When Xabi Alonso announced his retirement from football in 2017 plenty of managers and teammates backed the former Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder to succeed as a manager.
From the progress he made with Real Sociedad B to the outstanding work he is now doing with Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, Alonso is hot managerial property right now.
“He will come back soon as a manager,” Pep Guardiola told reporters after Alonso had retired. “I bet, wherever he wants, he will become a manager and will be good.
“He understands the game and has curiosity to understand the game. He knew during the weeks what we would have to do to win the next games, to beat them. He already had the curiosity to know.”
Throughout his career, Alonso always came across as a tactically astute student of the game. After all, he has played under some of the greats from Guardiola to Carlo Ancelotti.
Alonso started his managerial career with Real Sociedad B and he quickly made a name for himself in Spain. In his second season with the club, Alonso won promotion to the Segunda Division after a playoff triumph.
He quickly got to grips with the managerial game and he quickly put his own stamp on how Real Sociedad B played. Alonso also did a great job which such a young group of players.
How Xavi Alonso has his Real Sociedad B side set up for their positional attacks.
— FootballScrutinyVideo (@ScrutinyVideo) July 6, 2020
Alonso’s work with Real Sociedad B had then prepared him for his next task at hand with Bayer Leverkusen. When he was appointed as manager in October last year, they sat 17th in the table and had only won one of their first eight league matches.
Things at the club were looking rocky and Alonso will have been well aware of the mammoth task he was walking into. He started out with an emphatic 4-0 win over Schalke but then endured a tough run for the rest of October.
The German side had finished 3rd in the Bundesliga last season and so there were no doubts over the quality of the squad. Alonso just needed to find a spark from somewhere.
Thankfully, his time with Real Sociedad B had prepared him well to unlock the potential of this Leverkusen side. Working with youngsters is Alonso’s forte and Leverkusen have the third-youngest squad in the league.
Alonso switched to a 3-4-3 system, instead of the 4-2-3-1 formation that former manager Gerardo Seoane had preferred, and their goal output quickly spiked.
At the start of November, Alonso’s side beat Union Berlin 5-0 and they then went on to win five consecutive league matches for the first time since November 2020.
“There’s no magic or deeds to tell,” Alonso told reporters after the 5-0 triumph. “We did much better, but there are no magic words, there are no words of wisdom. We changed our mentality to be more aggressive, not too passive, not wanting to hold [the ball] on our foot.”
Florian Wirtz is one player in particular who has thrived under Alonso. The 19-year-old had been out for over 250 days with an ACL injury, but since returning to the squad under Alonso he hasn’t looked back.
Across his last 10 matches in all competitions, Wirtz has produced eight goal contributions under Alonso and he’s only going to get better.
Florian Wirtz – Post ACL injury pic.twitter.com/SSofqJ6AHK
— 🏽 (@idoxvi) March 12, 2023
Alonso has taken charge of 16 Bundesliga matches so far and had the season started when he was hired, Leverkusen would currently be fourth in the table.
As things stand they are ninth in the league and are now eyeing up a European spot. They are also in pole position to progress to the Europa League quarter-finals as they hold a 2-0 lead over Ferencvaros.
Simon Rolfes, the managing director at the club, has been pleased to see the progression of the side under Alonso’s management.
“It was a difficult situation, a really difficult situation for Xabi. But I was totally convinced that he would improve the quality of the players and the quality of the team,” Rolfes told Sky Sports.
“I had good information because he played with guys I know. He was always consistent as a player and a person. He is a big thinker. Always concentrated, always thinking about how we can improve and solve situations. That was obvious. He understands the game.
“Our playing style, that is our DNA. Very offensive, very technical. You see it in our youth teams. We have the technical guys and try to give them more time to develop. That is strongly in the roots here – to believe in young players and give them time.
“We always have young squads so we need to have a head coach who can develop a team but also develop players individually in terms of their positions, behaviours and principles. That is a big strength of Xabi. And the first team is also very international too.”
While being in charge, Alonso has averaged 1.81 points per game in the Bundesliga. If projected over an entire season, that would represent 61 points which would have been enough for a top-four finish last year.
Under Alonso, Leverkusen have scored plenty of goals as they have averaged 2.1 goals per game in the league. He is still early on in his managerial career, but the early signs are hugely promising for the former Liverpool man.