Xabi Alonso's (l.) transition from playing to coaching great is no surprise to Philipp Lahm (r.). - © Imago
Xabi Alonso's (l.) transition from playing to coaching great is no surprise to Philipp Lahm (r.). - © Imago

"Xabi Alonso was always a strategist" - Philipp Lahm


Philipp Lahm has told bundesliga.com that former Bayern Munich teammate Xabi Alonso was destined to succeed as a top-level head coach.

Lahm played alongside Alonso at Bayern between 2014 and 2017, winning three of his eight Bundesliga titles before hanging up his playing boots.

Six years on, Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning captain has watched on in sheer admiration as the former midfield great steered Bayer Leverkusen to their maiden Bundesliga crown. Die Werkself also made history as the first team to go a full Bundesliga season unbeaten.

As well as Leverkusen's incredible campaign, Lahm shared his thoughts on Harry Kane's debut season at Bayern, Borussia Dortmund's run to the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League final and the revival of 2023/24 Bundesliga runners-up VfB Stuttgart...

bundesliga.com: The unbeatable giants were dethroned by a team that has gone a whole season without defeat and has never won the trophy before. The runners-up are a surprise team that until recently regularly had to fight to avoid relegation. Two other teams have reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, and the Bundesliga is dominating European competitions. What kind of a crazy season has this been and how much fun is the Bundesliga?

Philipp Lahm: "The last Bundesliga season was a lot of fun with refreshing and new teams at the very top and newly promoted teams surprising us in a positive way. There were successful German teams in the Champions League and the Europa League, and this shows the strength of the Bundesliga and how we are always able to develop competitive players through the youth system. They know how to compete at this level and so they are able to achieve success on an international level. In the Bundesliga, Leverkusen showed that continuity and believing in a philosophy and an idea, as well as having a coach that can implement this, can lead to a lot of success. Nobody would have thought it possible to go a whole season without losing a game."

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen's road to the Bundesliga title

bundesliga.com: Until Leverkusen's championship-winning season, you had the most successful unbeaten streak with Bayern under Pep Guardiola in 2014. Now you've been dethroned by Leverkusen - how annoyed are you that you lost in your 29th game in Augsburg?

Lahm: "It was annoying back then because we had gone on such a long run without a defeat, but records are mostly made to be broken. The main thing for us was winning the Bundesliga title and we were also in the cup final. We had to conserve our resources and some players were rested for that game. When you are so close to a perfect season then it’s clear that you don’t want to lose."

bundesliga.com: Or was it because you were rested at the time?

Lahm: "Other players were also rested because we had to balance our resources. We were in the semi-final of the Champions League, so we had to rotate a little. However, it is possible to lose away in Augsburg because they are a good team and that is what happened to us. This makes it even more impressive that Bayer Leverkusen had a perfect season."

bundesliga.com: Leverkusen's manner was particularly impressive, with many last-minute victories: how does it feel to be invincible until the last minute?

Lahm: "Firstly, it shows that Leverkusen always believed in their ability to win the game. They knew they could still turn the game in the last minutes. This is also down to their style of play because they are very dominant and they have a lot of possession. The opposition might be a little overwhelmed by this, so Leverkusen always have the opportunity to create chances. It also helps if you have rescued games in the last minute in the past because then you believe that it can happen again in the next games. This is why they were able to save games or even win games in added time."

bundesliga.com: Nobody could have expected such a run before the season. How high does this ‘Leverkusen miracle’ rank in German football history? Are they even one of the best German teams in history?

Lahm: "You have to see it as a miracle because Leverkusen have never been German champions before. This is the first title for them, and they did it in such an impressive way. It is also the first time that a team has gone the whole season without losing a game. They have a very good team, but I always find it hard to compare to other teams and different generations. They should enjoy it because they had an amazing season and absolutely deserved to become German champions, but it’s always hard to compare."

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - MAY 18: Xabi Alonso, Head Coach of Bayer Leverkusen, lifts the Meisterschale of Bundesliga trophy after his team's victory during the Bundesliga match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Augsburg at BayArena on May 18, 2024 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images) - Alonso's first full season as Leverkusen head coach has been an unprecedented success.

bundesliga.com: How can the last-minute victories be explained in footballing terms?

Lahm: "They have a lot of ball possession and they are always challenging their opponent mentally and physically in the way they play. Leverkusen always believed in their style of play and they didn’t change it, even in the last 10 minutes of a game. They kept pushing their opponent and they always believed in their ability to change a game. This is the footballing element that Xabi Alonso brought in to tire the opposition out and turn the game in their favour."

bundesliga.com: How do you manage to stay motivated over such a long period of time?

Lahm: "For a long time, Leverkusen were fighting for the title and making this step is an unbelievable motivation. You start believing in it more from game to game and from win to win and playing for the title is really the biggest motivation. At some point, the belief that nobody can beat you also grows because you keep moving one game closer to the perfect season. These were the decisive factors in being able to finish a whole season without suffering a defeat."

bundesliga.com: You won the first treble in German football in 2013. Now the first non-Bayern team can do it in Leverkusen. How do you achieve something like that? What are the essential components within a club and team to win the treble?

Lahm: "You need to have an idea about how you want to play football and you need to show this across the whole season in every competition. The distribution of roles within a team is also very important and I think Xabi Alonso has done a very good job in highlighting what he needs and how each role should be filled. You need a highly motivated team and also players who are just behind the starting 11 who know how important they are to the team. This combination makes it possible to be successful in three competitions."

bundesliga.com: An unbelievable season for new coach Xabi Alonso. What made him a tactical and footballing genius as a teammate?

Lahm: "He was always a strategist. He was a midfielder who played at the highest level at top clubs throughout Europe. He also had top coaches and different playing styles from different coaches. This certainly shaped him, but he was always someone who occupied a key position in midfield. He understood football and he knew how you can, and should, play football. He also knows what someone can do well and what he can’t do well, and he knows how to bring together the strengths of the different parts of the team. This makes him an excellent coach."

bundesliga.com: Were there moments when you thought he had to become a coach? If so, what did they look like?

Lahm: "Having to become a coach is always relative, but I was always convinced that he would have a coaching career because he was always so strategic as a player. He understood the game and the synergies within a game, and he liked passing on this knowledge as a player. This is why it was only a question of time."

Watch: The animated story of Xabi Alonso

bundesliga.com: You know the area and the people in Munich very well. How has Harry Kane settled in there?

Lahm: "He has settled in very well in Munich and at Bayern if you look at how many goals he has scored. He is humble and reserved, despite being captain of England, and this makes him very likeable. He is a great player who was brave enough to make the switch from the Premier League to Germany and to Bayern. I think he has settled in very well in Munich and especially at Bayern."

bundesliga.com: What sets him apart? Why does he work so well in Bavaria's capital?

Lahm: "First and foremost, he is an excellent footballer. He is not a loud person, but rather more calm and humble on the pitch and in interviews, so I don’t think it was hard for him to win the people over here. He has shown that he is a great player in the Premier League and for England and he is a real game-changer. He is unbelievably dangerous in front of goal, but he also has the ability to bring his teammates into the game, and he demonstrated that this season."

bundesliga.com: In sporting terms, winning the Golden Boot: why is it deserved and what is this individual award worth?

Lahm: "He is a goalscorer and goalscorers always want to win the Golden Boot. He showed this from the very beginning, and he often took on responsibility for his new team by taking and scoring penalties. Bayern are always a candidate for scoring lots of goals in a season and you are then naturally the focus as a centre forward because the team creates a lot of chances, but you still have to take them. He also brings his teammates into the game and he’s not someone who just waits in the box for the ball to come to him. He is a ball-playing striker and this is what sets him apart."

Watch: Harry Kane took the Bundesliga by storm in 2023/24

bundesliga.com: Another eventful season for Bayern Munich: why was it not enough for the championship title for the first time in 11 years?

Lahm: "They played too inconsistently, and it also doesn’t help when there is no continuity at the club in various positions. This includes the head coach position because in the last few years, this always changed after 18 months, and this doesn’t help. They also conceded far too many goals, more than 40 in the season, and this is simply too many. Leverkusen conceded just over 20 goals, so this shows the difference. They were far too vulnerable at the back and there was not enough stability in the team, especially in the first half of the season."

bundesliga.com: Or was it simply down to the strength of their opponents Bayer Leverkusen this time round?

Lahm: "You can say that with hindsight, but it was quite tight until the game they played against each other, which Leverkusen won. In hindsight, you could say that this sealed the title and that Leverkusen simply had a great season. However, the expectations at Bayern are still higher with more stability and continuity and successful football throughout the season. This was what was lacking this season, but you have to say that Leverkusen had an excellent season and Bayern didn’t even get given the opportunity to close the gap."

bundesliga.com: How should the season without a trophy be assessed overall? How important would a title win have been for the record champions?

Lahm: "A season without a title is always a bad season for Bayern. They always want to compete for every title, but it was not enough for any of them this year. This is why it was a bad season for them but, as we all know, they will leave no stone unturned to learn from this."

bundesliga.com: What does it look like inside the organisation? How does it feel to go to work there every day with a hunger for success that, for once, has not been satisfied?

Lahm: "You are not used to that at Bayern because you go into every season wanting to win every title. Questions will be asked of everyone at the club if you finish the season with no titles. It’s not a nice feeling because not reaching your aims means that you have failed."

bundesliga.com: What gives you the confidence that there will be something to celebrate again next season?

Lahm: "Bayern always has good players and you just need to set them up in the right way and maybe add a few more new players into the mix. Bayern has the financial means to react accordingly, but it will be important to bring in a coach who will stay for longer than 18 months in order to bring some continuity and stability to the club. This is something that has definitely been lacking in the last few years."

Bayern suffered an agonising defeat to Real Madrid in the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. - Alexander Hassenstein

bundesliga.com: Manuel Neuer has made a remarkable comeback after breaking his leg at the age of 38. The icing on the cake is that he will be the first-choice goalkeeper at the Euros. How good have his performances been?

Lahm: "It’s impressive if you consider how bad the injury was at such an age and how much mental strength he showed to come back to full fitness. I am happy for him because I played with him for many years, and I am pleased that he will take part in the home Euros.”

bundesliga.com: BVB experienced a rollercoaster of emotions this season. What is your overriding feeling?

Lahm: "Not a good feeling in the Bundesliga. They did not play consistently and they experienced huge fluctuations. They conceded too many goals, were not stable enough in midfield, and were vulnerable in defence. This meant they were out of the title race early on."

bundesliga.com: Almost champions last season and now Dortmund is playing a minor role at the top of the table. Is this an expected setback or a big surprise?

Lahm: "They did not develop their squad enough after last season in order to push for the title until the very end. Bayern also had weak points last year, but Dortmund gave up the title on the last day and there was maybe a hangover from that. I think there were much better teams than them this season and other clubs also had a better squad."

bundesliga.com: At the end of the day, the club has qualified for the Champions League again - how important is that for the club's future?

Lahm: "Very important. It’s always about the Champions League for the big clubs and qualifying for the Champions League for the following season so that they can measure themselves against the best clubs. Dortmund definitely belongs in the Champions League and they achieved this aim, but I think their long-term aim is actually to compete for the Bundesliga title. They were not able to manage that this season."

bundesliga.com: BVB made waves on the big European stage. The following renowned opponents were eliminated in this order: Newcastle, AC Milan, Eindhoven, Atletico, PSG. Where do these surges in performance come from?

Lahm: "The Bundesliga is very competitive and you have to motivate yourself for every game and work as a team. It seems they are not able to bring this level of engagement and unity into their daily work and to the regular games. However, they were able to get far in the Champions League with a bit of luck, which always plays a role, but it was still absolutely deserved. They were not able to translate this strong team bond to the Bundesliga. They played a bit more defensively in the Champions League whereas in the Bundesliga, they are usually the team that has to be on the front foot because their opponent plays more defensively against them." 

bundesliga.com: What influence does the atmosphere have? Most importantly, the yellow wall and the away support?

Lahm: "It’s amazing. I only know it from being on the opposing side, but when you walk into the stadium in Dortmund, you sense the Yellow Wall and the atmosphere and that the whole region is behind the club. You feel this in Dortmund, but you also see how powerful it is and how much it can give the team in the away matches in the Champions League. The fans have played a big role in Dortmund get so far in the Champions League."

Click here for Champions League final teams and LIVE coverage!

Watch: Borussia Dortmund one win from Champions League glory

bundesliga.com: If you compare this team with the one from 2013 - both reached the Champions League final: what are the differences between these teams? What characterises the current team in particular?

Lahm: "It’s always difficult to really compare teams. I think the 2013 Dortmund team was better equipped in terms of personnel and had stronger individuals. They also became champions two years earlier, which gave them the confidence that they could also be successful in the Champions League. The team back then was characterised by outstanding individuals, whereas the current team showed unity in the important moments in the Champions League. Everybody worked for each another and it was great to see because you can beat better teams with this sense of unity."

bundesliga.com: He took over Stuttgart last year as a relegation candidate and now they are sensationally a new top team in the Bundesliga: how did Sebastian Hoeneß manage the turnaround at VfB?

Lahm: "He identified a team. He found the players who should always play, as well as those who were important for the club, and how they all fit together. He made new signings which fitted in very well, but the most important thing was establishing the framework of the team and being able to rely on that. This allowed the players to build up a lot of trust in one another and they went on a positive run, which meant they didn’t have to worry about relegation from the start. They were able to instead look up the table and this gives the team a sense of security." 

bundesliga.com: What is the secret to success behind the great development of the new VfB stars: Serhou Guirassy, Deniz Undav, Angelo Stiller, Maximilian Mittelstädt, to name but a few?

Lahm: "If you also take players like [Atakan] Karazor and [Waldemar] Anton and [Chris] Führich, they have built a team in which the players identify fully with the club, and you can sense this. They have been given the trust that they are important for the team and for the club. They have also brought in new signings like Stiller and Mittelstädt who have enhanced the team, and even Undav who has shown his quality, despite initially being brought in as a squad player. The construct simply fits because everyone knows his role and uses all his strengths for the team. Continuity is important for a team and for a club and that is what you are seeing at the moment at VfB."

bundesliga.com: The top star is clearly Guirassy, who has scored at a great goal rate. Does he have what it takes to become a great player?

Lahm: "We will see, but it looks very good for him. He is a goalscorer, but he is also someone who works very hard for the team. He brings his teammates into the game, but his biggest strength is his finishing. It’s always a combination because a team also has to play well so that a classic centre-forward gets chances, and this combination was just perfect. Although he was injured a few times, he still scored a huge number of goals."

Watch: All Serhou Guirassy's 28 Bundesliga goals in 2023/24

bundesliga.com: A word about the euphoria in Swabia, which you also know well from your career: how is the attractive football perceived there and what does it do for the fans, the city and the entire region?

Lahm: "The whole region is football crazy in a positive way and many of them are Stuttgart fans. If the team is successful and is playing refreshing attacking football with a lot of young players and a solid defence, then it’s great for the region. You can immediately sense this euphoria and passion in the whole region. Stuttgart is a traditional club which showed its potential again this year. I am convinced that the club belongs at the top end of the Bundesliga."

bundesliga.com: There are some people in Germany who claim that Stuttgart plays the best football in the Bundesliga after Leverkusen. Do you agree with them and why?

Lahm: "Yes, because they play very attacking football and they are very impressive in the way in which they play as a team. Of course they lost some games, but they didn’t have huge fluctuations in performance. Overall, they always play the same attractive, attacking football and try to shape the game. They try to score goals themselves rather than just defend, even against the top teams in the Bundesliga. They wanted to always grab the bull by the horns, and I always enjoy watching this when it works. This was the case at Bayer Leverkusen, but also at VfB Stuttgart."