Even as a player, Xabi Alonso exuded footballing intelligence. There was just something about the way the former Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid midfielder carried himself, about the way he spoke, that hinted at a deeper understanding of the game than most. It’s therefore not so surprising that Alonso has carried that intelligence into management.
Alonso, now 39, has already achieved history as a coach, last week guiding Real Sociedad’s B team back into the second tier of Spanish football for the first time in 50 years. The former midfielder has built a young and dynamic team in just two seasons and his success hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Indeed, Alonso was the favourite to succeed Marco Rose as Borussia Monchengladbach manager until the Bundesliga club made the late decision to change their focus. The 2010 World Cup winner reportedly made a good impression in the job interview, presenting his vision for the Foals. Some reports claim it was Alonso who decided not to take over at Gladbach, instead signing a new contract with Real Sociedad.
More recently, Alonso has been linked with the Real Madrid job. Zinedine Zidane’s future at the Santiago Bernabeu is far from certain after an underwhelming season and so it’s possible there could be a vacancy in the Spanish capital this summer. If this proves to be the case, Alonso is widely expected to be on Florentino Perez’s shortlist.
Another former Real Madrid player, Raul Gonzalez, has also been linked with the post, with the former striker currently in charge of the club’s B team, Castilla. This is the same route Pep Guardiola and Zidane took into senior management and is proven as an effective pathway for former players into top jobs in Spain.
Coached by Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, many believe Alonso is destined to be a great manager. The start he has made to life in the dugout supports this notion. It’s only a matter of time until the former midfielder lands a top job somewhere. He might be aiming higher than Borussia Monchengladbach.
Bayern Munich, for instance, could be a destination in the future. “I think we have to make an effort to bring Xabi Alonso back to Bayern at some point,” club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said in an interview two years ago. “He was a marvellous player, who speaks four languages and German fluently. He was a real personality. I’d really like him to return to Bayern one day, he’s a true gentleman.”
Alongside the likes of Rose, Julian Nagelsmann, Roberto De Zerbi and Ruben Amorim, the 36-year-old who led Sporting CP to their first league title in nearly 20 years this season, Alonso looks set to make his name as one of the best managers in the sport. He is waiting for the right opportunity and has shown patience in turning down a number of reported offers.
A number of big clubs have taken the plunge by appointing former players unproven in the management arena in recent times - see Mikel Arteta, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard in the Premier League alone - but Alonso has a different air around him. While he might be untested at the top level as a manager, he is laying the groundwork in the Spanish lower leagues now for a successful career.
Of course, the real test will come when Alonso finally makes the step up. Arteta was widely viewed as a top manager in waiting, but has yet to deliver as Arsenal boss. Nonetheless, Alonso has already built a reputation for himself as a sharp football thinker and motivator of men. It won’t be long until he's coaching a team at a higher level than the Spanish second tier.
10 Best young managers right now
1. Julian Nagelsmann
2. Marco Rose
3. Ruben Amorim
4. Roberto De Zerbi
5. Steven Gerrard
6. Diego Martinez
7. Xabi Alonso
8. Raul Gonzalez
9. Gerardo Seoane
10. Mikel Arteta