Alonso's unique approach: 'That is naturally impressive'

Bayer Leverkusen became champions of Germany for the first time in their history on Sunday. This cannot be viewed separately from the arrival of coach Xabi Alonso. Former player Erik Meijer and head of youth development Jefta Bresser talk about the unique approach of the successful coach.

Alonso's unique approach: 'That is naturally impressive'
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Former Leverkusen forward Erik Meijer knew Alonso mainly from his time as a player and noted that he had not yet managed a first team as a coach.

'Then I thought: Wow, can something like this also work in the Bundesliga? I found it a very exciting choice.' Meijer is in close contact with sporting director Simon Rolfes and at the time asked him about his surprising choice. Rolfes replied confidently: 'He's got something. He has a very special philosophy.'

Rolfes was not exaggerating. Meijer also occasionally attends Leverkusen training sessions and was quickly impressed by the Spaniard's approach. The Dutchman sees an incredibly driven coach with a lot of persuasive power. 'Especially in the beginning, he emphasized heavily on the way he wants to build up play. He uses three central defenders and is very focused on how he can offer these guys more options. The other players must present themselves in such a way that there are always at least two or three good solutions. In this way, he tries to make it easier for his footballers.'

Meijer can't help but smile: 'And if it doesn't go well, he asks for the ball himself and makes the pass. Then as a player, you stand next to him and think: Ah shit, I can't play the ball like my coach can. That is naturally impressive.'

Dutchman Jefta Bresser, head of youth development at Die Werkself, also often sees Alonso's training up close. 'Indeed, Alonso still maintains an incredibly high level when he puts on a vest. Especially after a match, when he trains with players who played less, he often joins in to participate in exercises or play a defensive role. It's really amazing to see.'

Bresser emphasizes that he is not often in direct contact with Alonso, but he does work daily with Director Rolfes. However, he gets a good impression of the passionate tactician at the club. 'Twice a year, all the coaches at Leverkusen are briefed on how everything within the club is progressing. The management speaks, but so does the head coach. It was then that I saw how much passion and energy Alonso radiates and what kind of ideas he has. He consistently emphasized that he gives players the space to make mistakes. This builds a lot of trust among his players.'

According to Bresser, a tremendous quality of Alonso is that players feel safe with him. 'If a player feels that he is allowed to make mistakes, he also wants to have the ball.' This may sound logical, but Bresser notes that for many coaches, it is quite challenging to actually implement this in practice. 'Many coaches say it, but then react wildly when a mistake happens, especially if it leads to a goal against. With Alonso, it would more likely be: "Too bad, next time better, but this is how we want to play." So, the idea is good, just that we need to see if we can execute it better next time.'

Meijer, as an analyst for Sky Deutschland, is incredibly impressed by the dominant play of his former club. 'Alonso has made every player ten percent better. That is remarkably skillful.'

Read the full background story on the success of Bayer Leverkusen, featuring former player Erik Meijer, head of youth development Jefta Bresser, and clubman Niko Hartmann.