THE EURO FILES: Xabi Alonso’s the real deal as the charming former Real Madrid star has Bayer Leverkusen flying… but how long until the Spanish giants come calling as he marks a year in charge?
- Xabi Alonso has marked one year in charge of Bayer Leverkusen this week
- Alonso has transformed the team and has Leverkusen leading the Bundesliga
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Xabi Alonso this week clocked up exactly one year as coach of Bayer Leverkusen, and his team marked it with a win that keeps them top of their Europa League group.
Leverkusen gambled on the untried former Liverpool midfielder last season after sacking Gerardo Seoane following a 2-0 defeat by Porto in the Champions League. They were 17th in the Bundesliga. They are now top.
And it is not just that Alonso has put them top. The 41-year-old has put himself top. Top of Real Madrid’s wish list as the man to replace Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the season. Top of Bayern Munich’s wish list if it does not work out with Thomas Tuchel. And top of Liverpool’s list of coaches beyond the reign of Jurgen Klopp.
Tactically, Alonso has got Leverkusen playing fast, attacking football but first, says the club’s sporting director Simon Rolfes, he showed his man-management skills by lifting the players off the floor when he arrived.
‘Because of the mental state back then, it took a while for them to grow in confidence,’ he says of the turnaround that saw Leverkusen finish sixth and reach the Europa League semi-finals.
Xabi Alonso has marked the year anniversary of taking over as Bayer Leverkusen manager
Bayer Leverkusen are flying under Alonso with the team currently leading the Bundesliga
Alonso’s impressive work at Bayer has seen the club emerge as rivals to Bayern Munich
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Alonso is smart and charming in everything he does. In his pre-match press conference before the midweek game against Molde, he politely told the translator she had to translate his answers into Norwegian not German. He had already answered in German.
‘If you are going to just repeat me, then come up with a better answer than I have,’ he said with a smile.
He speaks fluent German now — another page copied from the managerial manual of his tutors Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Ancelotti; speak their language, it will help you win their league. Can he win the Bundesliga?
On Sunday his team play their regional rivals, Cologne, 16 places below them, and it is a measure of what Alonso has achieved in such a short space of time that they go into that game with a few grumbles about the manner of their last win. Alonso rested seven players for the 2-1 victory against the Norwegian champions on Thursday. In the league, it has been five wins and a draw in the opening six matches.
‘We were a bit too relaxed. That’s not good,’ said Alonso after the Molde win. ‘It also happened against Häcken (their last Europa League rivals, who they beat 4-0). We have to think about that.’
Former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka, reborn as midfielder-leader under Alonso, said: ‘That’s what distinguishes a top team — that you also win games where maybe you don’t shine.’
If Alonso does win the league, would there be a mic drop and a flight straight to Madrid? He has a contract until 2026. Madrid have not approached him or his club yet. ‘We’re in September,’ he said two weeks ago when asked about the rumours. ‘It’s not an issue.’
Ancelotti will leave in the summer and to borrow the words of Mourinho, who would love to be Madrid’s first choice but knows he no longer is: You don’t have to be a ‘football Einstein’ to know who their top pick is.
Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti is expected to leave the club at the end of the season
Former Real star Alonso has been viewed as the perfect candidate to succeed Ancelotti
Kane’s new Bayern wingman hailed by Muller
Harry Kane has a new wingman at Bayern Munich and he has the potential to be one of the best, according to Thomas Muller. Despite only starting one game so far this season, 18-year-old Mathys Tel has scored six goals, the latest earning Bayern a win over Copenhagen in the Champions League.
In just 231 minutes he has also managed two assists, although that is not necessarily going to be his forte, believes Muller.
‘If we remember Arjen Robben,’ he said. ‘We also sometimes thought that he should have seen the man next to him but he was so focused on scoring that he got a lot of goals. Mathys should continue to do his thing.’ In other words, he is greedy — long may it last.
Bayern teenager Mathys Tel has scored six goals this season despite making only one start
Morata finally looks the part for Simeone
Diego Simeone once asked referee Cesar Soto Grado if he had anything personal against Alvaro Morata, the answer he got back was: ‘He exaggerates too much.’
Simeone shared the anecdote with reporters, which seemed to suggest he might even agree.
Morata has never been his manager’s idea of the perfect striker. Last season, he admitted still missing Diego Costa. And somewhere between the snarling Brazilian and the emotionless goal machine Radamel Falcao is the Atletico manager’s ideal centre forward.
Morata has always been a nice but sensitive guy. Maybe too much so at times to deal with things top players have to deal with, like moves abroad when still young.
He cried at Juventus when things were going wrong and was told by Gianluigi Buffon, on the treatment table next to him: ‘Save it for home, public tears only please your critics and upset your backers.’
He was only 20 at the time. He is 31 this month and it remains difficult to classify his career.
Alvaro Morata could be on course for his best season yet after a strong start to the campaign
The fact Real Madrid, Juventus, Milan, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid have all at different times wanted him is a testament to his talent.
The fact they have also been willing to let him go is a reminder of his shortcomings. He has never scored 20 league goals in a season but something feels different about this campaign.
He has 10 goals in 10 games for club and country in all competitions. Simeone has set him the target of 18 in La Liga and he already has five in four starts.
And it is not just the goals. ‘This is the Morata we need,’ Simeone said after the Spaniard scored twice to win the Madrid derby. He may be at the start of his best season ever — and that can only be good for Atletico.
Jude ‘the new Di Stefano’ as he maintains purple patch
After his eighth goal in nine games in midweek, Jude Bellingham was likened to Alfredo Di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo and Moses (the Old Testament prophet who parted the Red Sea, not the Eighties midfielder Remi).
The Ronaldo comparison had more to do with his goal celebration being mimicked by everyone from school children to fellow pros.
The Di Stefano likeness carried more weight coming from Spanish football historian Alfredo Relaño, who wrote: ‘He is just as elegant (as Di Stefano) in the way he runs and uses the ball and just as ferocious in the way he wins it back.’
Jude Bellingham was likened to Alfredo Di Stefano after an eighth goal in nine matches
Two Legia Warsaw players arrested amid AZ Alkmaar unrest
Violent scenes marred another AZ Alkmaar Europa Conference League fixture, this time with two players from their opponents arrested.
Legia Warsaw’s Radovan Pankov and Josue Pesqueira were taken off the team bus after Alkmaar’s 1-0 win.
Conflicting stories have emerged, with claims from the Dutch side that the pair were involved in an assault.
Counter-claims from the Polish side say heavy-handed stewarding provoked the trouble.
Alkmaar were fined €80,000 (£69,000) after last season’s European Conference semi-final second leg when thugs attacked an area in which West Ham players’ friends and family were seated.
Two Legia Warsaw players were taken off their team bus and arrested after their Europa League tie
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