No longer a bridesmaid, Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen is the success story of the year in top European football | Football News - Hindustan Times
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No longer a bridesmaid, Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen is the success story of the year in top European football

Apr 15, 2024 10:01 PM IST

Such has been Leverkusen’s dominance this season that they won the title with five matches still to go.

When Xabi Alonso was appointed Bayer Leverkusen manager mid-season in 2022, they would have just hoped that through some miracle the Spaniard would be able to bail them out and help them finish in the top half of the table.

Bayer Leverkusen's Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso celebrates with a mock-up of the Bundesliga trophy with his players.(AFP)
Bayer Leverkusen's Spanish head coach Xabi Alonso celebrates with a mock-up of the Bundesliga trophy with his players.(AFP)

They were second from bottom when they sacked Gerardo Seoane under whom the club had registered just one win in the season – in early October 2022. Alonso brought great tidings and the club went on to finish sixth on the points table. All expectations were exceeded, if truth be told.

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They would not have certainly believed if somebody had told them that in less than two years down the line, they would be winning their first Bundesliga title. At the level Leverkusen were at that time, earning qualification to the European club competitions was all that they would have dreamt of in their wildest imagination.

Also Read | Why Germany likes the Leverkusen fairytale

In such a short time, the Alonso appointment has worked miracles for them. The club was founded more than 100 years ago and despite being one of the oldest in Europe, they had not done anything of real significance until Sunday when they thrashed Werder Bremen 5-0 to seal the Bundesliga – their first trophy of any kind since their German Cup win in 1993 -- thanks to a hat-trick from Florian Wirtz in front of pleased-as-punch home supporters at the BayArena.

Such has been Leverkusen’s dominance this season that they won the title with five matches still to go. They are yet to be beaten across competitions this season in 43 games, a new German record.

There is no doubt that they have broken Bayern Munich’s run of 11 successive titles in great style. It’s no ordinary achievement.

The Alonso example shows it’s not a bad idea to join a club that hasn’t achieved much. Besides, when you have Alonso’s experience and exposure as a player, you are likely to be given a lot of latitude. And if you do well, the rewards and accolades will be very special.

Alonso deserves all the kind words he is receiving at the moment. In a matter of months, he has transformed an average club into one of the best in Europe.

And one can understand now why he shook off approaches from Liverpool and Bayern Munich, both much bigger in status. Both clubs, set to lose their current managers at the end of the season, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel respectively, showed immense interest in him but Alonso knew what was coming his way, bided his time, and when he was certain that the trophy was pretty much theirs he made it public late last month that he was not leaving Leverkusen.

It's a totally team effort. Just that some have been better than others. In the top goal-scorers list, there is none from Leverkusen in the top-6. Wirtz and Victor Boniface are tied seventh in the list with 11 goals each. Defenders Alejandro Grimaldo and Jonathan Tah have been brilliant too. While Grimaldo has provided the most number of assists (12), Tah has provided the most successful passes from open play, 96.62 in terms of percentage. Hold your breath, Grimaldo has scored nine goals too.

Leverkusen can win more trophies this season. They play Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25. Besides, ahead of their second-leg Europa League quarterfinal tie against West Ham United this week, they enjoy a 2-0 advantage. So, the Bundesliga trophy shouldn’t be the only one in their cabinet this season. They should at least win the German Cup in light of the fact they are playing a second-division side in the final.

In 2001-02, Leverkusen could have won the Bundesliga, the Champions League and the German Cup but finished one point behind Borussia Dortmund, lost to Real Madrid and Schalke in the final respectively in the other two competitions. The ridiculing nickname “Neverkusen” stuck to them afterwards.

More than two decades later, the five-time runners-up have done the unthinkable, and before the season ends -- who knows? -- there could be more trophies in their cabinet. Well played, Leverkusen!

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