When league leaders Bayer Leverkusen travel to Werder Bremen on Saturday coach Xabi Alonso wants his side to continue to follow his example by embracing their on-field creativity and intelligence.
Alonso has masterminded a stunning turnaround at Leverkusen, taking them from the relegation places last year to the top of the table in what is becoming an unlikely run at the Bundesliga title.
“I was encouraged to have my own creativity on the pitch, to make my own decisions” the former Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich midfielder told a select group of media including AFP.
“It’s not about being robots. We don’t always have to do this and then do this and if not you’re on the bench.
“They have the knowledge to know what might happen with their qualities to decide what is good.
“If they decide something wrongly we will try and make it better, but I try to push them to see that they have their own creativity on the pitch,” the 41-year-old added.
With 31 of a possible 33 points from 11 games, Leverkusen have equalled the greatest start in Bundesliga history.
The coach is however quick to deflect praise.
“I’m not a fundamentalist that demands we play a certain way and that is the only way I ever let my team play,” he said.
“No, because you (the coach) are not the most important person. The other guys (the players) are more important than you.”
‘We analyse too much’
On top of winning 16 and drawing one of their 17 matches in all competitions, Leverkusen have played some of Europe’s most eye-catching football this season.
But while many have identified Alonso as the tactical mastermind behind Leverkusen’s stunning turnaround, the Basque said finding the right words to say at the right time is crucial.
“Sometimes in football we analyse too much” Alonso said.
A career played almost exclusively in the game’s highest echelons gave Alonso the chance to learn from some of the greatest coaches in football history — all of whom have had an influence on his management philosophy.
Raised by father and former player and manager Periko Alonso, Xabi played under Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho and Vicente del Bosque.
Alonso saves special praise for the Real Madrid boss, saying “in terms of man management, Carlo Ancelotti is a master.”
“When you talk about how you want to convince the players or how you get the players to have a good relationship with you, Ancelotti is the master of everyone.”
Calling himself “a Liverpool supporter”, Alonso said he “would have loved to be coached by Jurgen Klopp” as the German “changed the self-esteem of the Liverpool supporters.”
Recruitment has also been key to Leverkusen’s change in fortunes.
Leverkusen brought in Granit Xhaka, Jonas Hofmann, Alex Grimaldo and Victor Boniface in the summer, all of whom have been essential this season.
‘After 25 games, we’ll start talking’
Leverkusen’s blistering start to the season has fans and neutrals wondering if Alonso will be the one to break the ‘Neverkusen’ curse.
Five-time league runners-up, Leverkusen have never won the Bundesliga, having also lost the 2002 Champions League final to Real Madrid.
The coach, who turns 42 on Saturday, is quick to downplay expectations.
“I’m not going to be the one that will put pressure on ourselves by talking about these things.”
“We’ve been (playing for) three months, 11 games.
“Can we do 25? After 25 then we will start talking. In the last 8-10 games, then we’ll see.”
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