Ask Bayer Leverkusen’s sporting managing director Simon Rolfes concerning the membership’s philosophy and he’ll let you know that the main target is on younger and fast gamers with resale potential. However that was not the guideline of their recruitment in the summertime.
In got here Granit Xhaka from Arsenal, now 31, to convey expertise to the midfield. Leverkusen activated the discharge clause of Jonas Hofmann, additionally 31, to convey him in from Borussia Monchengladbach. Alex Grimaldo, 28, arrived on a free switch from Benfica.
“Bayer Leverkusen didn’t purchase a younger participant like Florian Wirtz,” says Lothar Matthaus. He’s referring to the precocious fan favorite who’s flying once more following his return of damage and somebody Matthaus charges alongside Jamal Musiala as the way forward for German soccer.
“I feel the Leverkusen individuals who signed the gamers had been listening to Xabi Alonso they usually made the proper switch window. The summer season preparation was the important thing for him to alter the group, change the mentality, with these skilled gamers.
“Earlier than, they had been working with solely the younger era. Now Xabi has thought, I do not want the younger era participant, I wish to win a title, and for this I want expertise.” It was a daring ambition however Leverkusen now sit prime of the Bundesliga desk.
They’re a group reworked beneath Alonso, enjoying an thrilling model of soccer that has taken them from close to the underside of the desk when he arrived early final season. Lifting them as much as sixth final season was a triumph. However that is one thing else fully.
Leverkusen are prime of their Europa League group, the one group within the competitors to boast an ideal file, with no facet having scored extra. They’re, maybe, the favourites to win the home cup after Bayern Munich’s shock elimination. And they’re additionally unbeaten within the Bundesliga, having overwhelmed everybody besides Bayern, towards whom they secured a powerful attract Munich.
Matthaus believes that they will elevate the trophy. “Leverkusen are performing the perfect proper now. When they are often secure for the complete season, for me, they are often the favorite as a result of I can really feel the spirit between the group and the coach is working very effectively.”
In addition to the skilled signings, Matthaus credit goalkeeper and captain Lukas Hradecky for “having the perfect season that he has performed within the final 10 years” however it’s the acquisition of Victor Boniface that stands out. He has been a revelation up entrance.
Introduced in from Belgian membership Union Saint-Gilloise in the summertime, the Nigeria worldwide is already into double figures for Leverkusen this season. On Thursday night, he scored their 94th-minute winner towards Qarabag. At 22, there may be tons extra to return.
“He’s particular. I noticed him final season 3 times within the Europa League. Superb. How he can play in Belgium was at all times my query. He has to play in Germany. I feel he’s a striker who could make the distinction, like Kane, like Lewandowski, like Haaland.”
Matthaus factors out that “everybody has improved” – even those that had been already on the membership. It speaks volumes for Alonso’s affect. Having nearly 60 per cent of the possession whereas remaining a group that may play on the transition is a powerful mixture.
No shock, maybe, on condition that he was a favorite of each Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. He received trophies at Liverpool, Actual Madrid and Bayern Munich. Respect is assured. Matthaus believes these experiences present him with an edge.
“He was not solely a frontrunner, he was a second coach,” explains the legendary midfielder. “He was the coach on the sector. The coach may give you directions however on the sector you want a frontrunner like Alonso. That is the way you win titles and Alonso confirmed it at every membership.”
And but, loads of former greats, Matthaus included, struggled with that swap to the bench. Alonso has been strategic in his development, teaching Actual Sociedad’s reserve group earlier than taking up this Bundesliga problem. “Alonso has executed it in an ideal means.”
Which means profiting from the aura that his enjoying days helped him develop however coupling that with teaching expertise. “I really feel the gamers getting higher with Alonso.” That’s greater than only a hunch. Matthaus has some perception on the matter.
Earlier than the current recreation at residence to Qarabag, he had a dialog with Josip Stanisic, the defender who was introduced in on mortgage from Bayern Munich however has been on the fringes of the group this season. “I requested him how Alonso was as a coach,” says Matthaus.
“He informed me that from him you possibly can study all the pieces.
“He was for certain not comfortable together with his state of affairs as a result of he got here to Leverkusen as a result of he was on the bench. However he informed me in a pleasant means that he can study all the pieces from him. This was a superb signal to me that they’ve the best spirit to win a title.”
Matthaus just lately had a public falling out with Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel and his phrases could be seen as thinly-veiled digs at a coach who, in his eyes, is failing to foster the identical spirit. Stanisic’s respect for Alonso is indicative of Leverkusen’s stunning depth.
“They don’t simply have a primary 11, they’ve 20 gamers. Alonso is working with every participant. I don’t suppose Tuchel is doing this. He likes to create an environment and a few gamers don’t perceive what they should do. Alonso has a transparent plan. He’s very clear in his job.”
Has that lack of readability at Bayern, whose success in signing Harry Kane has papered over cracks elsewhere, left the door open for Leverkusen? As compared, their summer season enterprise was swift. Xhaka, Hofmann, Grimaldo and Boniface had been all wrapped up in July.
Matthaus feels the distinction was evident when the groups met in September and will proceed to work in Leverkusen’s favour. “They had been collectively for the summer season preparation and that’s most vital. What you lose in these six weeks, you can’t discover later.”
The title, although? Certainly that’s an excessive amount of to ask for a membership as soon as branded Neverkusen due to their knack for developing quick. In 2002, the now five-time Bundesliga runners-up famously got here second within the league, the cup and the Champions League.
Whether or not they finish Bayern’s 11-year streak or not, Alonso will in the future transfer on to larger issues. He can already anticipate to be close to the highest of the checklist when any of his former golf equipment are subsequent in want of a coach. At this price, he may ultimately depart as a Bundesliga champion.
There’s one believer already. “You possibly can see the environment in Leverkusen. They’re believing now,” concludes Matthaus. “They’ve that nickname as a result of they’re largely second however now they’ve a very large likelihood. An opportunity to win the championship.”
Watch Bayer Leverkusen vs Union Berlin on Sky Sports activities Combine this Sunday, kick-off 2.30pm