Former Spain international Xabi Alonso is set for his first taste of top-flight management after agreeing a deal to take over from Marco Rose as Borussia Monchengladbach manager next season.
It’s a bold move from Gladbach. After all, Alonso has had just two coaching jobs since retiring from his playing career and has never worked at a higher level that the Spanish third tier, where his Real Sociedad B team have been turning heads.
However, Gladbach chief Max Eberl has clearly been watching his progress and has seen a lot of positives, so let’s take a deep dive into Xabi The Manager.
During his first management role as part of Real Madrid’s academy setup, Alonso made it clear that he would favour a flexible 4-3-3, and he has largely stuck to that setup during his time in Sociedad with the reserves, who are known as Sanse.
In his debut season, Alonso opted for more of a 4-2-3-1, but 2020/21 saw more chopping and changing between that and his trusty 4-3-3.
He has even experimented with three central defenders at times, so he’s obviously not afraid to take risks when it comes to his team selection.
As Alonso told The Coaches Voice in 2019: “I try to be an attacking team, a team that has the initiative and wants the ball, that has players that know how to connect with each other.”
His desire to see attacking football has seen him turn to something closer to a 3-2-2-3 during matches in an attempt to overwhelm defences and give his team as many outlets as possible to pass to.
Adaptation is a key thing for Alonso, who does not want his side to get flustered whenever Plan A does not come off, and he has spoken about that numerous times in the past.
“Do I have a trademark? No. What’s important is what my players feel, that’s what I tell them,” Alonso told L’Equipe when asked if he had a clear philosophy. “If I feel something but my players don’t, my ideas are useless, I have to change and be at their service.”
Alonso prides himself on his ability to adapt and is prepared to draw on his experiences as a player in England, Spain and Germany for help when needed. He has seen numerous different ways of playing and tries to set up his team with several different approaches to counter specific threats.
However, his bread-and-butter is possession-based, fluid football which is designed to score a lot of goals, and to his credit, that’s been working thus far.
Alonso won his first trophy as a manager in 2013 when he led Real Madrid‘s Under-13s to the league title with three games to spare.
That success saw Alonso earn a gig in charge of a Sanse side who had just finished 12th in the league, and the results were immediate. He led the team all the way up to fifth, just five points behind second place, when the season was curtailed because of COVID-19.
His side were the third highest scorers in the division, but also boasted one of the poorest defensive records, with Alonso showing the kind of naivety that we usually see from rookie coaches.
As he has always promised, Alonso sat down and analysed the flaws of both his team and himself as a manager. He wanted to know why they were conceding so many goals, and in 2020/21, Sanse have figured it out.
At the time of writing, Alonso’s side are top of the third tier, having scored more goals than all but one of their rivals, and Sanse have also managed to concede the fewest goals in the process.
One of Alonso’s biggest fans is Manchester City‘s Pep Guardiola, who was full of praise for the Spaniard after his decision to hang up his boots in 2017.
“One of the best midfielders I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said (via The Mirror).
“He will come back soon as a manager. I bet, wherever he wants, he will become a manager and will be good.
He understands the game and has curiosity to understand the game. He knew during the weeks what we would have to do to win the next games, to beat them. He already had the curiosity to know.”
Carlo Ancelotti, who was Alonso’s manager at the time of his retirement, once described the midfielder as someone with ‘the qualities and the experience to become a fantastic coach’, and he even confessed (via the Liverpool Echo) that he wanted to keep Alonso on as his assistant at Bayern.