How Xabi Alonso and a touch of tiki-taka lifted Leverkusen to brave new heights


How Xabi Alonso and a touch of tiki-taka lifted Leverkusen to brave new heights

The fans of Bayer Leverkusen before the decisive home game against Werder Bremen
The fans of Bayer Leverkusen before the decisive home game against Werder BremenProfimedia
After an impressive 5-0 victory over Werder Bremen, it's official: Bayer Leverkusen are champions of Germany for the first time. After eleven years of continuous dominance by Bayern Munich, this is an absolute milestone for the whole of German football. However, Xabi Alonso (42) and his team have more big plans and could yet revolutionise modern football.

When Xabi Alonso coached his first match as a Bundesliga coach in October 2022, the whole of Germany was looking at the BayArena in Leverkusen. That doesn't happen often.

Because Bayer is not one of the big traditional clubs, it is not Borussia Dortmund, Schalke or Eintracht Frankfurt. Bayer never attracted thousands and thousands of fans to the stadium and never attracted much media interest. And yet here he was, the 2010 world champion, the legendary playmaker Xabi Alonso. He stood on the touchline in a tailor-made jumper, radiating calm and confidence. Within just a few months, he had completely turned the Bundesliga on its head.

Xabi Alonso (centre) and his team celebrate the first championship in the club's history.
Xabi Alonso (centre) and his team celebrate the first championship in the club's history.Profimedia

Eleven years of dominance by Bayern Munich. The same championship celebrations every year. The Marienplatz in Munich, Thomas Muller in lederhosen, cold wheat beer and the engraving on the silver championship plate over and over again. No excitement, no variety. Just the big question of who will be runners-up this year.

Bayer have given German football a great gift and proved that miracles are possible, that Bayern are not invincible, they can be brought down by concentrated expertise, a bold playing idea and strong scouting.

See the match centre here: Bayern Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen

Star of a new generation of coaches

Most of the praise is due to Xabi Alonso and his coaching staff. Anyone who has been able to follow Leverkusen's development over the past few months, even marginally, will have an inkling of the great future that lies ahead for the Basque.

Several videos of the Leverkusen training sessions underline this impression. Xabi Alonso is part of a new generation of coaches who not only have great tactical expertise but also an enormous amount of practical experience. Thiago Motta (Bologna) and Ruben Amorim (Sporting Lisbon), for example, have similar qualifications.

This experience gives the coaches great respect. Everyone knows who Xabi Alonso is. When he strokes the ball and plays textbook passes, even veteran Bundesliga professionals are amazed.

Bayer Leverkusen passed the championship test against Weder Bremen
Bayer Leverkusen passed the championship test against Weder BremenAFP

But Xabi Alonso is not just a great coach because he was a great player. He interprets his role as a coach in a completely new way. With less show than Mourinho, fewer attempts at intimidation than Sir Alex Ferguson, less complicated technical terms than Pep Guardiola.

His people management is unique, combining emotional understanding with a high level of motivation. This is how you keep young, sceptical players on your side - and also those who are usually only on the substitutes' bench. The good internal atmosphere was also decisive in the title fight.

Tactics are not an end in themselves

Alonso's tactical instructions are not an end in themselves, are not intended to shape the philosophy of the game or amaze the fans - but rather to help the players make the right decisions.

Positioned a metre too far to the left? No open body position? Too much distance from your teammate? No protection in the deep area? Too few glances over the shoulder? Xabi Alonso knows which subtleties and tricks are necessary to find your way around the barely manageable and hectic pitch. Alonso doesn't throw around technical jargon, but offers his players new solutions and shows them how to get to their goal in the best possible way.

Talented, young players often tend to be impatient. They first have to be inspired by tactical ideas. The urge to get out on the pitch and play without worrying about every single move is usually greater than the belief in a back four and pressing triggers.

But for coaches like Xabi Alonso, tactics are not opaque theory or a crazy combination of numbers - but a useful tool, an offer of help that should pave the way to success.

Here's a scene that impressively illustrates what characterises Alonso as a coach: Alejandro Grimaldo practising free kicks in training. A terrible attempt at first, but the substitute goalkeeper holds onto the ball without any problems. Alonso speaks briefly to Grimaldo and makes three short hand movements. Grimaldo nods. Then he takes the next free-kick. This time a beautiful trajectory, the ball sinks right into the net.

Here comes the Champions League

This coach and this team have not only written a great chapter in German football history. They are also in a position to help shape European football for years to come. The fact that Alonso will be back on the Leverkusen bench next year is a huge relief for squad planner Simon Rolfes.

There will be no major upheaval in the summer, and most of the players are likely to have long since given up any thoughts of leaving. Anyone who has the opportunity to work with Xabi Alonso will want to make the most of it.

After West Ham lost miserably 2-0 at Leverkusen on Thursday, manager David Moyes stated that they had played against a "Champions League team." Bayer are indeed capable of playing a major role in Europe's premier league. A team that has not been beaten in 42 competitive matches need not fear the likes of Manchester City nor Real Madrid.

When I was a little boy and Barcelona was in its heyday under Pep Guardiola, I thought: You'll never see anything like this again. Every pass, every move, every dribble, everything was just perfect. I sat in front of the television in amazement, unable to keep my mouth shut. I sometimes feel the same way about Leverkusen.

When Florian Wirtz pushes the ball through a tiny gap, Granit Xhaka plays a dream pass and Jonathan Tah wins every duel - then I'm happy with all my heart. Not because I'm a Leverkusen fan - but because I'm a football fan. Because I get to experience first-hand how a bland, almost insignificant Bundesliga team became a team that I will still be raving about in 30, 40, 50 years.



France gouvernement

Les jeux d’argent et de hasard peuvent être dangereux : pertes d’argent, conflits familiaux, addiction…

Retrouvez nos conseils sur (09-74-75-13-13, appel non surtaxé)

Do you want to withdraw your consent to display betting ads?
Yes, change settings