He did not start out on the second phase of his career with a five-year or a 10-year plan in mind. All he knew was that he was not in a rush. “I had an idea that I did not want to go too quickly,” he said. “But I had not really mapped anything out.”
There were plenty of people who were more than happy to do it for him. Everything about Alonso seemed to indicate not only that he would go into management when his playing days drew to a close, but almost that he should. He had, after all, had the perfect education. He was as near to a sure thing as it was possible to imagine.
He had played for some of the most garlanded clubs in Europe. He was one of the most decorated players of his generation, having won the Champions League with Liverpool and Real Madrid, domestic titles with Madrid and Bayern Munich, the World Cup and a couple of European Championships with Spain.
He had learned at the knee of pretty much every member of modern coaching’s pantheon: Rafael Benítez at Liverpool; José Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid; Pep Guardiola and Ancelotti again at Bayern Munich. (Even then, he admitted that there is one notable absence from that list: Alonso would have “loved” to have been coached by Jürgen Klopp.)
And, just as important, he had been a keen and gifted student. It was only in the last few years of his career, in Madrid and Munich, that Alonso actively sought to learn what it took to be a manager: He made a point of peppering Ancelotti’s and Guardiola’s staff members with questions, trying to arm himself with as much knowledge as possible. “I tried to be curious about the manager’s work,” he said.He had, though, always been more cerebral than most of his peers, an avid reader off the field and an expert interpreter of the game on it, blessed with such foresight that it sometimes appeared as if he was playing in real time and everyone else was on satellite delay. His coaches, modern soccer’s most revered minds, regarded him as their brains on the field.From the moment he retired, then, Alonso could probably have walked into any job he wanted. He could have fasttracked his coaching qualifications, started doing a bit of judicious punditry work, called in a few favors, and been in charge of an underperforming Champions League team almost before the year was out.
That, though, is not Alonso’s style.