Surprise Klopp exit at Liverpool may pave way for return of Xabi Alonso

A move for Bayer Leverkusen boss makes sense as one-time midfield maestro understands Anfield culture

The chronology, you might think, is just too perfect. As the community around Liverpool FC digest the bombshell news of Jürgen Klopp’s departure, the emergence of Xabi Alonso as a head coach of genuine substance at the top of the European game seems just right. Like one of his inch-perfect passes as a player (and even now occasionally, unobtrusively impressing his charges in training sessions), it feels like an opportunity may be dropping right at the feet of the Premier League leaders just when they need it.

His work since arriving in northwest Germany speaks for itself. Taking over a Bayer Leverkusen team in the relegation zone in October 2022 and taking them close to Champions League qualification and to a Europa League semi-final was impressive. But the continuation of that upward trajectory this season has been mind-blowing. Eighteen games into the Bundesliga season his team remain unbeaten, top of the table having dropped only six points. They have the league’s best defensive record — a particularly notable feat given some of their chaotic displays at the back in recent years — but without being overly cautious or unattractive.

In Europe they are one of the favourites, along with Liverpool, to lift the Europa League. Many feel that, as with Klopp’s team, this season’s Champions League is poorer for not having them in it. Alonso is not far from the brink of doing something extraordinary. Not just in besting a Harry Kane-reinforced Bayern Munich, but in the manner in which Leverkusen are doing it. The journey, rather than the current position, is what convinces many that the Basque coach is the real deal.

Speaking in November, he said that his initial brief was just to make Leverkusen “more competitive” as they sought to show that they fought to get away from the bottom, relying on their abilities to counterattack, before graduating to a style more about control. Many young coaches who are shooting stars hit a wall when faced with their first major left turn. Alonso, on the other hand, was dropped right in at the deep end. He had to adapt to survive and already had a plan to evolve the style in mind. He talks passionately about allowing players to interpret positions rather than being stuck to formations. In this context, he would appear to have the ideal mindset to deal with the mammoth task of succeeding Klopp.


Bild reported on Friday a long-rumoured release clause in Alonso’s Leverkusen contract covering just his three biggest former clubs — Liverpool, Bayern and Real Madrid. Club and coach have sidestepped the subject of a release clause rather than flatly denying it. In his press conference to preview Saturday’s match with Borussia Mönchengladbach, Alonso sensibly stuck to praising Klopp and reiterating that he was fully absorbed in his current work, “an intense and beautiful journey”, and very happy where he was “at the moment”.

It is fair of him to apply a degree of transience to his current role. Leverkusen is a great place to develop, with many big club trappings and facilities but without the intense scrutiny of other comparably successful clubs. There is a limit to what can be done there. In late autumn Alonso was widely expected to be Carlo Ancelotti’s successor at Real Madrid next season. That the Italian signed a new deal to 2026 may be connected to Alonso’s vow to take his own decisions and do things at his own pace. “I will take my own decisions when I feel it is the right moment,” he said in November.

Despite knowing that every step of the way on his coaching journey would be closely tracked Alonso stayed in his first principal role, with Real Sociedad’s B team, for three years. Not because he had to – Mönchengladbach were ready to appoint him in the spring of 2021 – but because he felt it felt right.

And whereas in many aspects of his temperament, Alonso may differ from Klopp, the one thing that binds them is their desire to do things by feel. Klopp’s intuition and quick, instinctive connection with Liverpool saw him through that tricky opening foundational phase at the club.

Even if it’s difficult to imagine Alonso pumping his fist multiple times in front of the Kop, he is guided by his instinct as much as by his intelligence. It’s not just that he is done with his time at Anfield. It’s that, like Klopp, he just gets Liverpool.

A move for Alonso makes sense for Liverpool in many ways. He may soon have to decide if it makes sense for him. — Guardian

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here