They used to call him the midfield maestro at Anfield, but these days Xabi Alonso is pulling the strings from the touchline back in his homeland.
Having started his professional career at Real Sociedad, Alonso enjoyed five memorable years at Anfield, including an incredible Champions League triumph in 2005, before going onto further success with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. A World Cup winner and twice European champion with Spain, the 40-year-old is now back where it all started, coaching Sociedad’s B team and this weekend, is looking forward to his 90th game in football management.
Many Liverpool supporters have floated the idea of Alonso one day taking charge of first team affairs at Anfield, once Jurgen Klopp eventually decides to call it a day. But if he has got designs on following in the footsteps of the German, he is hiding it well for now, while he finds his own way in football management.
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Speaking to UEFA official sponsors, FedEx, about the move from playing into coaching, Xlonso said: “There wasn’t a moment, it was just during my career [when I decided to become a manager]. I liked playing, but I like trying to understand why things were happening in football. I knew that at one stage, I was going to try it [management]but you need to try it and you need to like it.
“I love it [being a manager] and I am enjoying it. I’m taking my steps; I am not in a rush to reach the highest level. I’m taking things slowly and am getting to know myself better, as well as gaining more experience to get better [as a manager]. We will see what will happen in the future. “
Alonso’s glittering playing career has afforded him the benefit of player under the guidance of a host of top managers that have helped to mold him into the coach he is today. They include more than one with a strong Liverpool connection as well.
He said: “I luckily have had great managers through my career, starting with [John] Toshack in [Real] Sociedad, Rafa [Benitez] in Liverpool, [Manuel] Pilgrims, [Carlo] Ancelotti, Pep [Guardiola] and Mo [Jose Mourinho). From each one, I have learned, and I have lived within good and bad moments. I have tried to understand why they take their decisions for me to start building my own vision as a coach or as a manager.
“But later, taking pieces from each one [manager], you need to build your own personality, your own style. It is not about copy and paste, it’s about being authentic and being your own self. That’s the best way you are going to be able to transmit or give ideas to the players. And for sure I have had great managers, and I have been a privilege for that. “
The ex-Liverpool midfielder who enjoyed great success in the middle of the park alongside the likes of Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano, saw his playing days take him not only to Spain and England but also Germany, where a spate of progressive managers, including Jurgen Klopp, have started to dominate the very top of European football. But Alonso believes that the rise of German managers is no new fad, but rather something that has been steadily growing for the past 16 years.
Alonso said: “Well, I think that it’s not something that is a one-time thing [successful German managers]. It’s been like that for the last few years, and something has been happening in German football.
“I would say that it will start around 2006 with Germany. The World Cup in Germany was the influence of Jurgen Klinsmann in that World Cup. It was important from then, what the German FA started doing in German football with grassroots program, with the players but as well with the managers. And I think that German football, they want to push new managers through, and very young managers.
“The profile of the manager is very brave, very intense, very physical but with a sense of a tactical approach to everything. And for sure, we have [Julian] Nagelsmann, we have [Thomas] Tuchel, we have [Jurgen] Klopp in Mainz. But there are others [promising managers] in other clubs that are making a great impact in German football.
“I lived there, and I saw it. It was great what they [the clubs] were doing, they are not so shy that if they see the chance to give [a managerial position] to a 32-year-old manager that is good enough, they will give them it first. Last year in Dortmund, the second team manager was coaching at Dortmund [first team]and he did great.
“So that’s that, they are not too conservative. They like to push the new managers. Jurgen Klinsmann, Jurgen Klopp and [Thomas] Tuchel, they started very young. [Julian] Nagelsmann, he started so young, and he’s still so young. But that’s why it’s a pattern. It’s something that is repeating. Many times. “
For now, Liverpool’s midfield maestro is content to earn his managerial stripes in the background at his hometown club, but with the tactical brain to compete with Europe’s best, maybe one day the Kop will be singing Alonso’s name again, but this time as he stands in the Anfield dugout.