On the pitch they were opponents. After ending his career as a player, Xabi Alonso has established himself in his new job as a coach at Bayer 04 Leverkusen – and would be happy to meet his peer Zlatan Ibrahimovic on that level soon as well.
They are as different types as they could be, also because of the way they used to play football. Here Xabi Alonso, a great strategist as a six, but also a gentleman of football. There Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the most extroverted and unconventional strikers. A crazy goal scorer on the pitch and often a bully off it.
And yet Leverkusen’s current head coach has the highest respect for the Swedish icon and would gladly welcome Ibrahimovic back as a colleague, now that his playing career is over, as he stated ahead of Bayer 04’s Europa League match against BK Häcken on Thursday.
Whether the 41-year-old wants to become a coach is “a question for him”, the Basque politely stressed, but then declared: “But when I see my former teammates or opponents taking the same path I took, I like it.”
Xabi Alonso, in charge of Bayer 04 since October 2022, would like to see the Swede, who is not exactly cut out for diplomatic duty, in the same ranks as other ex-professionals. “I really like that Xavi is working at Barcelona. I like Steven Gerrard doing his thing. I like that Frank Lampard worked at Chelsea,” he says, finalising his dribble through football’s Fame of Hall of Fame by saying, “I don’t have a close relationship with Zlatan, he was just my opposite number. But if he became a coach, that would be great. “
“A few metres away”: Xabi Alonso’s plan for a sideline clash
The Spaniard had obviously taken a liking to the idea and, when asked, even imagined what it would be like if he were to meet “Ibrakadabra” on the touchline. In that case, the strategist Xabi Alonso would already have his plan in place. “I would look at him from a few metres away,” the 41-year-old explained, only to add with a smile after a little pause, “but I wouldn’t get too close to him …”
Better safe than sorry. Because you never know with Ibrahimovic. But the Werkself coach followed up the humorous remark with a hymn to the former professional, who scored for Ajax, Juve, Inter, Milan, Barça, PSG and Manchester United, among others: “He is a legend of football, has played for so many clubs. And he is well remembered in Sweden.” Xabi Alonso would apparently like to welcome Ibrahimovic back to the stage of football quickly – albeit with some distance.