‘It’s Bayer Leverkusen time’: Alonso’s historic title has changed club for ever | Andy Brassell

Estimated read time 7 min read

In other contexts, it might have been seen as tempting fate, daring to anger the football gods. Leverkusen was set for a day of celebration like never before. Approximately 10,000 people lined the streets to greet the team bus leading up to the Bay-Arena with Bismarckstrasse renamed Xabi-Alonso-Allee for the day with its new moniker plastered on street signs.

Yet Bayer Leverkusen weren’t just expectant. They were ready. Unlike Borussia Dortmund, who had stumbled agonisingly on the final day last season when their chance to dethrone Bayern Munich arose, they never felt like dropping the ball. On Sunday, they only needed to beat Werder Bremen to make mathematically sure of the title.

When faced with the moment when you really can take what you want so much, there is usually no ‘only’. Yet Alonso’s team made it seem like just that. Throughout this extraordinary season, they have made the heroic seem normal. Take the bold performance to take a draw at Bayern in a ding-dong back in September (the only two league points they dropped before December). Or the successive stoppage-time winners in Augsburg and Leipzig on the post-winter resumption in January. How about the February demolition of Bayern in the return match that wowed the world? Everything has been done with the maximum of style and the minimum of fuss. It has been Alonso to a tee, if you like.

When the squad were decimated by the African Cup of Nations, their coach made a point of never publicly complaining. When their star striker, the irresistible Victor Boniface, picked up an injury in Nigeria’s campaign that kept him out until recently, Leverkusen just carried on. No excuses, no caveats. Just next man up. Having missed a few of those magic moments in 2024 as the team headed towards crescendo, it was fitting that Boniface scored the first-half penalty against Bremen to get the party properly started. From there, there was barely a second of doubt.

If a grubby, unglamorous win to get it over the line would have been fine – anything to finally get it done and put that tired ‘Neverkusen’ epithet to bed – this team were never likely to provide that. Granit Xhaka, who Alonso calls his eyes and ears on the field, started the victory lap with a long-range left-footer of ferocious power, clearing the way for the crown prince Florian Wirtz to add his sprinkle of stardust to proceedings.

When Wirtz sprinted clear to score his second and make it 4-0 in the 83rd minute, some of these delirious fans could keep it in no more and streamed on to the field. After nearly three minutes of pitch clearing, led by Wirtz himself, the game was able to continue, but the fans weren’t going back into the stands. They were just tucked behind the advertising hoardings, barely contained. There was to be no holding back the tide. When Wirtz completed his hat-trick in the 90th minute, supporters rushed on again and this time, referee Harm Osmers didn’t attempt to restart the game. It was all over and, inevitably, Bayer Leverkusen were finally Bundesliga champions for the first time in the club’s history.

Just chewing over that last sentence feels wild. It would have felt so at the start of this season, less than a year ago, even with the Alonso effect already plain to see, with the coach having lifted the team from second bottom to just short of the top four and the Europa League final last season, having arrived in October 2022. The landscape has transformed as well as the street names. In the past capitulation has felt inevitable. Now, under Alonso, only victory feels inevitable.

Florian Wirtz celebrates scoring Leverkusen’s fourth goal against Werder Bremen.View image in fullscreen

Amid the fervour of standing on the verge of the unprecedented, there was a total calm among these players throughout. On the stroke of half-time, with just a one-goal lead, Odilon Kossounou’s assured, soft shoe shuffle to ferry the ball out of the danger zone deep in his own penalty area to the breaking Nathan Tella on the right said it all. When Alonso spoke of the club’s achievement post-match, in between intermittent beer showers from his jubilant players, he graciously said this was not just his title but those of his predecessors, “Christoph Daum, Klaus Toppmöller, Roger Schmidt,” but Kossounou’s moment of clarity wouldn’t have happened under any of them. Leverkusen have often entertained, and now they radiate confidence and assurance. From capable of mixing it with the best on their day to being the best every day.

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Leverkusen fans rename a street sign to Xabi Alonso Allee.View image in fullscreen

“To those who have only had Bayern Munich,” grinned Robert Andrich to DAZN, “now it’s Bayer Leverkusen time.” The midfielder’s words acknowledged the groundbreaking moment that his team are enjoying, a nod to younger supporters who have known nothing but the Rekordmeister, but also communicated the feeling within the squad that they’re not finished. Alonso’s starting lineup for this most historic of games had made plain the ambition and the widescreen vision: the continent’s two best wing-backs of the season, Jeremie Frimpong and Alejandro Grimaldo, left on the bench, with a Europa League return match at West Ham to come on Thursday. Wirtz was too, until he came on at half-time to make plant the full stop on his team’s landmark Bundesliga campaign.

That desire to profit from each moment and to be better at every juncture has characterised Leverkusen. They have won this Bundesliga due to their brilliance rather than by default. Bayern have not been terrible this season. Flawed, yes – and those flaws, primarily their defence and a lack of leadership in midfield are nothing new – but not irredeemably bad by any means. Before they travelled to Leverkusen in February for the defeat that ended up defining this season, the outgoing champions had actually compiled the sixth-best start to a campaign in Bundesliga history. With five games to go, they are highly likely to beat their title-winning points total from last season.

As Herbert Hainer and Jan-Christian Dreesen issued their congratulations to those partying at Bay-Arena through gritted teeth (“we will take this as a direct incentive, and will not rest until the [trophy] comes back to Munich,” said Dreesen), thoughts projected to what might come next. It will be, potentially, a tricky summer for Leverkusen, even if Alonso remaining in his post makes it less so. The plan for an unexpected title winner is often the same – sell from a position of strength and then keep the core of the squad together. Capping sales is difficult, however.

Fans celebrate on the pitch after Leverkusen’s title victory.View image in fullscreen

Look at Monaco’s Ligue 1 champions in 2017, who intended only to sell Bernardo Silva and Tiemoué Bakayoko at the season’s end before Manchester City’s enormous offer for Benjamin Mendy changed the game and sparked a dressing room exodus, with Kylian Mbappé eventually the last man out. If Wirtz has the Euro 2024 on home soil that he is capable of, an uncomfortable €100m + question could be posed, even if the lack of feasible candidates and the PSR crunch in England both play in Leverkusen’s favour.

Holding on to Alonso does give them a better chance of keeping plenty of champagne in the bottle. His ambition has spread in this club, it has gripped these players and Bayer Leverkusen will never be the same. Flawless, with more to come.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Bayer Leverkusen 29 55 79
2 Bayern Munich 29 46 63
3 Stuttgart 29 33 63
4 RB Leipzig 29 34 56
5 Borussia Dortmund 29 23 56
6 Eintracht Frankfurt 29 4 42
7 Augsburg 29 1 39
8 Freiburg 29 -11 39
9 Hoffenheim 29 -8 36
10 Heidenheim 29 -8 34
11 Borussia M’gladbach 29 -6 31
12 Werder Bremen 29 -13 31
13 Union Berlin 29 -20 29
14 Wolfsburg 29 -16 28
15 VfL Bochum 29 -25 27
16 Mainz 29 -17 26
17 Cologne 29 -28 22
18 Darmstadt 29 -44 14

Source: theguardian.com

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