Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho and Xabi Alonso (left) during the a Press Conference at White Hart Lane, London.

Jose Mourinho always knew Xabi Alonso would transform from apprentice to master

Jose Mourinho faces a unique task in the form of taking on his former player Xabi Alonso in the Europa League, with the midfield maestro now making his own strides in management.

There must be something quite humbling about seeing one of your former players catch you up and enter your own realm in the world of management. But not only is it a testament to Mourinho’s longevity, it was the inevitable symptom of Alonso’s greatness.

The Special One is no fool. He knows that. He would’ve seen it from the first time the pair worked together at Valdebebas.

Mourinho’s Roma are set to go to war with Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen in the semi-final of the Europa League, with the winner of such a battle over two legs positioned well to win the trophy.

It would mark yet another huge milestone in Mourinho’s glistening career. In his first year in Rome, he won the club their first major European honour, the inaugural Europa Conference League, and became the only manager to date to win all three of UEFA’s premier European competitions.

But it’s an equally important point in the young and fledgling managerial career of Alonso’s, for much of the same reason.

2018 was where it all began for the Spaniard, returning to Real to coach their under-14s while completing his badges. His first managerial job would follow soon after, becoming the head coach of Real Sociedad B in 2019.

Alonso only needed a season to guide Sociedad B to the Segunda Division for the first time since 1962. Borussia Monchengladbach heard him loud and clear in 2021, but he opted to stay in Spain until a year later.

Bayer Leverkusen came calling in October 2022 and he took the plunge, returning to Germany for the first time since he hung up his boots following a spell with Bayern Munich. This was huge. Another great of the game now in the limelight. His first ‘big’ job. Would he sink or swim?

Mourinho knew he’d swim – way back in 2019.

At a Top Eleven conference, he proclaimed:

“His father was a manager, so he grew up similar to me. Then he became a player – of course much better than I was. He became a player, a top player. His position on the pitch and his knowledge of the game – very high.

“He played in Spain, in England and in Germany. And he was coached by Guardiola with Bayern; by myself in Real Madrid; by Ancelotti in Real Madrid; by Benitez in Liverpool.

“So, I think if you put all this together, Xabi has conditions to be a very good coach.”

Something something, football heritage. You get it. We don’t need to inflate Mourinho’s ego any more than it already is. He knows that too. But everything he said in 2019 appears to be coming to fruition.

Let’s give some credit to Alonso, though, too. Plenty of truly world-class players get the opportunity to ply their trade around the globe under a plethora of managers and coaches, but making that stick at the top level in a career in management is a completely different beast.

Alonso has a long way to go, but the early signs are promising, and suggest the student studied up well.

In his first season at the club – where he arrived in October with the campaign already underway – Alonso has Bayer sitting sixth in the Bundesliga table and on course to secure European football for next season, when the club were previously freefalling.

They head into their clash with Roma having lost just once in their last 14 games played. Ahead of the game, Mourinho said: “We’ve always had a fantastic rapport, more than between a coach and a player.”

That adds up with what Alonso said himself of the Portuguese coach back in 2013: “You see that Jose has something different. The way that he communicates with the players, it’s different. The way he empathises with the players as well is different.”

‘Special’ was the word he used to describe the opportunity to face off against his former coach in the Europa League last four. We prefer fascinating.

Once the apprentice, Alonso has the chance to become the master. The pair – while holding an immense respect for one another – see football games won in different ways. Mourinho’s approach splits opinion, but has proven time and time again to be effective in the all-important pursuit of trophies.

41-year-old Alonso has tried to implement a more progressive approach. The tactical joust between two huge sides over two legs, with a spot in the final up for grabs is bound to make for an intriguing watch.

Regardless of the outcome, a man as intelligent as Alonso will make sure he learns from two invaluable legs of football; this is merely the beginning of his journey.

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