. It was unnecessary, added attention that all of them would gladly do without. In such circumstances, it was inevitable that he was never going to line up at Anfield.

Of course, it is not a sure-gone thing that Alonso even replaces Klopp. The Reds aren’t the only side chasing his signature, with German media convinced he is Bayern Munich-bound. Reports elsewhere suggest Real Madrid also want to lure him back to the Bernabeu when Carlo Ancelotti’s contract expires in 2026, with such a notion perhaps working alongside Leverkusen’s public declarations that they don’t expect to lose him, though of course they would say that.

Liverpool have their own reasons to be hopeful too though, should their former manager prove to their first-choice as successor to Klopp. New sporting director Richard Hughes already boasts a working relationship with Alonso’s representatives, having hired Andoni Iraola – another one of their clients – at AFC Bournemouth last summer.

Either way, with Klopp himself going as far as to suggest Alonso is the hottest property in management at the moment, it will be fascinating to see what the Spaniard decides to do in the summer.

Such a sentiment is shared by Torres too, after he waxed lyrical about his former team-mate’s managerial credentials after scoring for Liverpool Legends.

“I think he’s doing great, fantastic player and he is already a fantastic manager,” he said. “He’s a really nice guy, I’ve got a nice friendship with him and I hope for him all the best.

“We have seen in the Sociedad academy he is doing really good things, now you can see he has become one of the best managers in the world. He’s having a fantastic season, not losing a single game and the future is bright for him.”

But will that future be at Anfield? While he might have missed Liverpool Legends action for the second year running due to his managerial commitment with Bayer Leverkusen, perhaps it will be different for next year’s annual charity match. Torres might not be the only Spaniard lined up for another return.

Should Alonso pull on the famous Reds jersey again in 2025, you would not be surprised if he was doing so as Liverpool manager.

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