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Understanding Xabi Alonso’s Chess Game

After there was speculation in the last few weeks, on Friday (29/3) Xabi Alonso decided to stay at Bayer Leverkusen. As is known, this Spanish coach has been linked with the coaching chairs of Bayern Munich and Liverpool, two clubs he played for while playing.

At first glance, this decision seems logical, because Leverkusen has the opportunity to win the German Bundesliga and DFB Pokal, plus still compete in the Europa League. Plus, Die Werkself is still undefeated in various competitions.

However, Alonso’s decision was not free from criticism, especially from English football pundits such as Richard Keys and Joe Cole (former Chelsea and Liverpool players). Both of them think that the former Real Madrid player has missed a golden opportunity to coach a big club.

Richard Keys even without further ado likened Bayer Leverkusen’s great performance with Alonso to the sensation of Leicester City in the 2015-2016 Premier League season. It didn’t stop there, the pundit also used the nickname “Bayer Leicester-Kusen” to strengthen his opinion.

Xabi Alonso, coach of Bayer Leverkusen from Spain (Goal.com)
On the face of it, this is a normal opinion, despite the habits of the media and British football pundits who are known for having super spicy talk. A coach who dares to miss a golden opportunity like this really looks very reckless.

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In fact, if you look again, the former Spanish National Team midfield maestro’s “unpopular” decision was a strategic move, just like a tactical maneuver in a game of chess.

As a young coach who is on the rise, Alonso seems to have learned a lot from the case that happened to Andre Villas Boas, about a decade ago. Like Alonso, at the beginning of his appearance in the top level competition in the Portuguese League, AVB also emerged as one of the talented young coaches in Europe. This label became stronger, not long after bringing FC Porto to achieve various achievements.

In his single season at the Estadio Do Dragao, the coach born in 1977 successfully won the Portuguese League, Taca de Portugal and Europa League titles in the 2010-2011 season.

Andre Villas Boas while coaching Zenit Saint Petersburg (Skysports.com)
Amazingly, The Dragons were successful in bringing them to an unbeaten record in the league. An achievement that Alonso still has the opportunity to record with Bayer Leverkusen in the German Bundesliga for the 2023-2024 season. The Portuguese coach’s brilliant record then led him to move to Chelsea in the summer of 2011. With his profile as a talented young coach and former member of Jose Mourinho’s coaching staff, the profile is added Chelsea as an ambitious team, everything looks promising for both parties.

Unfortunately, Villas Boas’ failure to control the dressing room and the egos of the senior star players shattered all expectations at the start. The Blues’ performance declined, and AVB was expelled. Ironically, after the coach’s death, John Terry et al were successful in winning the Champions League and FA Cup titles at the end of the 2011-2012 season.

After failing miserably at Chelsea, things were no longer the same for the former Academica coach. From a talented trainer, his status immediately shifted to an adventurous trainer, with an additional career record as a rally racing participant.

His short stint in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur (2012-2013) and the Chinese Super League with Shanghai SIPG (2016-2017) ended in failure, while his adventure at Olympique de Marseille (France, 2019-2021) ended with controversial nuances.

Practically, AVB’s only successful career after FC Porto occurred while coaching Zenit Saint Peter Petersburg between 2014-2016. With this giant Russian club, one Russian League title and the Russian Cup were achieved.

However, in general he failed to change the “hype” and label as a talented coach in Europe, because the label actually became a heavy pressure that made him never last long as a coach on one team.

Andre Villas Boas’s coaching career has recently become a popular example in European football, which has become a reference for talented young coaches, especially when it comes to making decisions to move to high-pressure clubs and leagues.

Returning to Xabi Alonso, his decision to stay at BayArena is quite an interesting “chess game” strategy. This coach, who was born in 1981, dared to reject offers from Bayern Munich and Liverpool, because his name was on the list of candidates for Real Madrid coach, if Carlo Ancelotti left after his contract expired in 2026.

Apart from these strategic considerations, the decision of coaches from the Basque region to stay in Germany is also a strategy to build a basis of coaching experience in top level competitions in Europe’s top leagues. With enough experience at the top level, including dealing with high pressure, he will be better prepared to move up to another level, when the time comes.

As is known, before coaching Leverkusen, this former Real Sociedad player’s experience in coaching was only coaching Real Sociedad’s B Team in the second and third caste competitions in the Spanish La Liga.

So, with planning as neat as this, it seems that Alonso still has a lot of tricks and tricks to present at Bayer Leverkusen, at least in the next year.

If he is able to win the title at Bayer Leverkusen, both this season and next season, his appeal as a genius coach will no longer be “hype” for a moment and Leverkusen will not be the “German branch of Leicester City”, because he is able to make a team with limited capital develop rapidly, even become champion.

ASL

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