Xabi Alonso is the hottest young manager in world football – here’s why

Xabi Alonso - Alonso is the hottest young manager in world football – here’s why
Xabi Alonso is recognised as perhaps the continent's most exciting coach - Reuters/Thilo Schmuelgen

When Harry Kane signed for Bayern Munich in August, the expectation in Germany was that he would instantly become the best player in the Bundesliga, playing for the country’s best team.

The first part of that, inevitably enough, has proved to be true. After 12 games in the German top-flight, Kane has already scored 18 goals and registered five assists for his new side. No other player in the division even comes close to matching his output.

The second part, however, has not yet worked out. Kane is doing what was expected of him, but he is not doing so for the best team in the Bundesliga. That label instead belongs to Bayer Leverkusen, who have surged to the top of the table after a stunning start to the campaign.

Leverkusen are three points clear of Bayern and have a record of 18 victories in 20 matches in all competitions this season. They have become one of Europe’s most impressive sides and they have done so under the guidance of perhaps the continent’s most exciting coach: Xabi Alonso.

Ah, Alonso. For footballing romantics, it is a name that will forever stir the soul. One of the modern greats, and a midfield player who won it all – multiple league titles, two Champions Leagues, two European Championships and a World Cup – with that gorgeous blend of continental elegance and fierce intelligence.

As a player, Alonso was always a midfielder who used brainpower first and physical power later. From the early days of his career he was therefore tipped to become a coach and, to those who know him, it is no surprise that he is now excelling on the touchline.

Bayer Leverkusen head coach Xabi Alonso on the touchline during a game
Alonso was tipped to become a coach from the early days of his playing career - Shutterstock/Christopher Neundorf

‘I am not in a rush to reach the top’

Few footballers have ever seemed better prepared, on paper at least, for life in management. For one, Alonso’s father, Periko, was a professional player and coach. And then one considers some of the managers that Alonso played under: Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini, Vicente del Bosque.

“His father was an important manager, and he had five or six of the best coaches in the world in his career as well,” said Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal manager and a close friend of Alonso. “That is a massive ingredient. And then he has his own things, his own personality and experience. It is a really good mixture.”

Arteta and Alonso played for the same club as children in San Sebastian and there are plenty of similarities between their teams. Both men encourage a possession-based, precise style of play, and both men have built midfields around Granit Xhaka, who left Arsenal for Leverkusen this summer and is now thriving in Germany.

There are differences between the two coaches, though, and the most obvious of those is patience. Arteta’s first managerial job was Arsenal, one of Europe’s biggest teams, and he accepted the role in north London at the age of just 37. In management terms, it was the ultimate plunge into the deep end.

Alonso, by contrast, has been in less of a hurry. His coaching career began with the Real Madrid youth teams, before he then spent three years in charge of Real Sociedad’s reserves. “I am not in a rush to reach the highest level,” he said last year. “I am taking things slowly, getting to know myself better.”

In training, he’s still got it

Alonso joined Leverkusen in October last year but it is their performances this season – with a thrilling 3-4-2-1 formation – that have really caught the eye. So much so that he is now being linked, almost weekly, to bigger clubs. Former clubs Real, Bayern and Liverpool are regularly touted as potential destinations for Alonso in the coming years.

His appeal to Europe’s biggest clubs is obvious: he is multilingual, progressive in his approach, well-dressed and well-groomed, recognised as one of the best players of his generation and, at 42, young enough to potentially establish himself as a dominant manager of the next few decades.

And let’s be honest – even without his work at Leverkusen, he would be an enticing option for most clubs simply because he is the great Xabi Alonso. Who would not be impressed by such a man strolling around the training pitches, spraying perfect passes to the wings? When he was filmed doing so at Leverkusen earlier this season, the video was viewed millions of times on social media.

Enduring technique and success as a player can only take you so far, of course, and Alonso still has much to prove in the dugout. But this is a man who has been learning and preparing for years, and a footballer who enjoyed perhaps the greatest education in coaching that any modern player has received. Alonso was always regarded as a certainty to make it in management, and now he is showing why.