Andres D'Alessandro - The 'forgotten' Argentine genius who wrote himself into Portsmouth folklore
His talent briefly graced Fratton Park, a spellbinding stint spanning just 13 matches.
Yet Andres D’Alessandro’s Pompey contribution was sufficiently impressive to earn his presence among the top-three players Gary O’Neil performed alongside.
High praise indeed, especially considering he’s in the company of Robert Prosinecki and Paul Merson.
Certainly O’Neil is convinced Pompey’s 2006 Great Escape under Harry Redknapp would not have been achieved without the mercurial Argentina international at the heart of their remarkable achievement.
A January 2006 deadline-day arrival from Wolfsberg, the loanee was challenged with keeping the Blues in the Premier League.
A delighted Redknapp proclaimed D’Alessandro as a talent reminiscent of Joe Cole, a player he had overseen as West Ham’s boss.
Upon his debut, the left-footed attacker was crowned The News’ man of the match in a 1-1 draw against Bolton – barely 24 hours after arriving on the south coast.
And the Fratton faithful were introduced to a new hero still revered to this very day.
‘For some reason, I always forget about D'Alessandro,’ laughed O’Neil.
‘I don’t know whether it was because I wasn't there that long with him, but when people ask the best players I played with they were Merson, Prosinecki and him.
‘It was only a loan so you sometimes forget. There was so much going on during that time, so many comings and goings, that you can tend to forget how good people were.
‘I think in my career in general, most of the best players I played with were signed by Harry at Portsmouth,
‘I played with some good ones at West Ham and Middlesbrough as well, but some of the marquee signings which Harry made were fantastic players.
‘We had hoped D'Alessandro would stay, I don’t know why he didn’t. I’m sure Harry would have got him if he could.
‘What a fantastic player, he was awesome. Thinking about it, he would definitely be in there as one of the best players I ever played with.’
According to Redknapp, he had spotted D’Alessandro while taking in an Argentina under-20 fixture.
However, moves to recruit him for Upton Park were thwarted by Wolfsburg’s willingness to pay £6.5m to River Plate for his talents.
The pair finally linked up at Pompey, yet, despite the encouraging unveiling against Bolton, D’Alessandro featured in a losing side at Newcastle and was then withdrawn at half-time against Manchester United.
Ognjen Koroman was preferred on the left in a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea, with the Argentine an unused substitute, while he was unavailable for the trip to Aston Villa after his partner had given birth to daughter Martina, their first child, earlier in the day.
In the build-up to the March 2006 visit of Manchester City, Redknapp purred over three ‘incredible’ goals D’Alessandro had netted in the Thursday training session. In reference to the manager’s words,The News’ back page headline read ‘Time to put on a show for us’.
Sure enough, the attacker was handed his first start for a month, recalled alongside Benjani and Brian Priske.
Operating behind strikers Benjani and Lomana Lualua in a newly-introduced diamond system, the Blues won 2-1 to kick-start their relegation fight.
O’Neil added: ‘Really, he adjusted quickly to the English game, yet was simply an immense talent, just fantastic.
‘D’Alessandro could have played anywhere in the world, in any league.
‘He was so good with the ball at his feet, he could look after it, he could beat a player, he could see a pass, he was awesome.
‘There is no way we would have stayed up in the Premier League without him. He was the guy we leant on to win us games, he was the one that was going to create chances.
‘The rest of us had to keep a clean sheet or only concede one goal. If we managed that, you knew there was every chance he could come up with a moment of magic which would get us a couple of points.’
The Manchester City outcome sparked a return of 20 points from next 27 possible to retain Pompey’s Premier League status with a game to spare – and featured D’Alessandro as an ever-present.
Their sole defeat during those nine fixtures was a 2-1 loss at Charlton, a match which marked his only Pompey goal.
The Argentina international’s spectacular strike had given the visitors the lead just five minutes before half-time.
However, two goals in the final 14 minutes, supplied by Bryan Hughes and Darren Bent, ensured Charlton claimed victory late on.
Not that it mattered as, two games later, Pompey were assured of safety following a 2-1 victory at Wigan.
D’Alessandro’s final outing – and 13th overall – was a last-day 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Fratton Park.
He appeared for 68 minutes before replaced by Wayne Routledge in the dead rubber.
Despite Pompey having ambitions of a permanent agreement, the attacking midfielder instead linked up with Real Zaragoza in June 2006, citing a desire to play in Spain.
O’Neil said: ‘He was similar to Laurent Robert in terms of the quality he possessed in his left foot, but had a lot more trickery and a little more pace.
‘He also definitely had more desire. Whereas Robert would go through the motions, D'Alessandro was still desperate to impact the game all the time.
‘I remember him setting me up at Fulham with a cross for one of my two goals in an April 2006 win. He was a Merson type with his assists and ability to come up with something in the final third.
‘D’Alessandro didn’t speak much English, although he spoke more English than Jhon Viafara, which is an improvement!
‘It wasn’t bad, good enough to have a conversation about the lads. From memory, his English football-wise was pretty good, he was able to pick up phrases we’d use in games.
‘It was only when we got talking about social events he wouldn’t be quite so good, not that it mattered.
‘What a fantastic talent.’
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