A former Liverpool star and budding managerial talent has gone one better than his friend Mikel Arteta, cementing his place on the Jürgen Klopp heir shortlist.
From the moment he dived into management, starting out as a youth coach at Real Madrid, moving onto Real Sociedad’s B team and now at Bayer Leverkusen, it was clear Liverpool fans were always going to keep a close eye on Xabi Alonso’s development. Especially since even though Jürgen Klopp’s contract is until 2026, time flies in football, and that time will be up in the blink of an eye.
Alonso has always been touted as someone who would be suited to the role of manager, even before his playing days ended. Having been coached by some of the best in the game including Rafael Benítez, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola, he pretty much got the perfect education.
While working on his coaching badges Alonso worked alongside promising up-and-coming Spanish managers like Mikel Arteta — his close long-time friend — and another former Liverpool player in Albert Riera, who have both gone on to do well in management, albeit at very different levels for the time being. Alonso seems to be following suit.
At Leverkusen he has already shown promising signs, rescuing the team from an awful start to the season in which it looked to be in a relegation battle. Now, it looks like a European contender in the Bundesliga, while playing an attractive brand of attacking football and using plenty of young players, helping them to develop and grow.
The latest statement of his managerial prowess came in the Europa League round of 16. Where many managers — even ones as promising as Arteta — failed to guide their team into the quarter final on Thursday night, Alonso did it with ease.
Ferencváros may not have been the ‘biggest’ or most challenging opponent for Alonso’s Leverkusen, but the Hungarians had topped their group in the Europa League, finishing above AS Monaco among others, and therefore posed something of a threat for an upset.
But in the end Alonso’s side breezed past them, pulling off comfortable back-to-back 2-0 victories, with the latter away from home in the Puskás Arena, which will host the final of the Europa League this season.
Whether Alonso’s Leverkusen will make a return trip to the capital of Hungary at the end of the season remains to be seen, but the way he has embarked on his managerial career at Leverkusen is certainly promising.
His brand of attacking football is a combination of all his previous managers, with his own unique style emerging too. It includes the possession-based football of Guardiola, the defensive discipline of Ancelotti and the high-intensity pressing inspired by Klopp’s gegenpressing, which makes him an intriguing young manager.
As mentioned above, Klopp’s time at Anfield is certainly nearing its last cycle. It is unclear whether he will extend beyond his current contract, set to expire in three years’ time, and by then Alonso could well be a strong candidate to take over his position.
With three years of experience at a top level under his belt at that point, at least theoretically, Alonso will be more than ready for the step up if he continues with the same success he has started with at Bayer Leverkusen so far.
For now, he is going to be someone Liverpool should be keeping a close eye on, and it seems like the Reds will be able to assess him even more in Europe. The next step will be Union SG, giving Alonso a very good chance of making the semi-final of the competition, and then it will be either Feyenoord or AS Roma in the semi-finals, which gives his Leverkusen side a very favorable route back to Budapest — having avoided the likes of Juventus and Manchester United on the other side of the draw.