Simon Rolfes was the undisputed transfer champion of the Bundesliga this summer.

Bayer Leverkusen’s sports director has greatly strengthened the team at its core and, according to club boss Fernando Carro, has “always signed our top candidates”: “That doesn’t happen very often.”

Success came quickly. At the start of the 4th matchday, Leverkusen will head into the duel between the nine-point starters against champions FC Bayern Munich as league leaders on Friday (8.30 p.m./DAZN). But without diminishing Rolfes’ work, these transfer successes could only succeed on a broad level because he had a very special joker up his sleeve: Xabi Alonso, the former world and European champion and current Bayer coach. It’s not for nothing that Rolfes calls him a “draft horse” and Carro a “blessing”. Because his name alone opened doors, his aura alone and the prospect of being able to train under him convinced even the most well-known professionals.

Alonso as a coach: “Then it does something to you”

“You look up to him,” said Granit It was a quick decision.” National player Jonas Hofmann, who was brought in from Mönchengladbach, said: “When a personality like that suddenly sits in front of you and you know that he might be your new coach, then it does something to you.” And striker Victor Boniface, who is currently the league’s top scorer, said: “It’s very good to have Xabi as a coach.”

And of course the biggest clubs in the world have been watching him for a long time. Especially two that he played for himself: Real Madrid and Bayern, for whom he played from 2014 to 2017. Bayern’s long-time CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said a few months ago that he was likeable, intelligent and had good coaches: “And if someone is a good guy, so disciplined and empathetic, it would have to be the devil if he doesn’t succeed as a coach”. Current Real coach Carlo Ancelotti sees it that way: “If I had to bet on a player who would become a coach, I would have bet on Xabi Alonso.”

Bayern wanted to get him as an assistant coach, just like Pep Guardiola tried at Manchester City and his ex-coach José Mourinho at AS Roma. But Alonso had other plans. He gained experience with the second team of his hometown club Real Sociedad San Sebastian. Then Leverkusen, who fell to second-to-last place in the Bundesliga in October 2022, seemed like the right next step.

A great title as motivation

Because the whole thing was successful with catching up to the European Cup, reaching the Europa League semi-finals and now the furious start to the season and because he extended it in the summer until 2026, Carro believes that his Spanish compatriot will stay longer. “In football you can never say anything with 100 percent certainty. But the probability is high,” said Carro. Fans fear that a concrete offer from Real could still shake Alonso. But Ancelotti’s departure to the Brazilian association was already known when Alonso’s extension was extended.

The redeeming first title for Leverkusen since winning the cup in 1993 is currently Alonso’s motivation. That’s why his first return as coach to Munich on Friday will be groundbreaking. “We’re going there at a good moment after three wins and three good games,” he said. “It will be a big challenge. But we have good energy and a lot of self-confidence. We want to keep going like this and we’ll see what happens.”

The only previous encounter with coach Alonso had serious consequences for the Munich team: the 1-2 loss in Leverkusen in March was Julian Nagelsmann’s last game as Bayern coach.