Xabi Alonso: 10 things on the Bayer Leverkusen coach eyeing European glory
Former Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid star Xabi Alonso is making waves with Bayer Leverkusen in his first senior coaching job. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at Spain's midfield maestro turned managerial master...
When Leverkusen appointed Alonso as their new coach in October 2022 it seemed a brave move to recruit someone with no prior affiliation to the club and no experience of coaching a first team.
Die Werkself could have opted for a perceived safer pair of hands after one win from their opening eight Bundesliga matches in 2022/23 had left them second from bottom. Alonso swiftly repaid their faith and then some, though, utterly transforming the club's fortunes. The former Real Sociedad B coach calmly guided his new team to the latter reaches of the UEFA Europa League and into contention for a top-four spot in the league.
It seems then that the Spaniard could be destined for a coaching career every bit as legendary as his playing one...
Watch: Alonso masterminds victory over old club Bayern
1) Bayern legend
Fans of the record German champions may not have appreciated his footballing intelligence when Alonso masterminded a 2-1 win over them in March 2023 but the Spaniard is something of a Bayern legend. He arrived in Bavaria in summer 2014 as an experienced 33-year-old midfield general after Pep Guardiola's first season in charge of the club.
Alonso made a total of 79 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern in his three seasons at the club, winning the title at the end of each campaign. He scored five league goals and set a new record for the most touches of the ball by a player in a single game - 206 against Cologne in September 2014. Alonso credited his time with Bayern as a key reason he decided to return to the Bundesliga as a coach. "That time had a big influence on me," he said. "I knew this would be a good step in my coaching career."
2) Game in the blood
Xabi's father Periko won the Spanish title three times as a footballer - twice with Real Socieded and once with Barcelona. He also made 20 appearances for Spain and was in the hosts' squad for the 1982 World Cup. He then went on to coach several teams including Real Sociedad.
Xabi's brother Mikel also played for Sociedad, Bolton and Charlton, while his other brother Jon is a professional referee. With DNA like that, no wonder the Leverkusen coach has absorbed massive amounts of football insight and knowledge.
3) Mikel Arteta was a childhood neighbour
It sounds like the plot of a movie: two football-obsessed kids on the same street meet up to play every day at the local beach and eventually rise to the very top of the game. In proof that real life is a match for fiction, Alonso and current Arsenal coach Arteta grew up as neighbours on Calle Matia in San Sebastian.
In addition to long matches on the sand, the two friends played together at the same youth team before going their separate ways as Alonso was scouted by Sociedad and Arteta by Barcelona. They eventually became neighbours again when Alonso was playing for English outfit Liverpool and Arteta for their local rivals Everton.
4) He has a knack for the lingo
While German can be a language that confounds newcomers to the Bundesliga, Alonso soon showed his linguistic talents after arriving at Bayern. In December 2014 - within four months of Alonso signing - the club recorded his first interview in German.
Alonso confidently spoke in German on his presentation as Leverkusen manager, too, showing he hadn't lost any of his knowledge of the language - and giving him a boost in communicating with many of his charges.
5) He's always been a fan of Pep
Alonso has acknowledged that the chance to work under Guardiola was the main reason he decided to leave Real Madrid for Munich in 2014, shortly after winning the Champions League with the Spanish giants.
"I was so curious to find out Guardiola's secrets," Alonso told The Athletic in 2019. "He has a relentless natural enthusiasm. Football seasons are long, but right until the very end Pep never seemed to be tired. He was alert, always ready. For the players, maybe this gave us an extra few metres in our legs when it mattered most."
6) His trophy cabinet is bursting at the seams
You name the prize and Alonso has probably won it across a glittering playing career at some of Europe's top clubs. He lifted the Champions League with both Liverpool and Real as well as the Spanish title and three Bundesliga trophies. Then there's two UEFA Super Cups, one German equivalent and two more in both Spain and England, as well as DFB Cup glory with Bayern in 2015/16, an FA Cup win with Liverpool and two more Spanish Cup successes at Real.
The elegant midfielder also scored 16 times in 114 games for Spain between 2003 and 2014, and he got his hands on plenty of silverware while playing at international level. Alonso no doubt has priceless memories of helping his country win the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2008 and 2012 European Championships.
He hasn't yet won the Europa League - but could that be his first major trophy as a coach with Leverkusen?
7) He scored from his own half for fun
They are goals that everyone talks about for years. A strike from your own half of the pitch is the footballing equivalent of a hole in one, and an impossible dream for many talented players. Alonso set the impressive record in 2006 of scoring two consecutive goals from his own half for Liverpool - against Luton and Newcastle - becoming the first player in modern professional football history to manage that. A couple of lucky punts, perhaps? No way. Alonso pointed out at the time that he would regularly practice ultra long-range shots in training.
8) He almost helped his home town club to a title
Amid all the success, one of the most emotional seasons in Alonso's life remains one that got away. As a 21-year-old in 2002/03, he was a key part of the Sociedad team that had their best campaign in over 20 years. The club were engaged in a fierce title battle, but ultimately they finished just two points short of champions Real. Alonso scored 12 goals in all competitions back then and was voted the best Spanish player of the season by sports magazine Don Balon.
9) He's already in the Leverkusen history books
Just six months after taking the hotseat, Alonso guided the Werkself to a run of seven consecutive wins. In doing so, he became the first Leverkusen coach to achieve that since Klaus Toppmöller in 2002. Adding the club's second ever European trophy - should Leverkusen win the Europa League - would cap an astonishing first season in charge.
Watch: How Alonso has improved Leverkusen
10) He's played a bit of Gaelic football
Given his talent, Alonso would probably be good at other ball sports as well. He got a taste for an unusual one as a teenager when he spent a month abroad to help him learn English.
The Spaniard's summer trip has gained something of a mythical status in Ireland, with the story that he played one of the country's national sports - Gaelic football - growing legs over the years. He did, however, try his hand at the game in a casual kickabout with local kids in Kells, and as a spectator he took in a top-level match involving regional side Meath.
"It was very fast, very tough," he recalled many years later.
A bit like his current Leverkusen team.
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