Xabi Alonso: Rising star catches eye of Liverpool, Bayern

Xabi Alonso: Rising star catches eye of Liverpool, Bayern

March 6, 2024 at 3:10 AM
Is Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso on his way to Bayern Munich or Liverpool?
Is Bayer Leverkusen boss Xabi Alonso on his way to Bayern Munich or Liverpool?. Photo: Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Xabi Alonso has taken Bayer Leverkusen to the brink of their first Bundesliga title, but the rising star of European coaching could soon be on the move to Liverpool or Bayern Munich.

The 42-year-old played for both European giants either side of a five-year spell at Real Madrid during a glittering career in which he also won two European Championships and a World Cup with Spain.

On top of hoovering up medals with three of Europe's top clubs, the midfielder picked up plenty of knowledge that has shaped his coaching philosophy.

Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and Vicente del Bosque are among the stellar array of coaches under whom Alonso played.

His shock departure from Madrid for Bayern in 2014 was largely motivated by the chance to witness Guardiola's methods at first hand.

Guardiola's purist principles are most evident in the eye-catching way Alonso's Leverkusen have taken Germany by storm.

But he credits Ancelotti's supreme man-management as having the biggest impact on his coaching style.

"I've always tried to be close to them, to understand how and why they make decisions," Alonso told the BBC, speaking about his former managers.

"You learn from that but you need to build your own personality -- it's not a copy and paste thing, this manager's job.

"You need to build your own ideas and believe in them to be able to transmit that idea and that's what I'm trying to do."

Alonso, whose team face Qarabag in the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday, took his time before going into management after hanging up his boots in 2017.

He began coaching in the youth ranks at Real Madrid and Real Sociedad before the call came from Leverkusen in October 2022, with the club sitting second bottom of the Bundesliga.

They recovered to finish sixth and reach the semi-finals of the Europa League, losing narrowly to Roma over two legs.

But few could have imagined the leap forward in Alonso's first full season in charge, with Bayern's 11-year reign as German champions seemingly coming to an end.

Leverkusen are 10 points clear of Bayern at the top of the table with 10 games to go and unbeaten in 34 matches in all competitions this season as they eye a Bundesliga, German Cup and Europa League treble.

Xabi Alonso (left) played under Pep Guardiola among a number of top coaches
Xabi Alonso (left) played under Pep Guardiola among a number of top coaches. Photo: CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Jurgen Klopp was the last manager to dethrone the Bavarian giants, during his time at Borussia Dortmund, and it is his impending departure that has cleared the path for Alonso to potentially return to Anfield.

"The dinosaurs if you want –- Ancelotti, Mourinho, Guardiola, maybe me -– we will not do it for the next 20 years," said Klopp.

"The next generation is already there and I would say Xabi is the standout in that department."

Guardiola is not surprised by Alonso's success, having seen his understanding of the game up close.

"Wow," Guardiola said when asked for a summary of Leverkusen's season. "I was incredibly fortunate to have him two years. He was such an intelligent player.

"There are holding midfielders that ask you questions, they are curious, they ask about the game, you realise this guy (will be a manager)."

Bayern vacancy

Thomas Tuchel's inability to keep pace with Alonso's men at the top of the Bundesliga forced Bayern into confirming he will not remain at the Allianz Arena next season.

Alonso is understood to be the preferred candidate for the club but they may face stiff competition from Liverpool, who are back to their best this season.

Replacing Klopp appears a thankless task but the German will be handing his successor a squad that looks set to compete for major honours for years to come.

Despite a lengthy injury list, Liverpool remain on course for a trophy quadruple.

That is thanks in no small part to an army of promising academy graduates, who helped Klopp's men beat Chelsea to win the League Cup last month.

Wherever he ends up, Alonso, less than two years into his first senior managerial role, has the world at his feet.

AFP photo