Weighing Xabi Alonso's next options, and why Liverpool aren't first in line



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It’s accurate to say that Xabi Alonso is in a position that is unique across the entire history of organised professional football.

Big statement, but demonstrably true.

Never before has a coach who has still to complete his first full senior season been the No. 1 target for three of the biggest clubs in the world (with 26 European Cups/Champions Leagues between them) in three different countries. Those clubs are Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid.

His other love, Real Sociedad, had him and let him leave — they’ll have to wait a long time now. Does that mean we should already feel huge sympathy for his current employers, Bayer Leverkusen, for whom he’ll seal their first Bundesliga title if his team wins just 15 of the remaining 24 points available this season?

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Well, hold your horses — not necessarily. We’ll come back to Bayer 04 in a minute. This is a fertile time for Spanish coaches. Again.

Two of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues will definitely be won by LaLiga exports — Ligue 1 by Paris Saint-Germain and Luis Enrique, plus, I’m promising you, Alonso and Bayer Leverkusen. But that number could easily be three … or four, should the Premier League be won by either Arsenal or Manchester City … and if Xavi’s Barcelona stage what would admittedly be a minor miracle in LaLiga itself.

Of the 24 clubs left in UEFA competition (Champions League, Europa League, Conference League) seven are coached by Spanish managers — more than any other nationality. All that notwithstanding, the 42-year-old Basque who played for Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Madrid and Bayern stands out.

There have been more precocious coaches than Alonso: Pep Guardiola won the treble aged just 38, but by the time Manchester City and Bayern Munich (five European Cups/Champions League between them at the time) were the only two slugging it out for his signature, not only had he taken a year’s sabbatical, he’d been coaching at the senior level for four seasons and he was 42. Another of Alonso’s mentors, Jose Mourinho, was 41 by the time he took charge of Chelsea, having won UEFA trophies with Porto, but he’d been assistant coach to Sir Bobby Robson and Louis Van Gaal, or head coach at three different Portuguese clubs, for well over a decade by then.

The speed of Mourinho’s ascent isn’t comparable, nor was being sought by Chelsea (wealthy, but zero Champions League titles at the time) comparable to this Spanish World Cup winner currently being the No. 1 pick for Bayern, Liverpool and Madrid. What’s more, Mourinho was made to audition for the job (on Roman Abramovich’s yacht) up against Didier Deschamps. Alonso is Número Uno everywhere he surveys.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who could easily be held up as the most successful and powerful football club manager ever, was nearly 45 by the time he joined Manchester United from Aberdeen, had been coaching clubs for well over 10 years and had turned down opportunities at Rangers, Spurs and Wolves.

Hardly Bayern, Liverpool or Madrid. Enough examples for contextual comparison.

Go through all the greats, as far back as you wish, and you will not find a manager who was still to finish his first full senior season but had become the “must-sign!” guy for three such mighty clubs across three wholly different football cultures. It’s astonishing.

What’s that? You’d like to know what his choice will be? OK, join the queue — so would Bayern, Liverpool and Madrid.

Alonso is a strict, sometimes stern, but ultra-disciplined guy. There is no way on earth he was going to let speculation, negotiation or career-choice deliberation get in the way of his Leverkusen team lifting all three trophies that are still available to them (Bundesliga, German Cup, Europa League). That simply isn’t how he’s constructed.

Meaning that in recent months, since this situation was catalysed by Jurgen Klopp announcing his decision to leave Anfield in June and then Bayern and Thomas Tuchel revealing that they would consciously uncouple, Alonso scrupulously refused to engage in either media jostling on his story or firm negotiations with the suitor clubs. Any other such reports are nonsense.

However, the recent international break, while only a brief respite from 100% intense club duties, gave him and his long-term entourage time to nudge the decision-making process forward. A little clarity seems to have emerged.

Alonso, from before he signed up to rescue Leverkusen in October 2022, has been crystal clear in his own mind where it is he’d like to deploy his talents over the next 20 years or so — he just didn’t realise that all these opportunities would drop simultaneously.

For example, in summer 2022, he was approached by Marseille’s Spanish president, Pablo Longoria, with the offer to take over France’s sleeping giants. Alonso had just left Real Sociedad’s B team and was free.

Longoria told So Foot: “Xabi turned down the Marseille job with the same elegance he had as when he was a midfielder striking a 40-metre pass. I should have been furious to be rejected but it was all so gentlemanly that I almost thanked him for the experience! He was quite clear on the four teams he wanted to coach and was perfectly prepared to wait for them.”

Those teams were, and still are, Real Sociedad, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern. The pecking order, right now, is: Madrid (meaning he’d stay at Leverkusen for at least a season) very narrowly ahead of Liverpool and … Bayern drifting.

Bayern Munich have their noses pressed at the shop window. They know what they want, they hunger for it, the money is burning a hole in their pocket — but they look increasingly likely to have to accept they’re at the back of the queue to such a degree that they might well move onward to others on their list of candidates … and do so soon.

The fact that Alonso is on the verge of achieving something unparalleled in Bayer Leverkusen’s 120 years — making them German champions — means he and his employers have a symbiotic relationship. Alonso would not naturally want to enforce a brutal move to the champion-elect’s nearest rival — Bayern Munich. Not when he has three other options: staying, Liverpool or Madrid.

He owes president Fernando Carro, the club, his squad and the fans too much. Not his style.

Bayern’s honorary president, Uli Hoeness, told Ran Sports last week: “There are hardly any coaches like Alonso, who’ve proved they can handle a big club, but who don’t have a job or who are on sabbatical. It’s not so easy to persuade someone under contract, who may well be having great success, that FC Bayern is the ‘be-all-and-end-all!'”

Genuinely, how stark it is for someone who lives and breathes FC Bayern to have to admit that. Last time the Bavarians set their sights on a Spaniard they, admittedly, elbowed Manchester City out of the way and hugely frustrated Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano in managing to hijack what they thought was a guaranteed move for Pep Guardiola to come directly to England. Can they replicate that against-the-odds action with Alonso? Outside bet.

It’s partly explained because of how Alonso feels about his current employers — who extended his contract (until summer 2026) only last August. When that news was revealed, Leverkusen’s sports director, Simon Rolfes, said: “Us appointing Xabi is getting great applause right now but when we chose him there was skepticism. He was world-famous … yet a coach without experience of leading an elite club. But I was convinced of his ability.”

Leverkusen acted so firmly last August, long before the magnificence of their current season even began to take shape and suggest that Alonso needed rewarding, because they were positive that Real Madrid would sign and seal their former midfielder to take over as coach this summer. It was a wholly understandable precaution.

In August 2023, the Brazilian CBF was ruled by Ednaldo Rodrigues, who had made it quite clear that he wanted the brilliant veteran Italian Carlo Ancelotti to take over the national team as soon as possible, if not sooner. Ancelotti was out of contract at Madrid in June 2024 — his move to Brazil looked a shoo-in.

Rolfes reacted with supreme anticipation and precision — ensuring that Alonso was contracted for almost three more years with the implication that either they’d keep the vibrant young Spaniard or be paid damn good compensation if he left. They knew that even securing him in the mid-term didn’t automatically ensure that Alonso would be irrevocably locked in.

Leverkusen’s Spanish CEO Fernando Carro has already explained to Marca: “We didn’t need to have a release clause in writing with Xabi. We have a great relationship and he knows we’re a serious club.

“We won’t insist on keeping anyone who doesn’t want to be here. There’s nothing on paper but a verbal agreement is still an agreement. If he requires to do something in the future then we’ll talk. I only hope we don’t have to because he’s happy and he wants to stay.”

Madrid are in pole position because, long before this was a three-way auction, they specifically built him into their succession plan. Immediately as Ancelotti’s Brazilian dream looked as if it were crumbling, with Rodrigues being removed from his post (only briefly it proved) by the Brazilian government last December, Florentino Perez neatly stitched in his preferred segue by renewing Ancelotti until summer 2026.

Absolutely zero coincidence that this was in harmony with when Alonso would be guaranteed to be free from his Leverkusen deal. The result: a Madrid squad beautifully built, stadium renewed and ready to earn huge new revenue, steady-hand Ancelotti tied up for two more years and Cool-Hand Xabi waiting to take over.

Meaning that Liverpool have quite some work to do in order not to join Bayern Munich with their noses pressed to the window — seeing the candy, wanting the candy, but not being allowed in.

Alonso’s ties to the city, to the club, his awareness that Liverpool, too, have renewed and fortified their squad and the residual ache, about which he’s spoken, that the Premier League was the only national title he didn’t win in the three countries he graced, can all, feasibly, combine to draw him away from the Bundesliga and to ask Florentino Perez for a little extra time before coming home to Madrid.

And what has the prospect of Leverkusen playing Liverpool in Dublin for the Europa League title in what might be Klopp’s last game in charge of the Reds done for the pending drama — whether Alonso wants to take over or has other plans?

It has hyped that drama right up, is what it’s done. As it stands, however, Liverpool are not yet in the box seat.

Leaving the prospect of Leverkusen, who’ve been so smart, so visionary, so brave and so successful in prising their way into Alonso’s dream career trajectory, potentially reaping the benefits of at least one more season if moving to Madrid in due course, rather than Anfield, is what he ultimately chooses.

Meantime, get geared up for Leverkusen, who have only one domestic trophy in these 120 years of history, tilting very hard indeed at winning three of the damn things in the next 60 days. And then partying.





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