What happened with Liverpool and Xabi Alonso – and where does the club look now?

When Liverpool's new sporting director Richard Hughes received a phone call from agent Iñaki Ibanez this week, it was nothing but confirmation of what he had long expected: Xabi Alonso would stay at Bayer Leverkusen this summer.

News of Alonso committing his future to the Bundesliga club on Friday was a blow to fans who had hoped to see the Spaniard named as Jurgen Klopp's successor.

However, internally at Liverpool, there was no sense of surprise. They have begun to focus their attention on alternative candidates.

Hughes has a strong relationship with Ibanez after he appointed another of his clients, Andoni Iraola, as Bournemouth coach in June 2023. There was a dialogue between them until Liverpool knew where things stood.

Alonso was the favorite to take over from Klopp as a result of his work at Leverkusen, which he took to the brink of the Bundesliga title, and his emotional connection with Liverpool since his playing days under Rafael Benitez. It ticks a lot of boxes.

But he was never offered the job and there were no face-to-face discussions. When Liverpool initially made contact with Alonso's camp shortly after Klopp announced on 26 January that he intended to step down in May, they were informed that the 42-year-old was concentrating on his job at Leverkusen and was unlikely to be available this summer. The door was not completely closed, but the message was clear: this is not the time to talk.

An open line of communication was maintained between Alonso's camp and Liverpool as the club went through an off-field restructuring, with Hughes arriving under Michael Edwards, who was appointed as the new chief football officer of Fenway Sports Group on 12 March. The leadership team is in place before trying to move forward with Alonso.


Hughes leads Liverpool's search for new coach (AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

One of the Spaniard's former clubs, Bayern Munich, was also seeking a successor to Thomas Tuchel, and the club had several contacts with Alonso's camp. But they haven't turned him around either, despite being promised significant power over reshaping the team.

As for Liverpool, Edwards and Hughes wanted to make sure their information about Alonso staying in Leverkusen was correct. They were keen to see if it was worth meeting him to assess his thoughts on the Liverpool project, but in the end – despite suggestions in Germany that a summit was planned during the international break – it never happened.

It was up to Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß to provide the first public indication on Thursday that the match was over, at least from Bayern's point of view.

“It will be difficult, if not impossible (to appoint Alonso),” he said. “He is more inclined to stay at Bayer Leverkusen in light of their current successes because he does not want to leave them behind. Let's say if he has another two or three years of success, it will probably be easier to get him out of there.”

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So why did Alonso choose to stay at Leverkusen and where does Liverpool go from here? We spoke to multiple sources directly and indirectly linked to the clubs and key figures involved in creating the image. They requested anonymity to protect their relationships.


Fernando Caro seemed adamant. “Xavi has a contract until 2026 and there is no doubt that he will stay here,” the Leverkusen CEO insisted on March 19, when asked about his manager’s future. His confidence proved to be well founded.

During a meeting with Caro and sporting director Simon Rolfes last week, Alonso informed them that he would reject interest from elsewhere and remain loyal to Leverkusen. He explained that he is excited about the prospect of unleashing more potential in the team and leading them into the Champions League next season.

Rolfes was not surprised: he had always felt confident that Alonso would stay provided Real Madrid did not unexpectedly express interest in appointing him this summer.

Alonso, who spent the first part of the international break contemplating his future, felt the time had come to announce his decision when he addressed the media on Friday ahead of Saturday's Bundesliga match against Hoffenheim. He wanted to put an end to speculation and provide some clarity.

“My job doesn't end here,” Alonso said. “After putting everything together, I have made this important decision. I am convinced that it is the right one.

“This is my first full season as a coach. I still have a lot of things to prove and experience. Right now, I have a situation where I feel really settled and happy. This is the right place for me to grow as a coach.”


Alonso wants to build on his project in Leverkusen (Leon Koegeler/Getty Images)

It's a big call to be taken out of the running for the Liverpool and Bayern Munich jobs. What if Leverkusen doesn't reach the same heights next season and Alonso's stock declines? There is no guarantee that these opportunities will come again soon.

But those close to Alonso insist it is entirely in keeping with his personality. They point to the fact that he turned down the opportunity to coach Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga in 2021 in order to remain in charge of Real Sociedad's second team.

Alonso is not a man in a hurry and will not take the next step in his career until he believes he has gained enough experience. He only took over as Leverkusen coach in October 2022 and is believed to be still learning his craft. The fact that he has yet to coach in the Champions League is another factor for him.

This does not mean that Alonso lacks self-confidence, but more importantly, he is aware of himself and appreciates his limitations. Money will never come into the equation for him. He does not need to amass a fortune during his football career to be able to move forward at his own pace.

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This has been a feature of Alonso's managerial career. Those who worked with Alonso at Sociedad say he was initially hesitant about managing their reserve team because he had little interest in areas of work other than coaching and was happy living a quiet life in San Sebastian.

He took some convincing to accept the job at Leverkusen, but was impressed by the squad, the club's expectations and the ability to operate out of the spotlight.

There was a school of thought among some of the staff at Liverpool that if Leverkusen won the Bundesliga, Alonso might decide he couldn't get past that and move on. But the club was not given any false hope by its camp.

Klopp carried out his media duties on Friday shortly after Alonso's announcement and said he could relate to the decision he made.

“Being a young coach at a club that was doing really well, I had a similar situation,” Klopp said. “I've done pretty much the same thing and I've never regretted it. He's doing an unbelievable job there. Leverkusen have a good team and they'll probably keep the team together. That's possible this year. Not every year is like that. I understand why he wants to do that ( stay).”


Finding a replacement for Klopp will not be easy (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Real Madrid was a potential curveball. Alonso won La Liga and the Champions League during his five seasons at the Bernabéu after leaving Liverpool in 2009, and is seen as a potential successor to Carlo Ancelotti, whose contract runs until 2026.

Real Madrid's chief executive, José Ángel Sanchez, holds Alonso in high esteem, and many at the club – including Ancelotti – see him as someone who could work well with the club's younger generation, although president Florentino Pérez is less convinced that he is quite ready for the move. .

There has been no contact between Real Madrid and Alonso recently and his decision to stay at Leverkusen for at least another season is not linked to any interest from the Spanish giants. Alonso has also been mentioned as a potential successor to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.


Where is Liverpool headed now?

Senior figures at Anfield insist it was never going to be just Alonso's job if he wanted it. They kept an open mind and wanted a rigorous process to evaluate the merits of a pool of candidates.

That began when Klopp informed his owners of his plans in November, and was then reinforced following the general manager's announcement two months ago.

The research – supervised by Hughes, with input from Edwards – was data-driven to determine who might be a stylistic fit. Personality and background checks were carried out as part of the due diligence to determine who had the right personality to follow in Klopp's footsteps. The conversation behind the scenes has focused on suitability and availability, with dialogue with a number of agents.

Alonso might have emerged as the strongest candidate had he been interested, with Klopp even defending his credentials last month.

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“The next generation is already there, and I would say that Xavi is the best in this field,” Klopp said. “He's a former world-class player, and obviously he's coaching the family as well which helps him a little bit. He was really like a coach when he was playing. The football he played, the teams he coached, the transfers he made, were absolutely phenomenal.”

Liverpool are now in the process of drawing up a shortlist. Sporting player Ruben Amorim is under serious consideration. The 39-year-old is highly regarded after ending Sporting's 19-year wait for the Portuguese title in 2021, and fits FSG's image of what they value in managers. His attacking brand of football is seen as having a similar style to the one created under Klopp.


Amorim is one of the main contenders (Miguel Rioba/AFP via Getty Images)

Sporting is one point ahead of rival Benfica as it seeks to reclaim the league title under Amorim. His release clause could eventually reach around €10 million, which is lower than some previously reported figures.

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbe and Germany coach Julian Nagelsmann – who both scored well in Liverpool's preliminary data research – were also discussed.

De Zerbe's side did not consistently reach the heights of last season, but there is an appreciation that they lost their best players with Alexis McAllister sold to Liverpool and Moses Caicedo to Chelsea last summer. However, his outspoken nature and confrontational approach to recruiting players can count on him.

Nagelsmann, who is coaching Germany in the European Championship this summer, has been absent from football since being sacked by Bayern Munich in March 2023.

Simone Inzaghi at Inter is considered an outsider. The Serie A club do not want to lose him and his inability to speak English would be a problem for him if he moved to the Premier League. Thiago Motta, who has achieved great success at Bologna, has been discussed, although he has been linked with a potential move to Juventus.

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Lille coach Paulo Fonseca, whose contract expires in the summer, is highly regarded and Tuchel remains available. The German has a pedigree, having won the Champions League with Chelsea and Bundesliga and Ligue 1 titles, although appointing another big name and strong personality to follow Klopp will provide its own challenges.

Thomas Frank also has his fans thanks to his work at Brentford, whose playing style under the Dane is similar to that of Klopp's Liverpool, although a move to Anfield would represent a big step forward.

With two titles still to play for over the coming period, Liverpool are unlikely to set any official date before the curtain comes down on Klopp's reign. They are wary of causing turmoil for another club during this pivotal period.

But behind the scenes, Hughes will know the clock is ticking as he helps shape the future direction.

For now, that future does not include Alonso.

Additional reporting: Simon Hughes, Oliver Kay, Rafael Honigstein, Guillermo Rey, Mario Cortegana Santos

(Top image: Tom Wheeler/Image Alliance via Getty Images)

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