When Xabi Alonso was appointed as the new Bayer Leverkusen head coach last October, Die Werkslef were staring down the barrel of a relegation battle. However, a remarkable turnaround in form saw Alonso’s side qualify for European football, and heading into this campaign, expectations were high.
A summer transfer window that saw star players such as Grimaldo, Jonas Hofmann, and Victor Boniface move to the BayArena proved that there was certainly reason to be excited for those associated with the Werkself. However, one signing that caught the headlines was former Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international, who had divided opinion whilst in London, was considered a key signing for the way Alonso looks for his side to play. It was a move that has since been justified, with the Swiss international playing some of the best football in his career helping Leverkusen push for a potential title challenge. However, most notably, Xhaka brings a wealth of leadership and experience, something he would play down when speaking to NZZ am Sonntag:
“What does boss mean? The word is a bit big. I didn’t come to Leverkusen as a boss, but because I was looking for a new challenge. I felt like my time at Arsenal was over for me after seven years in London. I came here as an experienced player and person. The other players see that I can give them something of what I have learned. That’s part of my role here.”
Xhaka would then reveal why he chose to leave Arsenal and head to Leverkusen: “It was sometimes written that I was coming back to Germany because of my wife. That’s not the truth. Like me, she was very happy in London. I made the decision solely as a footballer and athlete. I came to a top club in Germany that has a plan and wants to achieve something. Of course the change was easier for us because, like me, we used to live in Düsseldorf and it is close to Mönchengladbach, where my wife grew up.”
“You can only see what it’s really like if you can train here every day and be there. You can work in peace at Bayer Leverkusen, there is no chaos, other clubs are more in focus. This is an advantage. At Arsenal the pressure is different. But we have high ambitions because we know that we have enormous potential in the team. If we keep working like this and keep our feet on the ground, we can achieve something,” mentioned Xhaka when speaking about the difference between playing for Arsenal and Leverkusen.
However, for Xhaka it is now all about focusing on football, and the 31-year-old would explain what it was like playing against Alonso compared to under him: “He was extremely unpleasant. Thanks to his cleverness, his pass security and his timing, you never even had to press against him. That’s what he conveys to us today. I have the feeling that I have taken another step forward in this regard in the two months here in Leverkusen. He tells us in small details what turns a good midfielder into a top midfielder.”
With Alonso getting the best out of his Leverkusen side and with the Swiss midfielder proclaiming that “at Leverkusen, the six position suits me perfectly,” Die Werkself can look forward to what could be a historic season. After matchday six they sit top of the Bundesliga table, and they do not look like moving any time soon.
GGFN | Will Shopland