Xabi Alonso has made a brave choice – and it leaves one clear winner

Xabi Alonso always played the game at his own speed. It was part of his strength as a footballer, a cool detachment, an ability to see the big picture and to identify the right move. Like many a Spanish midfielder, he did not always take the most direct route. When he did, though, a remarkable long passer could do so with great success.

The characteristics that made one of the most cerebral of players an obvious candidate for management seem apparent in his choices in his coaching career. Alonso could have been fast-tracked to two of his former clubs, and two of Europe’s super clubs. And he will take things at his own pace, staying at Bayer Leverkusen. He has been unhurried: in making a decision, in plotting his path.

“There has been a lot of speculation around my future, we have been busy and focused and I wanted the international break to reflect a bit better,” he said. “I had a very good meeting with the decision-makers, and I decided to stay at Bayer Leverkusen. I have to feel it, and right now I feel this is the right place.”

The presumption is that he will still find his way to at least one of Bayern Munich, Liverpool or Real Madrid at some stage; perhaps more, given the high turnover of managers at the Allianz Arena and the Bernabeu and the stellar reputation of a man Jurgen Klopp has described as the “standout” manager of the next generation is forging.

Yet, equally, it is rare for both Bayern and Liverpool to be looking for a manager in the same summer – it last happened in 2011, before then in 2004 – and at Anfield, anyway, Klopp’s long reign has shown a preference for and the merits of stability. Klopp’s replacement could still be in situ early in the 2030s.

In a sense, Alonso could be rejecting a once-in-a-managerial lifetime opportunity. In another, he is not: there is no guarantee that, while he appeared the frontrunner, he would actually have been Liverpool’s preferred candidate. Certainly, there are some at Anfield who had felt he was likely to remain at Leverkusen for at least another year. Perhaps Bayern, who felt more open in coveting Alonso, have been rebuffed the most.

All of which may offer Real some encouragement; Carlo Ancelotti is contracted until 2026, when he turns 67. Alonso, a rare Spanish coach with more roots at the Bernabeu than the Nou Camp, could look the logical replacement.

Alonso could have replaced Thomas Tuchel at Bayern (Getty)
Alonso could have replaced Thomas Tuchel at Bayern (Getty)

Maybe Alonso is playing the long game. He is on the brink of one achievement that should stand the test of time and still feel pertinent in a couple of years: winning Leverkusen’s first-ever Bundesliga, ending Bayern’s 11-year reign. There may be others: an unbeaten season, a historic treble.

There could be other achievements next season. He said: “My job is not over here.”

And yet, Alonso has set the standards so high that, realistically, the only way is down at Leverkusen. The question may be how far: given Bayern’s vast economic advantage and the far greater talent in their ranks, logically they will regain the Bundesliga next year. There is a difference between Leverkusen coming second or third, however, compared to fifth or sixth.

One precedent, for better or worse, was set by Klopp, who retained the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, reached a Champions League final, arguably stayed too long and yet still had sufficient allure to get the Liverpool job. In the dynamics of the succession at Anfield, there is a theory that Klopp is an impossible act to follow; perhaps it is better to be the man after the man after the German.

Alonso has taken a risk but it suggests confidence in his ability (Getty)
Alonso has taken a risk but it suggests confidence in his ability (Getty)

As the former CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had named Alonso as a potential future Bayern manager before he had taken a first-team job, the safe assumption is that he may have multiple opportunities to take charge in Bavaria: unlike Klopp, who has turned Bayern down more than once, the probability is that he would accept one.

But the widespread expectation that it would be a straight battle between Bayern and Liverpool for Alonso’s services has proved wrong: on several occasions, Leverkusen had expressed confidence that they would keep the Spaniard. Such optimism was not misplaced.

Yet Alonso’s decision shows an independence of thought. Not for the first time, either: in 2021, he turned down Borussia Monchengladbach to stay in charge of Real Sociedad’s B team. He instead went to the Bundesliga, and the same region of Germany, 18 months later.

Once again, he has delayed his journey to a bigger stage. Once again, he will probably get there. In the process, he has reshaped the managerial merry-go-round for the summer, the frontrunner has withdrawn from the race. It may mean the eventual appointments get unfavourably compared to Alonso. Certainly, there is the chance a seemingly second-rate candidate gets one of the plum jobs.

Perhaps the cleverest thing that Alonso can do, so soon into his managerial career, is to continue to learn on the job at Leverkusen. “I feel this is the right place to develop as a coach,” he said. It suggests a confidence that he can get better again, that this is far from his only chance of going to a club of the level of Liverpool or Bayern. But sometimes the boldest thing is to do nothing. And by choosing not to go, Alonso has made a brave choice.