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What happend with Liverpool and Alonso – and where does the club now?

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When Liverpool’s new sporting director Richard Hughes received a phone call from the agent Inaki Ibanez this week, it only served to confirm what he had long since expected: Xabi Alonso would be staying at Bayer Leverkusen this summer.

News of Alonso committing his future to the Bundesliga club on Friday was a blow for supporters hoping to see the Spaniard hired as Jurgen Klopp’s successor.

However, internally at Liverpool, there was little sense of surprise. They had started focusing their attention on alternative candidates.

Hughes has a strong relationship with Ibanez having appointed another one of his clients, Andoni Iraola, as Bournemouth manager in June 2023. There had been dialogue between them so Liverpool knew where things stood.

Alonso was the clear favourite to take over from Klopp as a result of his work at Leverkusen, who he has led to the brink of the Bundesliga title, and his emotional bond with Liverpool from his playing days under Rafael Benitez. He ticked a lot of boxes.

But he was never offered the job and there were no face-to-face discussions. When Liverpool initially made contact with Alonso’s camp shortly after Klopp’s announcement on January 26 that he intended to step down in May, they were informed that the 42-year-old was concentrating on his job at Leverkusen and was unlikely to be available this summer. The door was not completely closed but the message was clear: this was not the time to talk.

A line of communication was kept open between Alonso’s camp and Liverpool as the club was going through an off-field restructuring, with Hughes arriving under Michael Edwards, who was appointed as owners Fenway Sports Group’s new football chief executive on March 12. Liverpool wanted their leadership team in place before trying to take things any further with Alonso.

Hughes is leading Liverpool’s search for a new manager.

Another one of the Spaniard’s former clubs, Bayern Munich, were also in pursuit as they sought a successor for Thomas Tuchel and the club had several communications with Alonso’s camp. But his head was not turned by them either — despite being promised significant power in terms of reshaping the squad.

As for Liverpool, Edwards and Hughes wanted to be sure that their intelligence that Alonso would be remaining at Leverkusen was correct. They were keen to know if it would be worth meeting him to gauge his thoughts around the Liverpool project but ultimately — despite suggestions in Germany that a summit was planned for the international break — it never happened.

It fell to Bayern’s honorary president Uli Hoeness to offer the first public indication on Thursday that the game was up, at least from Bayern’s perspective.

“It will be difficult, if not probably impossible (to appoint Alonso),” he said. “He’s more inclined to stay at Bayer Leverkusen in view of their current successes because he would not want to leave them behind. Let’s say if he had two or three more years of success, it would probably be easier to bring him out of there.”

So why has Alonso opted to stay at Leverkusen and where do Liverpool go from here? We have spoken to multiple sources directly and indirectly connected to the clubs and the key figures involved to build up a picture. They asked to remain anonymous to protect their relationships.

Fernando Carro sounded adamant. “Xabi has a contract until 2026 and there is no doubt that he will stay here,” insisted Leverkusen’s chief executive on March 19, when asked about his manager’s future. His confidence proved to be well-founded.

During a meeting with Carro and sporting director Simon Rolfes last week, Alonso informed them that he would turn down interest from elsewhere and remain loyal to Leverkusen. He explained that he was excited about the prospect of unlocking further potential in the squad and leading them in the Champions League next season.

Rolfes was unsurprised: he had always felt confident that Alonso would remain provided Real Madrid did not unexpectedly express an interest in hiring him this summer.

Alonso, who had spent the early part of the international break considering his future, felt the time was right to make his decision public when he addressed the media on Friday before Saturday’s Bundesliga game against Hoffenheim. He wanted to put a stop to the speculation and provide some clarity.

“My job is not over here,” Alonso said. “Putting everything together, I’ve taken this important decision. I am convinced it’s the right one.

“This is my first full season as a manager. I still have a lot of things to prove and to experience. Right now, I have a situation where I feel really stable and happy. This is the right place for me to develop as a coach.”

Alonso wants to build on his project at Leverkusen 

It is a big call taking yourself out of contention for the Liverpool and Bayern Munich jobs. What if Leverkusen do not hit the same heights next season and Alonso’s stock falls? There are no guarantees that those opportunities will come along again soon.

Those closest to Alonso, however, insist it is perfectly in keeping with his character. They point to the fact that he turned down the chance to manage Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach in 2021 in order to stay in charge of Real Sociedad’s B team.

Alonso is not a man in a hurry and will not make the next step in his career until he believes he has gained sufficient experience. He only took over at Leverkusen in October 2022 and believes he is still learning his trade. The fact that he has yet to manage in the Champions League is another factor for him.

It is not that Alonso lacks self-belief, but more that he is self-aware and appreciates his limitations. Money was never going to come into the equation for him. He doesn’t need it having banked a fortune during his playing career so he can afford to go at his own pace.

This has been a feature of Alonso’s managerial career. Those who worked with Alonso at Sociedad say he was initially hesitant about managing their B team as he did not have a huge interest in the other areas of the job beyond coaching and was happy leading a quiet life in San Sebastian.

He had taken some persuading to accept the job at Leverkusen but was swayed by the profile of their squad, the expectations of the club and being able to work away from the spotlight.

There was a school of thought among some staff at Liverpool that, if Leverkusen won the Bundesliga, Alonso might decide he could not top that and move on. But the club were never given any false hope by his camp.

Klopp conducted his media duties on Friday shortly after Alonso’s announcement and said he could relate to the decision he has taken.

“Being a young manager at a club doing really well, I had a similar situation,” Klopp said. “I did pretty much the same and never regretted it. He’s doing an incredible job there. Leverkusen have a good team and they will probably keep their team together. That’s possible this year. Not every year is like that. I understand why he wants to do that (stay).”

Finding a replacement for Klopp will not be easy

Real Madrid were a possible curveball. Alonso won La Liga and the Champions League during his five seasons at the Bernabeu after leaving Liverpool in 2009 and is viewed as a possible successor to Carlo Ancelotti, whose contract runs until 2026.

Real Madrid CEO Jose Angel Sanchez regards Alonso highly and many at the club – including Ancelotti – see him as someone who could work well with the club’s generation of youngsters, although president Florentino Perez is less convinced he is quite ready for the step up.

There has been no contact between Real Madrid and Alonso recently and his decision to stay at Leverkusen for at least one more season is not linked to any interest from the Spanish giants. Alonso has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

So where do Liverpool turn now?

Senior Anfield figures insist it was never a case of the job simply being Alonso’s if he wanted it. They had kept an open mind and wanted to conduct a rigorous process to assess the merits of a host of candidates.

That started when Klopp informed the owners of his plans in November and was then stepped up after the manager’s public announcement two months ago.

The search — masterminded by Hughes, with input from Edwards — has been data-led to establish who could be a good fit stylistically. Character and background checks have been made as part of the due diligence to establish who has the right personality to follow in Klopp’s footsteps. Talk behind the scenes has centred on suitability and availability with dialogue with a number of agents.

Alonso probably would have emerged as the strongest candidate if he had been interested, with even Klopp championing his credentials last month.

“The next generation is already there and I would say Xabi is the stand-out in that department,” Klopp said. “A former world-class player, obviously coaching family as well which helps a little bit. He was like a coach already when he was playing. The football he is playing, the teams he sets up, the transfers he did — it was absolutely exceptional.”

Liverpool are now in the process of drawing up a shortlist. Sporting’s Ruben Amorim is under serious consideration. The 39-year-old is highly regarded having ended Sporting’s 19-year wait for the Portuguese title in 2021, and fits FSG’s profile of what they value in managers. His attacking brand of football is seen as being of a similar style to that established under Klopp.

Amorim is one of the leading contenders

Sporting are a point clear of rivals Benfica as they chase another league title under Amorim. His release clause could ultimately be around €10million — lower than some of the figures previously reported.

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi and Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann — who both scored well on Liverpool’s initial data research — have been discussed.

De Zerbi’s side have not consistently hit the heights of last season but there is an appreciation that he lost his two best players with the sales of Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool and Moises Caicedo to Chelsea last summer. However, his outspoken nature, and confrontational approach to player recruitment, could count against him.

Nagelsmann, who is coaching Germany at this summer’s European Championships, has been out of club football since being sacked by Bayern Munich in March 2023.

Simone Inzaghi at Inter is regarded as an outsider. The Serie A club do not want to lose him and not being able to speak English would be an issue for him if he moved to the Premier League. Thiago Motta, who has over-achieved at Bologna, has been discussed, although he has been linked with a possible move to Juventus.

Lille manager Paulo Fonseca, who is out of contract in the summer, is well-regarded and Tuchel is still available, although whether Edwards and Hughes would want another big name and character to follow Klopp is unclear.

Thomas Frank also has his admirers courtesy of his work at Brentford, whose style of play under the Dane has similarities to Klopp’s Liverpool under Klopp, although moving to Anfield would represent a major step up.

With two trophies still to play for during the run-in, Liverpool are unlikely to make any official appointment before the curtain comes down on Klopp’s reign. They are wary of causing upheaval to another club during such a pivotal period.

But behind the scenes, Hughes will know that the clock is ticking as he helps shape the future direction.

For now, that future does not involve Alonso.

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