Home Bundesliga Xabi Alonso is so talented. Leverkusen is on fire.

Xabi Alonso is so talented. Leverkusen is on fire.

by Kyle Bonagura
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When Leverkusen surged to the top of the Bundesliga, much was not said about the progress of this club but rather the coaching prowess of Xabi Alonso. This puts the young coach amid competition among Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Liverpool.

The 41-year-old former midfielder has played for all three major clubs: Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich. He took over Leverkusen in October 2022 and has elevated the club from the bottom of the Bundesliga standings to contention for the title this season. Within just 13 months, Leverkusen has gone from a relegation position to the top of the Bundesliga. This is truly an impressive start, but it is reasonable given the intelligent and harmonious combination of this coach and the club. Xabi has transformed a low-quality and weak-willed team into a formidable opponent.

Not every coach, especially a dreamer like Xabi, can achieve such a feat. In the early training sessions, Xabi was still the best player. He possesses a good combination of tactical and technical skills, both as a player and now as a coach. Xabi’s previous coaching experience was with Real Sociedad B. His appointment as the coach of Leverkusen was facilitated by his relationship with the Sporting Director, Fernando Carro, who is also a fellow countryman.

Despite his limited coaching experience, Xabi has worked with masters such as Pep Guardiola, Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, and Carlo Ancelotti, gaining valuable insights. Many clubs wanted Xabi, but he chose Leverkusen. It is evident that in Xabi, we can see the DNA of a great strategist like Pep Guardiola, reflected in Leverkusen’s possession-based style of play and quick, intense reactions without the ball.

In just 13 months, Xabi has turned a relegation-threatened club into the leader of the Bundesliga.

Leverkusen players immediately press when the opponent has possession, especially in dangerous areas. They contest the ball more in the final third than before. This style resembles Guardiola’s, emphasizing ball control and game control. Xabi can manage the game like Mourinho and create chaos like Ancelotti by strategically positioning players around key players like Florian Wirtz or Alex Grimaldo.

Xabi’s man-management is noteworthy. While other coaches may direct players through tactical ideas, Xabi communicates with positions, engaging with various ideas and filtering his principles. He has implemented strict discipline, not tolerating players who do not give 100% in training and playing with a championship mentality. Xabi’s influence extends beyond motivational speeches; it comes from his strong presence. However, it’s not just about inspiration but also about helping players develop through experience and professional competence.

In the previous season, when Roma eliminated Leverkusen in the Europa League semi-finals, Xabi didn’t have the opportunity to win a title in his first season as a coach, but that wasn’t the issue. It illustrated how Xabi became a talented young coach in Europe. Some believe Xabi’s quick success as a coach is because he played as a defensive midfielder. A study suggests that about 42% of former midfielders become coaches after retiring.

As an experienced defensive midfielder, Xabi could observe and understand the entire game thoroughly, as Guardiola mentioned. Leverkusen is understandably concerned that they might lose a coach who has displayed such talent. Many top European clubs need a high-quality coach to replace current disappointments or those on the verge of leaving. Leverkusen’s management is likely questioning how long this connection will last. They understand that a rising star coach may not spend the best years of their career at a club of Leverkusen’s stature.

Xabi has ambitions. He wants to win titles, including the Champions League, which is almost impossible at Leverkusen. He also wants to coach the best players at the biggest clubs globally, with a salary that matches his talent. At this moment, Xabi may not be thinking about it, but come summer, things could change. Meanwhile, Leverkusen knows that if Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, or Liverpool come knocking, it will be challenging for Xabi to refuse, despite his current happiness. They will only hope for a contractual breach.

Xabi’s talent has left European giants longing.

In today’s football world, big clubs increasingly value the worth of a skilled coach and are willing to offer salaries that cannot be turned down. It’s not just about sporting success but also the value of the club, team, and players. No one brings more profit than a coach who can turn a €10 million player into a €60 million player in just 1-2 years. Real Madrid likes this type of coach because they have a young squad that needs nurturing and polishing to become gems. Certainly, when Real comes calling, Leverkusen will only nod.

Apart from Real Madrid, many also talk about Xabi’s potential to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Liverpool plays Klopp’s “heavy metal” football, which might need some adjustments if Alonso takes over. But this combination would be fantastic. Xabi has a legacy at Real and Liverpool, so the “big club” factor is not the most important. He will find respect wherever he goes, whether coaching Mohamed Salah or Jude Bellingham.

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