Not all former footballers make good managers but it appears Xabi Alonso is redefining the narrative at Bayer Leverkusen.
The Liverpool and Real Madrid legend was a great footballer and is replicating same in his burgeoning managerial career in football.
His blueprints at Bayer Leverkusen is an envy of young managers in the game, hungry for a rapid impact in the dugout.
Xabi Alonso managed a second division club in Spain, Real Sociedad B and burst into the scene after a great spell with the club.
He took up the Bayer Leverkusen job in October 2022 and has stretched out his magic wand to transform the fortunes of the club in a flash.
Bayer Leverkusen lingered in the drop zone, teetering on the edges of relegation before Xabi Alonso took over the club.
With just six months into the job, Alonso has turned a relegation-battling club into title contenders in Europe and in Bundesliga.
How did Xabi Alonso transform Bayer Leverkusen into a football giant?
It was more of a gamble drafting a second division club manager in Spain to take charge of an elite Bundesliga club in Germany.
However, Xabi Alonso has proved critics wrong. His remarkable trail is surprising but the subtle tactical changes underpinning his giant strides, in just half a year into his reign at BayArena, is not far-fetched.
His first major change to the squad was his formation. Alonso immediately switched from his predecessor Gerardo Seoane’s 4-4-2 formation to 3-5-2 formation.
The reasons for Xabi Alonso’s tactical switch is not far from grasp. It is in line with his football philosophy. During his playing career, Alonso has played mostly for teams with attacking style of play.
He played a pivotal midfield role, propelling attacks and quelling counters. The 3-5-2 formation gives Bayer Leverkusen a great attacking momentum upfront than what was obtained under his predecessor’s 4-4-2.
Another key element in Xabi’s revived squad is possessive play. The former Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and Liverpool midfielder priotizes possessive football, allowing his players settle on the ball and outplay opponents with a good buildup play.
It conveys confidence and helps beat pressure even when narrowly losing possession.
His possessive style is made possible with his five-man midfield made up of attacking and defending midfielders, who serves as pivot with a malleable shape to drive attacks and defend when losing possession.
Another key changes that has been effected by Xabi Alonso has been his pressing which is in line with his attacking football philosophy.
Instead of falling back to defend when losing possession, the Spaniard urges his players to go for recovery runs and wrestle the ball from the opposition to stay in the game.
This has helped the team dominate play, intimidate opponents and launch attacks.
His success story has also been linked with a number of players he has improved and trained to effectively interpret his style.
Jeremy Frimpong is one of his success stories. Under Gerardo Seoane, Frimpong functioned as central midfielder or sometimes retreat to a right-back role but he is now used fully as attacking right-back.
Piero Hincapie is another Bayer Leverkusen defender that has been converted into an attacking defender from the left-back, providing Xabi Alonso’s style a good positional function it requires from the wings during attacks.
Xabi Alonso achievements with Bayer Leverkusen
Alonso has effectively transformed Bayer Leverkusen into the Bundesliga giant it was. Bayer Leverkusen are 6th on the Bundesliga table with 47 points from 29 games and are 6 points from a Champions League spot. Alonso took over the club when they were 16th on the table, just above the drop zone.
They are in the Europa League semifinal where they will face Serie A side Roma in the semifinal on 11 May. It is their first European semifinal in 21 years.