bundesliga

Xabi Alonso: "I feel I can improve Bayer Leverkusen"

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Xabi Alonso says he “can improve Bayer Leverkusen” after being appointed as the club’s new head coach in the wake of Gerardo Seoane’s departure.

Far from simply stating the obvious about a star-stacked team currently in 17th place in the Bundesliga standings, it was a statement of the former Bayern Munich midfielder’s confidence in his own ability in the dugout.

Alonso called time on a hugely successful playing career after three seasons at Bayern between 2014 and 2017, and he has spent the intervening years learning a new craft as coach, first with Real Madrid’s youth teams and then with boyhood club Real Sociedad’s reserves.

“I trained to become a coach one day,” the 40-year-old said when he was officially unveiled on his return to the Bundesliga on Thursday, impressing media representatives with his excellent spoken German. “Now I’ve decided to take this step because it felt right. I feel ready and I made it clear to everyone at the club that I’m highly motivated.”

The former Spain international has little time to adapt to his new surroundings, with Die Werkself hosting Schalke on Matchday 9 on Saturday. He is unlikely to be fazed, however. After all, Alonso faced the Royal Blues the day after signing for Bayern in August 2014, helping them to a 1-1 draw en route to the first of his three Bundesliga titles.

“I know from my time in Germany that Leverkusen are an outstanding club,” Alonso continued. “They’ve always had great players and I can see a lot of quality in the current squad too.”

There is no doubting that. Moussa Diaby, Patrik Schick and Callum Hudson-Odoi are among the household names in a side that has so far sorely missed the creativity of injured Germany international Florian Wirtz. With just one win and five points on the board from eight matches so far, Leverkusen have struggled to replicate the swashbuckling displays that saw them swagger to third last season.

Watch: Alonso's top 5 Bundesliga goals

“I was attracted by the club, the project and the team,” Alonso said, outlining his reasons for swapping northern Spain for North Rhine-Westphalia. “It’s very interesting. I feel that I can play an important role here and have an impact on the team, that I can improve the team and myself. I’m really happy to be here. Now I just want to get to work.

“I want to give the team a clear idea of how we want to play,” he continued. “We want to reach that by working every day. I want us to play modern football, be dominant, intense and dynamic.

“The players should enjoy and like how they’re playing. We want the stadium to be packed and to have a great atmosphere. We want the crowd to be pushing us.”

Having played under Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, among others, Alonso has had a first-hand look at how elite-level coaches operate and believes that has moulded him into the tactician he has become today.

“They were all a big influence on me. From that experience I tried to build my own personality. You need to be natural and authentic. You need the connection with your players. I’ve taken the best from each manager but now I want to be my own person.”

On Saturday against Schalke we will get a first glimpse of just who that is.