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ALONSO BROTHERS

Remembering when Real Sociedad pushed Real Madrid’s Galacticos to within an inch of the title

The Basque Country side came within two points of beating Madrid to a league title under Raynald Denoueix

Real Madrid only made one signing ahead of the 2002/03 season- Ronaldo.

When you’ve already got Iker Casillas, Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Luis Figo, Esteban Cambiasso and Fernando Morientes there’s not much space for new arrivals.

Cheer up Alfredo, you’ve just signed Ronaldo

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Cheer up Alfredo, you’ve just signed Ronaldo

This was Madrid, under the guidance of Florentino Perez and management of Vincente del Bosque, in the height of their Galactico era.

However this piece isn’t about Madrid. It’s about the side that finished in second, just two points off Los Blancos.

Barcelona? Nope, they were way down in sixth. Atletico Madrid? Way off in 12th. We’re talking about Real Sociedad.

One of the few times finishing runners-up deserves a lap of honour

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One of the few times finishing runners-up deserves a lap of honour

The Spanish Neville brothers

What did Xabi and Mikel Alonso have in common with the Nevilles, apart from being brothers on the same team?

Well, not a lot to be honest, aside from the fact that one was better than the other (sorry Mikel and Phil).

Xabi, who hadn’t been capped by Spain yet, was the captain and beating heart of the side, despite only being 21.

For his performances Xabi was named the Spanish Player of the Year while brother Mikel, also a midfielder, was used more sparingly.

Two pass masters collide

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Two pass masters collide

Little ‘n’ large

Sociedad’s no frills 4-4-2 featured a classic big man, little man combination up top in the shape of hulking Serbian Darko Kovacevic and diminutive Turk Nihat.

In a stellar season for La Liga strikers- Ronaldo, Raul, Patrick Kluivert and Samuel Eto’o were all banging in goals- only Roy Makaay outscored Nihat.

His 23 goals, combined with Kovacevic’s 20 goals, meant that only Madrid’s Galacticos outscored Sociedad over the course of the season.

Their best performances came in the 4-2 Basque derby victory over Athletic Bilbao, in which both scored, as well as a 4-2 win against Madrid when, again, both got on the scoresheet.

A classic big man, little man combo

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A classic big man, little man combo

From Russia with Love

Alonso wasn’t the only classy midfielder Sociedad manager Raynald Denoueix could call upon.

Valeri Karpin may have been 33 but what he’d lost in pace he’d made up for in guile and class.

The Estonian-born Russian international only missed two games across the entire season, scoring eight goals from midfield.

Karpin was in his second spell at the Anoeta, securing his status as a club legend with his performances.

The best Estonian footballer ever (and Valery Karpin)

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The best Estonian footballer ever (and Valery Karpin)

Unbeaten in Madrid

The captial city proved a fertile stomping ground for Sociedad, whose record against Real and Atletico read played four, lost none.

Sociedad drew 0-0 in the Bernabeu and beat Atletico 2-1 in the Vincente Calderon.

They also sent both Madrid sides back to the capital with their tails between their legs, defeating Real 4-2 and Atletico 3-1 on the final day of the season.

As La Liga is decided on head-to-head rather than goal difference, Sociedad would have won the title if they’d picked up two more points over the season.

The size of the task Sociedad were up against

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The size of the task Sociedad were up against

They didn’t get picked apart

Unlike these lot, Sociedad managed to keep hold of all their stars for an assault on the Champions League the following season.

The only exits were Tayfun Korkut- hardly a key player- who joined Espanyol on a free transfer and Dmitiri Khokhlov, who went to Lokomotiv Moscow.

But the 2003/04 season didn’t pan out as hoped. Sociedad struggled with their European commitments and finished 15th in La Liga.

They made it out of their group in the Champions League, finishing behind Juventus but ahead of Galatasaray and Olympiacos, only to be beaten by Lyon in the first knockout round.

Remember when Juventus wore salmon pink?

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Remember when Juventus wore salmon pink?

But eventually they all drifted off

Nothing lasts forever.

Xabi Alonso joined Liverpool ahead of the 2004/05 season, while Javi de Pedro and Gabriel Schurrer left for Blackburn and Olympiacos in the same window.

A year later goalkeeper Sander Westerveld moved to Portsmouth and Karpin retired from the game altogether.

The following window Nihat left on a free transfer, joining Villarreal, while Kovacevic moved to Olympiacos at the age of 33 ahead of the 2007/08 season.

Done and dusted. It was fun while it lasted.

In his spare time Nihat played an extra in Sopranos

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In his spare time Nihat played an extra in Sopranos