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Tough task — Xabi Alonso has potential to join elite manager list in football

Tough task — Xabi Alonso has potential to join elite manager list in football
Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso has guided his team to an almost unassailable lead at the top of the Bundesliga. He was a superb player too. (Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso is busy rewriting history in Germany. If he decides to move to either Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in his coaching career, he will join an elite list of former footballers who played for and managed a particular team. With varying success.

Being a head coach is a tricky occupation to navigate. When things are swell, it is usually the players that pick up the bulk of the plaudits. However, when positive results are not forthcoming, managers/head coaches are usually in the line of fire.

In South African football there is a popular quote brought to the spotlight by Golden Arrows coach Steve Komphela. Summing up the pressures of being a head coach, he said: “Victory has many fathers, but a defeat is an orphan”.

Indeed, it can be a lonely road. The demands increase even more when you are a former player, who excelled in their career and then hung their boots in exchange for the dugout.

The expectations multiply if you are someone who has played for a specific team, then returned to coach them. Some are able to ride that wild wave with the finesse of a professional surfer. Others stumble and fall.

Rewriting history     

The latest player-turned-manager who has an opportunity to add his name to this exclusive list of elite players returning to coach the clubs that helped cement their legacies is Xabi Alonso.

The 42-year-old is considered one of the best midfielders of his generation. His time on the field was characterised by his extensive work ethic, mind-boggling passing range and the knack for a spectacular goal.

Alonso represented Real Sociedad, Liverpool and Real Madrid during a memorable club career that saw him make over 500 appearances for these teams combined.

At international level, he was part of the Spain team that won the 2010 football World Cup, as well as the 2008 and 2012 Euros. Since retiring, the former midfield enforcer has transitioned into the world of coaching.

Alonso is currently enjoying a record-breaking spell with German Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen. His team is perched at the summit of Germany’s top flight and is yet to taste defeat, with just a handful of games remaining in the 2023/2024 season.

Xabi Alonso

Bayer Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso is being pursued by several major clubs, including Liverpool and Real Madrid. (Photo: Christof Koepsel/Getty Images) (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

They have already broken the German club record for not tasting defeat in consecutive matches. It was previously held by Bayern, who went 32 games without loss in all competitions between 2020 and 2021.

Leverkusen are almost 40 games undefeated as things stand. They remain the only team yet to suffer a loss in Europe’s top five leagues.

Should they manage to avoid defeat for the rest of the season, they will become the first side to navigate a whole Bundesliga season without losing.

It will also be the team’s first Bundesliga title in their 100-year history, having finished as runners-up five times. They would also snap Bayern’s dominance of German football. The Bavarians have won 11 league titles on the trot.

Wanted man

These impressive displays by his team in his second season in charge of them have thrust the spotlight firmly on Alonso. He is a man in demand and has been linked with all the clubs where he spent the majority of his time playing.

Liverpool are one of the favourites for his signature. Alonso won the FA Cup and Champions League trophy with the Reds as a player. The Premier League remained elusive for him and his teammates during a five-year stay in Merseyside.

How he would love to make amends, with Liverpool in search of a new manager following Jürgen Klopp’s announcement that he would be leaving the Reds at the end of the current season.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Anfield hero Jürgen Klopp aims for yet more trophies in his final season with Liverpool

Alonso hinted at Liverpool coaching ambitions back in 2018, before his managerial career launched with Real Sociedad’s reserve team a year later.

“Yes, for sure, I have dreamt of [managing Liverpool]. But first I have to prove myself and prepare,” Alonso told talkSPORT six years ago.

“If I decide somewhere along the way to take my chances as a manager, my link, my commitment, my passion with Liverpool is there. Why not? We will see if we can cross paths,” the Spaniard stated.

Bayern have perennially picked off talented players from their Bundesliga rivals. It is only natural that they are also interested in prizing Alonso away from the team that is on the brink of temporarily halting their domestic dominance.

Similar to Liverpool, Bayern are in search of a new mentor after announcing in February 2024 that they would be ending their working relationship with current head coach Thomas Tuchel.

Alonso made over 100 appearances for Bayern between 2014 and 2017. He won a hattrick of Bundesliga titles during that period.

As for Madrid, he also spent half a decade with that particular club following his departure from Liverpool. He was able to clinch one league title, as well as a single Champions League crown. Two Copa Del Rey titles were the icing on the cake for his memorable time in the Spanish capital.

However, Los Blancos currently have one of the greatest coaches of all time at the helm. Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian is contracted until 2026.

Carlo Ancelotti

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti. (Photo: Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Ironically Ancelotti was the manager when Alonso and his Real teammates won the Champions League in 2014. The decorated Italian is one of the few people who managed to transition from player to manager seamlessly and successfully.

Ancelotti enjoyed much success with AC Milan as a player. When he transitioned to coaching, this carried over as he won a league title with Milan, while also steering them to a couple of continental titles.

If Alonso decides to depart Leverkusen for any team between Liverpool, Bayern or the unlikely option of Madrid, that is the type of success he would also be aiming for.

He would also share space with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer — who played for and coached both Bayern and Germany to success, Pep Guardiola (Barcelona), Johan Cruyff of Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona, as well as Zinedine Zidane, who won silverware with Madrid as a player and manager.

He will be looking to avoid what happened to Frank Lampard at Chelsea, or Andrea Pirlo at Juventus. Both of them are legendary players of those respective clubs. But they failed to live up to the hype that preceded their arrivals. DM

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