Xabi Alonso has jumped into the deep end by taking charge of struggling Bayer Leverkusen
For everyone who loved watching Xabi Alonso as a player, and believes that he’ll one day coach one of his former clubs – Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Real Sociedad – things just got interesting.
Five months after leaving Real Sociedad’s B-team the 40-year-old has taken charge of Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen who sit one off the bottom of the Bundesliga.
His new team have lost five and drawn two of their eight league games played so far this season but they did beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the Champions League last month.
Xabi Alonso has taken his first job in management with German side Bayer Leverkusen
The Spaniard will be looking to kick on from an impressive start to his coaching career
It feels like the right job for a man who appears to pick his next career moves with the same considered precision he used to use to select his passes. The option of moving to Germany where he finished his playing career under Pep Guardiola in Munich has always been a strong one.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was keen on taking him back to Bayern when he was the club’s Director General but others at the club felt he should manage a smaller team elsewhere first.
In March of last year Alonso was close to taking over at Borussia Monchengladbach but despite talks with them, he later announced signing a new deal with Real Sociedad staying as their B-team coach until 2022. Since running down that contract he has been on the market.
Leverkusen have made a terrible start to the season and are second bottom of the Bundesliga
Bayer Leverkusen supporters are not likely to be as demanding as at many other clubs
So why now, and why Germany? First it’s important to understand why not Real Sociedad, where the natural progression might have seemed youth team coach to first team manager.
Alonso has impressed as a youth coach at Real Sociedad in recent times
Although his youthful B-team were relegated from Spain’s second tier under his reign he got them up the previous season and he was considered a success in the way he brought on individual players.
In some ways it contributed to him leaving the club. The young players advanced at such a rate they were soon performing well for the first team and no longer available to him as B-team boss.
One of those young players was Martin Zubimendi who praised Alonso in an interview recently with Sportsmail.
‘I learned to appreciate the different ways other teams press you when you are bringing the ball out from the back and how to tailor the way you come out accordingly,’ the young holding midfielder said.
‘Xabi put a lot of emphasis on analysing the opposition, putting training ground mannequins out on the pitch in the positions he anticipated the next rival would try to press us.’
Zubimendi describes a meticulous coach, driving home the details because ultimately in elite sport they make the difference. Leverkusen hope that ability to improve individual performances will make him a success, because as the club’s Sporting Director Simon Rolfes sees it, the young talented squad is much better than the current league position suggests.
Alonso takes charge of his first training session as he addresses his Leverkusen stars
He will be hoping to get the best out of winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, on loan from Chelsea
There is another advantage for Alonso taking over at Leverkusen, where Chelsea loanee Callum Hudson-Odoi has started three league games this season. The pressure piled on to coaches at other Bundesliga clubs isn’t felt at BayArena.
The expectations are not at Bayern or Dortmund levels. And the intensity created by a massive fan base hungry for success, as is the case at Cologne or Borussia Monchengladbach, is also diluted.
He will be given time – his contract takes him to 2024 – and there will be money too spend if it’s needed. The wealth of the German pharmaceutical multinational Bayer underpins the club.
Alonso is a fan-favourite at Liverpool, and the Reds will be watching his career with interest
Alonso talks to Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish following a recent legends clash at Anfield
The language will not be a problem because he learned to get by in German as a player in Munich and has continued to practice since.
And the bar has been set low in terms of the start to the season suffered by his predecessor Gerardo Seoane.
How they play will be as interesting to watch as where he takes them. Alonso was as highly-valued by Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez as he was by Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti so he’ll be drawing on playing styles that sharply contrast. At Real Sociedad, like all B-team coaches, his primary job was to feed the first team and therefore play the same way. Now he has a blank canvass.
Alonso’s managerial influences include current Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, both pictured celebrating winning the German league title while at Bayern Munich
Former clubs Bayern Munich and Real Madrid will also be watching Alonso with interest
Their best result so far this season – that 2-0 win over Atletico – was more smash and grab than dominate but he’ll have to assess the defeats too, and the only other win so far, over Mainz in September with Jeremie Frimpong scoring twice.
He’ll inherit the problems that made life difficult for Seoane – Florian Wirtz is out with a cruciate ligament tear and the midfielder who scored 10 goals last season is being missed. He’ll be back at the turn of the year – that and finding a defensive midfielder will help him turn the team’s fortunes.
One thing can be guaranteed, Bayer Leverkusen’s results and performance will now be on everyone’s checklist. And even more so at Liverpool, Real Sociedad, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid where it seems at some point in the future a job will be his for the taking, if he progresses as he is expected to.