Xabi Alonso’s decision to stay put gives Liverpool tricky choices at time of flux | Jonathan Wilson

Xabi Alonso’s decision to stay put gives Liverpool tricky choices at time of flux | Jonathan Wilson

Perhaps it was always too perfect: not just the idea of Jürgen Klopp handing over to a revered former player, the man who scored the equaliser in Istanbul, but of the baton being passed on after a Europa League final meeting in Dublin.

When Bayer Leverkusen came from behind to keep that narrative alive with two injury-time goals against Qarabag, the Kloppian nature of the comeback felt profoundly appropriate. But Xabi Alonso announced on Friday he will remain with Leverkusen for at least one more season and attempt a Champions League campaign with the side he is surely about to lead to a first Bundesliga title, and that means Liverpool must think again.

With Liverpool’s former sporting director Michael Edwards returning as the new chief executive of Fenway Sports Group and the appointment of Richard Hughes as sporting director, there was always going to be turbulence at Anfield this summer beyond Klopp’s departure but Alonso, as a familiar face who knows the club, would have represented at least some sense of continuity. His ideas on how the game should be played are similar enough to Klopp’s that the outgoing manager referred to him as “coaching family”.

Alonso, though, has been extremely patient in his coaching development. After a year working with Real Madrid’s under-14s, he moved to another of his former clubs, Real Sociedad, where he coached the B side for a little over three years before being appointed at Leverkusen in October 2022. Having pulled them away from relegation trouble, he turned down reported interest from Tottenham to stay at the club and, given Leverkusen currently lead the Bundesliga by 10 points, the likelihood is his reward will be a league title. In the context of his career so far, it makes complete sense that he would wish to lead a side he has crafted into his first Champions League campaign, rather than making that leap with a giant he has not had time to shape in Liverpool or Bayern Munich.

In an industry that often seems a desperate scrabble for the top, in which short-termism reigns, there is something laudable in that; certainly there are other former internationals of his generation who might have benefited from gaining more experience on their way into top jobs. But that doesn’t make Liverpool’s position any easier. And what complicates that is how many major clubs will be seeking a new manager this summer.

Barcelona, Bayern and Napoli certainly will be. Manchester United probably will be. It’s far from impossible that Chelsea, Newcastle, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus could be. Various national teams, including England, may well be after the Euros too. It’s hard to remember a period of such flux and it comes just as it feels one generation of coaches is yielding to another. There is a great opportunity for one of the thrusting young generation to take a huge leap forward in their career.

For well over a decade, football has been waiting for one of the vast crop of talented Portuguese managers to break from the pack. Leonardo Jardim, Vítor Pereira, Rui Vitória, Marco Silva and Paulo Fonseca have flickered with promise on the outskirts of the elite for years without ever quite getting the superclub job it seemed they might; Rúben Amorim could be the one to make the breakthrough.

Rúben Amorim of Sporting exhorts his side against Boavista earlier in MarchView image in fullscreen

That’s in part a matter of timing, but his record at Sporting is very good, at least domestically: he ended their 19-year wait for the Portuguese title in his first full season and, although they fell back to fourth last term, they won the cup for a second successive season and are top again this year. European form is less convincing, although Sporting did take four points off Tottenham in the Champions League last season. The biggest issue, though, aside from a lack of experience, which seems almost unavoidable, is that Amorim has so far in his career, both at Braga and Sporting, always favoured a back three. It’s not insoluble but this is not a Liverpool squad set up for that.

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Roberto De Zerbi, whose Brighton Liverpool face on Sunday, is perhaps not quite as favoured now as he was when the sides met in October, a 2-2 of pressing, provoking the press and counter-pressing that demonstrated clear mutual respect with Klopp. Injuries and the demands of Europe have clearly been an issue, but Brighton remain eighth. If there is a doubt it is about his volatile nature, although he has calmed down after his two red cards and four yellows last season.

If not either of them – and Amorim appears a target for Barcelona as well – then who? Could Pep Lijnders step up from assistant? One of the other Portuguese coaches? Julian Nagelsmann if he does not stay on with Germany? Thomas Tuchel? Julen Lopetegui?

The problem is, whoever comes in, none will feel quite such a natural fit as Alonso would have.

Source: theguardian.com