Sunday 28th May, 2017
The Bernabeu tends not the be the most sentimental of venues during the heat of the battle, so what happened in the 75th minute of Real Madrid's Champions League quarterfinal second leg against Bayern Munich -- with the tie in the balance -- was especially significant.

Facing an away-goals exit, it was reasonable enough for Bayern that a forward like Thomas Muller should replace the deep-lying Xabi Alonso; more significant, though, was the spine-tingling ovation that the former Madrid midfielder was afforded as he departed, with clear emotion, with all sides of the stadium chanting his name.

Few players would get this treatment but then there have, in the last 15 years, been very few like Alonso; when he plays a competitive fixture for the final time on Saturday the appreciation will be even louder and longer. Alonso has made a career out of understated class but Freiburg's visit to the Allianz Arena will see him bow out to a crescendo.

"I couldn't ask for a better midfield partner and when you left, it broke my heart," said Steven Gerrard in a video message to wish his former Liverpool teammate luck in retirement. That Alonso's absence has always been felt as keenly as his presence is, perhaps, the mark of an individual who makes a difference.

In 2008 Liverpool wanted a fee of 163;18 million if Arsenal were to have their wish of signing Alonso, then 26 and close to his prime. However, in perhaps the most misguided decision of his career, Arsene Wenger was unwilling to go quite that high and the move collapsed; it is a situation frequently revisited by those mourning the lack of personality in Arsenal's midfield, the implication being that adding Alonso could have changed everything.

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