Xabi Alonso: The Engineer of Leverkusen’s Unbeaten Start

Xabi Alonso has always been synonymous with intelligence, poise and leadership, both as a player and now as a manager. José Mourinho led the singing of praises back in 2017 and predicted his successful transition into coaching. “Xabi Alonso is like a metronome, a player in the style of Xavi Hernandez. I’m sure that when he hangs his boots up he’ll be a great coach. He reminds me of Pep Guardiola when he was a player: he already acts like a coach when he is on the field.”



Early Coaching Days 


Many ex-professionals leap into coaching positions for which they are unprepared for. The desire to skip the process of practicing their ideals of play at a lower risk level (i.e academy football) and the lack of “earning your stripes” is why many former players find little to no success as coaches. 


However, this is not the case for Xabi Alonso. His early coaching days were marked by a meticulous, “student of the game” outlook. Having begun his coaching journey with Real Madrid’s U14’s team, he embraced the ethos of La Fábrica.


Translated as “The Factory”, the academy focuses on the development of players with superior technical abilities and a deep tactical grasp, while ingraining them with Real Madrid’s culture and a distinctive, possession-based style of play. In this environment, Alonso was not just a passive observer; he was actively involved in the tactical education for the players and instilled in them a deep understanding of all phases of the game. 



Alonso’s continuous learning leads him to work within Real Sociedad’s youth setup. It was here that the foundations of his coaching philosophy were laid; the knowledge acquired from two of the best academies in Spain and playing under great managers has given Xabi Alonso a solid foundation to experiment (adapt) and draw upon his own playing days to develop players.


He took over a team with a rich heritage of producing technically gifted players and infused it with his own tactical ideologies. He began to experiment with formations, understanding the importance of adaptability and the need to tailor tactics to the strengths of his players.


Alonso’s attention to detail became evident through his training sessions which were known to be intellectually stimulating; he is said to challenge his players to think critically about their roles and responsibilities in different phases/areas of the pitch. 




Currently the head coach of Bayer Leverkusen, Alonso has been a revelation in the Bundesliga. His team sits comfortably 11 points clear at the top of the table, a testament to his principles of play: a possession-based style that demands technical proficiency and tactical flexibility. His style also is heavily reliant on dominating the midfield, quick transitions, and spatial control, much like his own approach to the game during his playing days. He achieves this while ensuring his team is compact and ready to transition swiftly from defence to attack. 


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His much-followed 3-4-2-1 formation, unfolds into a dynamic and fluid approach to football, both in and out of possession. His team has been well coached into controlling the game through a possession-based style, focusing on maintaining close proximity between players and creating passing networks to support quick, intricate combinations, which can unlock backlines. Defensively, Alonso’s defensive principles focuses on limiting space in central areas. 


This has left him not short of admirers, with Liverpool and Bayern Munich both needing a manager for the upcoming 2024/2025 season and have somewhat registered their interest in his services. Alonso’s next move is the subject of speculation and interest, leaving Leverkusen fans dreading the worst.  This piece will also do its best to dissect the possibility of nurturing a legacy at Leverkusen against the backdrop of a potential poach from Liverpool or Bayern Munich. 

Option 1: Staying at Leverkusen 


This is an option! Staying at Leverkusen will mean Alonso can consolidate his principles in the same/similar environment. It is also much easier to evolve at the same club. In a familiar environment, the solid foundation of trust enables Xabi Alonso to introduce new ideas with the assurance that they will be given time as he would have “credit in the bank”. 


He has a project underway, a team built and playing in his image. The players have bought into his teachings and the fanbase love him. Further success with Leverkusen could solidify his reputation as a manager who builds and sustains success over time before moving onto another European giant in the future (Ancelotti tick-tock)! Also, by biding his time and accumulating further success, Alonso can approach negotiations with prospective clubs from a position of strength. This success translates into increased bargaining power and can negotiate better contract terms and more control over footballing decisions. 


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On the other hand, while the Bundesliga can be competitive, it does not always provide the same level of exposure and competitiveness as the Premier League. There is a risk that Alonso may be overlooked for future opportunities at bigger clubs if he is perceived as too comfortable in his current role. Additionally, the potential departure of star players, which is often a harsh reality for clubs like Leverkusen, could see him facing a rebuilding phase that may not align with his career progression goals. 


Option 2: Liverpool


Liverpool, on the other hand, presents an emotional homecoming. Alonso’s history with the club would almost guarantee a warm reception from the fans and a level of initial patience from the fans and the board. The Premier League’s global appeal is an attractive prospect for any manager, and success with Liverpool would elevate Alonso’s managerial credentials with some of the very best coaches in the 21st century. 


Moreover, Xabi Alonso’s cultural fit at Liverpool lies in a shared commitment to being the main protagonists against any opposition through dynamic attacking football. Also, his background with La Fábrica at Real Madrid, suggests the potential to nurture and promote academy players. This resonates with Liverpool’s own tradition of player development and integrating academy prospects into the first team. These shared values could entice Alonso to sprinkle his ideals and thoughts of the game onto an already world-class footballing institution. 


Nevertheless, the expectations at Liverpool are high. The current squad, while talented, may require a rebuild due to a post-Klopp hangover. This rebuild may hinge on the financial backing Alonso would receive, which has recently been a contentious issue within the club’s hierarchy with Klopp.


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If Alonso were to find himself constrained by financial limitations, his ideals of play might have to change drastically or his initial ideals might not translate well. Also, at the time of writing, Liverpool does not have a sporting director. The lack of a sporting director leaves Liverpool’s strategic direction and long-term vision of how they view football, up in the air. 


Option 3: Bayern Munich


Bayern Munich represents a different challenge altogether. For Xabi Alonso, who played for the Bavarians during the twilight years of his career, would return to familiar settings with an understanding of the club’s high expectations. The club are Bundesliga champions-elect every season, with an established hierarchy and a squad full of top players. For Alonso, this could be an opportunity to test his tactical astuteness at the highest level, while winning titles and cementing his reputation as a top coach. 


However, the high-pressure environment at Bayern can be unforgiving. Expectations are for immediate success, and anything less is often seen as a failure. The political landscape at Bayern has also been known to be challenging, with a need for strong personalities to navigate the waters of the club’s executive ambitions and the team’s on-field demands. Furthermore, Bayern tend to be on the stingier side; this has been a problem for top coaches such as Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti.


As the manager of Bayern, the reality is that Alonso will have to make it work with the pieces handed to him. If that’s a less flavourful pairing of Leon Goretzka / Joshua Kimmich pivot, it has to work or else the countdown to dismal starts ticking. This also means there is little scope for overhauling players for the sake of a coach’s vision of football.


By: @gillikas

Featured Image: @GabFoligno /  Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images