Xabi Alonso had just started his coaching career at Real Sociedad with their B team when he received one of the most laudatory references a young manager could wish for, and from someone extremely well placed to call based on his credentials .
Jose Mourinho said: “With Xabi Alonso you always saw there was a manager. Like me, his father was a player. He grew up with a father (Periko) who was a player, then a manager, and then he became a player, much better than me of course.
His knowledge of the game was very high. And then he played in Spain, England and Germany. And he was coached by (Pep) Guardiola at Bayern, by myself at Real Madrid, by (Carlo) Ancelotti at Real Madrid and by (Rafa) Benitez at Liverpool.
“So if you add all that up, I’d say Xabi has the prerequisites to be a really good coach.”
Four years later, time proves Mourinho right. After promoting the Real Sociedad B team to Spain’s second tier and seeing their way to the top job blocked by the success of incumbent Imanol Alguacil, he cleverly chose Bayer Leverkusen as his next stop and the team has only one of their last 14 games lost. transforming themselves from relegation chances to contenders in the race for a Champions League place.
Xabi Alonso played for Real Madrid during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge, with the manager early seeing his midfielder’s potential to take up coaching
Mourinho has been right that Alonso is doing great at Bayer Leverkusen
Now Roma coach Mourinho must join forces against his former player in the Europa League
That seems past them now via the domestic route, but win the Europa League and that’s where they’ll be next season. Alonso just needs to get past his old mentor Mourinho.
The Roma coach loved the player Xabi. He was a soldier who followed orders, even if it meant being deliberately sent off in a penultimate Champions League group stage match only to miss a deadly final match, as he did alongside Sergio Ramos in 2010.
The European adventure they shared in Madrid was filled with heartbreak as the club fell to the semi-finals for three consecutive seasons. This was at a time when the club was still yearning for the famous ‘Decima’, its tenth European Cup.
Alonso played in 2011 when Real Madrid faced Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Mourinho’s game plan was to hold Barcelona to a goalless draw at the Bernabeu and beat the Camp Nou counter-attack in the return leg on away goals that count double.
For an hour, and despite the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly not in favor of the sit-back tactic, the plan worked.
On 61 minutes, Pepe was shown a straight red card for a foul on Dani Alves and against Madrid’s 10-man, Lionel Messi scored twice in 11 minutes.
Alonso reached three Champions League semi-finals under Mourinho, but it didn’t quite happen for Real Madrid. He finally won the trophy in 2014 under Carlo Ancelotti
Alonso was suspended for the final when Real finally achieved ‘La Decima’ in 2014
A year later, it was Bayern that blocked Alonso and Mourinho’s way to the final.
A late goal from Mario Gomez gave Bayern a 2-1 lead in the first leg and after the second leg finished 2-1 to Real Madrid, penalties followed.
Alonso was the only Real Madrid player to score his kick. Ronaldo, Kaka and Ramos all missed as Madrid lost the shoot-out 3–1.
And in Mourinho’s final year, it was Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund that did it for them. Alonso was knocked out in the second half of both legs as the Germans won the first game 4–1 and Madrid won the second 2–0.
Mourinho at the end of that season and has not been able to return to a Champions League final since.
Alonso was a winner 12 months later with Ancelotti although he was in the stands in the final due to a suspension in his suit.
Alonso initially impressed as coach of the Real Sociedad B team and led them to division two
Now Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen squad is showing impressive form at home and in Europe
Leverkusen, the only remaining German team in Europe, hopes to reach the Europa League final
Ancelotti was a breath of fresh air for the Madrid dressing room after three very intense seasons under Mourinho, but Alonso was not one of those so tired of the Portuguese that he celebrated his exit.
He learned a lot from the now 60-year-old and was determined to use the experience in his own coaching career.
Mourinho’s ability to keep players busy for an entire season, the thorough preparation and the clarity of his instructions have all had a lasting impact. Like the style of football.
It is efficient counter-attacking football based on solid defense that has transformed Bayer’s season under 41-year-old Alonso.
The BayArena is a regular sell-out crowd of 30,000 these days and it only took 90 minutes for tickets for the second leg to be snapped up.
Mourinho has been frustrated, but Roma remains on course for another European trophy
Lorenzo Pellegrini celebrates scoring in their dramatic final round victory over Feyenoord
Xabi’s team is the last German side left in Europe and, as with Mourinho in Porto, there is a sense that he wants to achieve something there before moving on.
No lack of suitors. Tottenham have been linked and back in Spain, Real Madrid chairman Florentino Perez is a big fan and sees Alonso as a future head coach at the club.
Alonso has officially stated that his full focus is on Bayer, not only for what is left of this season, but also for next season.
If Alonso comes out on top in this battle and Bayer wins the final, he will be in the Champions League next season.
Mourinho could still be waiting for him there, even if Roma isn’t, as despite his comments in the pre-match press conference, PSG are serious about making him their new coach.
With two decades between them, Thursday night’s meeting feels like the first between coach Xabi and manager Mourinho – but it won’t be the last.