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Xabi Alonso: “I’m not worried whatsoever about being compared to anyone”

Xabi Alonso talks to AS after making his coaching debut in the Bundesliga with his Bayer Leverkusen team recording a 4-0 win over Schalke.

Frankfurt (Alemania)
Xabi Alonso poses for AS.

Your phone must have been ringing non-stop over the past few days.

Yes, I have talked a lot with people close to me and with plenty of people still in the game.

Mourinho, Guardiola, Ancelotti, Benítez… What advice have they given you?

The general feeling is that the Bayer Leverkusen job is a good step forward and I feel that way too. It is an important step and a big challenge, which will help me to continue growing as a coach. I feel ready for this step and feel confident that everything will turn out well.

Are you worried about being compared to the great mentors that you’ve played under?

Zero. I’m not worried about things like that. I am very clear that each individual has to remain true to oneself. I have been lucky to have very good people around me, the best. They have helped me a lot, but you have to be yourself.

What did you learn from each of them?

If I had to select one attribute it would be the same word that encompasses them all: leadership. That is essential. I learned from my coaches that the players have to follow you and trust you.

Head coach Xabi Alonso
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Head coach Xabi Alonso Christof KoepselGetty

Ancelotti once said that he had a particular manner of “managing groups”.

The players have to be with you, it’s a fact. All great coaches feel that way. Players must know that you are there to help him with your experience, your leadership and your ambition.

Does this also apply to the likes of an emerging talent like Paulinho, who scored two minutes after going on to the pitch?

All the players start from scratch with me, including Paulinho. I told the players: I don’t make the staring XI’s you make them with what you show me.

Because of your manner of behaving in the dugout and even your way of dressing, the German media have compared you to Guardiola.

As a player you play on the pitch and as a coach you play from the bench, you have to be part of the match and try to influence the game from your position.

Germany is a country of excellent young coaches, it was in its day with Klopp or Tuchel and it is now with Nagelsmann. Is that why you chose the Bundesliga?

The Bundesliga is a very enriching league for a coach. I already experienced this as a player and retired here. I was aware that it would serve as a good place to start as a coach.

The debut was a convincing 4-0 against Schalke, were you happy with what you saw?

I think we can still improve a lot but it was a good start. We didn’t have much time to prepare, but the players seemed to have understood me.

Leverkusen were in a relegation place when you took over. Are you worried that you may end having a mediocre season and that may affect your future as a coach?

There is always a risk, but you have to improve and take steps forward. I firmly believe that it will work and I am very motivated. The players should start to enjoy to play the game again.

Jeremie Frimpong of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates
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Jeremie Frimpong of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates DeFodi ImagesGetty

Did you have offers from Spain?

Yes, there were a few but there was no doubt when the Leverkusen possibility came about. I know the German mentality, I know the seriousness.

Do you still see yourself with options in the Champions League? You still have to visit Madrid to face Atleti...

We initially have to beat Porto and head into matchday 5 with options of progressing. In the Champions League group stage every game counts.