The timing may seem too coincidental. With the news of Jürgen Klopp leaving Liverpool Football Club, the rise of Xabi Alonso as a successful head coach in European football feels like a perfect fit. Similar to his precise passes as a player (and even now, subtly impressing his team in training), it appears that a chance is presenting itself to the Premier League leaders at just the right moment.
Since his arrival in north-west Germany, his achievements have been evident. He took over a struggling Bayer Leverkusen team in October 2022 and led them to near Champions League qualification and a Europa League semi-final, which was quite impressive. However, his success has continued this season with his team remaining unbeaten in 18 Bundesliga games and sitting at the top of the table with only six points dropped. Their defense has been the best in the league, a remarkable feat considering their past struggles in that area, all while maintaining an attractive playing style.
In Europe, they are considered one of the top contenders, alongside Liverpool, to win the Europa League. Some believe that, like Klopp’s team, this season’s Champions League is lacking without their presence. Alonso is close to achieving something remarkable, not only by defeating a strong Bayern Munich team led by Harry Kane, but also by the impressive style in which Leverkusen is playing. Many are convinced that it is not just their current position, but also their journey, that proves that the Basque coach is truly talented.
In November, when speaking to the Guardian, he shared that his initial task was to improve Leverkusen’s competitiveness and prove that they could climb out of the bottom using counterattacks. Eventually, their style shifted towards more control. Many young coaches struggle when faced with a major change, but Alonso was thrown into the challenge headfirst. He had to adapt quickly and already had a plan in mind to evolve their style. He strongly believes in allowing players to interpret their positions rather than being limited by formations. With this mindset, he seems well-equipped to take on the daunting task of succeeding Klopp.
On Friday, Bild revealed that there is a rumored release clause in Alonso’s contract with Leverkusen, which only applies to his previous three clubs – Liverpool, Bayern, and Real Madrid. The club and coach have avoided directly addressing the issue of a release clause, rather than completely denying its existence. During his press conference before Saturday’s game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Alonso wisely chose to focus on praising Klopp and emphasizing his dedication to his current job, describing it as “an intense and rewarding journey”. He also expressed his contentment with his current position.
He is being reasonable by incorporating some temporary aspects into his current position. Leverkusen is an ideal location for growth, offering numerous amenities and resources of top clubs without the intense scrutiny seen at other similarly successful clubs. However, there are limitations to what can be achieved there. In the later months of the year, it was widely believed that Alonso would succeed Carlo Ancelotti as the next coach of Real Madrid. It is possible that Ancelotti’s decision to extend his contract until 2026 was influenced by Alonso’s determination to make choices on his own terms and at his own pace. “I will make decisions when I believe the timing is right,” he stated in November.
Although Alonso was aware that his coaching progress would be closely monitored, he chose to remain in his initial role as Real Sociedad B team’s principal for three years. This decision was not because he was obligated to do so – he had the opportunity to join Mönchengladbach in the spring of 2021 – but because he believed it was the right move.
Although Alonso and Klopp have different personalities, they both share a common desire to rely on their instincts in decision-making. This quality was particularly beneficial for Klopp during his early days at Liverpool, allowing him to successfully navigate through a challenging initial period at the club.
Even if it’s difficult to imagine Alonso pumping his fist multiple times in front of the Kop, he is guided by his instinct as much as by his intelligence. It’s not just that he has done his time at Anfield. It’s that, like Klopp, he just gets Liverpool.
It would be logical for Liverpool to pursue Alonso for various reasons. He will likely need to determine if it is also a beneficial decision for himself.