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Come the end of the season, Xabi Alonso will have a choice to make. Curiously, it is one that is widely being presented in binary terms. Liverpool or Bayern Munich, which of the great continental powers will he task himself with leading?

That the great young manager in the sport might look to build his own powerbase on the banks of the Rhine has almost been discounted. That assessment could well be vindicated before too long. For now, Alonso is keeping his cards close to his chest.

"Maybe you have questions about my future," he said before Friday's game against Mainz. "I have nothing new to say about that. I wanted to say that in advance. Right now, I'm the coach here, that's for sure. For the future, I have nothing new to say. We'll see."

Alonso is not a man minded to rush his career and nor are Bayer Leverkusen a club particularly concerned by the prospect of one day losing their transformative head coach. Both parties might even be said to have hoped this day would be coming when they joined forces back in December 2022. After all, Alonso is no longer Europe's most coveted coach because of what he did on the pitch as a player but for what he's doing off it.

"We want success," chief executive Fernando Carro told CBS Sports in November. "If we have success, we know that our players and our coach will be wanted by everyone. Xabi is very young. He has a lot of time."

Enough perhaps to see if he can build more than just a one-off title winner at Leverkusen. A team as dominant as they have been in the Bundesliga can afford to lose one or two talents and still make quite the fist of the Champions League. Unless there is an almighty shake-up at the top of the European game, there is a fair argument to place this side in the half dozen or so favorites for next year's competition along with Real Madrid, Inter and the big three from England.

The baked-in imbalances of European football at the highest level mean that any swing at glory probably cannot be sustained, even for one of Germany's richest clubs, backed by a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical giant in Bayer. A team that does not even sit in the top 30 in the Deloitte Football Money League simply would not have the cash to go toe to toe with Manchester City et al over an extended period. In the more immediate term, however, Leverkusen are not so far from being able to compete that it makes sense to jump to whatever rich club fancy Alonso.

After all, the side who sitd behind them in the Bundesliga table does not look like they only need a change of coaching staff to re-establish its as a Champions League contender and Germany's undisputed footballing superpower. Thomas Tuchel might not have found answers that were satisfactory, either to players or the club hierarchy, but he was asking the right questions at Bayern. Who holds the fort in midfield? Is now the time to ease out some of the totemic figures in the 11-title run? Bigger even than that, had his players and perhaps even the club as a whole lost some of its bite when it could do its best to fritter away the Bundesliga title and still emerge in first place?

Alonso might be able to ease some of his former teammates from the spotlight but he would only have limited power to select his replacements. When Bayern have concluded that the best backup central defender available to them was Eric Dier, it is perhaps no surprise that a player who Alonso's Leverkusen were so willing to give the ball to a fortnight ago with the veteran already said to be heading back to Tottenham when his loan spell ends. Sacha Boey looks to be a shrewd pickup to deepen Munich's options at fullback but there are questions to be asked about the desperate lengths senior figures went to in their chaotic attempts to sign Joao Palhinha in August. Bayern might need a sitting midfielder but surely one who can do more than just win the ball back at a very high level?

In the Bundesliga in particular, recruitment is so often out of the hands of coaches and yet Alonso would stand and fall by the players who his bosses bequeath to him. If their recent track record is, to say the least, sketchy (aside from the can't miss signing that Harry Kane was always bound to be), could any prospective boss be sure that they are set up to achieve the bare minimum at Munich, a Bundesliga title and a deep Champions League run? Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and Hansi Flick can all attest that patience is in short supply at the Allianz Arena.

At Anfield, the challenges for the next manager are markedly different. Jurgen Klopp has already got the rebuild up and running and though his successor will have to deal with the diminishing and/or departures of Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk, there is plenty of pre-prime talent to build around. Liverpool's is a squad that could be molded to fit many tactical models. When you have players as multifaceted as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai, to name but two, the possibilities are endless.

That suits Alonso, a young coach who has his principles, in particular his preference for a double pivot in midfield, but is not didactic about how they might be applied. When he arrived at Leverkusen, many expected the 42-year-old to add some elegance to a squad filled with attacking talent. Instead, to the surprise of many of his players, Alonso focused on drilling his defense into shape. 

Alonso might adapt his tactics but can he be the sort of figure who inspires The Kop? It might seem curious that a former player so beloved by Liverpool supporters might not inspire them from the dugout but he would be following the most transformative coach in a generation. As any student of rom coms can tell you, being the one after The One is rarely conducive to a happy future. Studious, curious and composed, it is hard to imagine Alonso fist-pumping the ground after a come-from-behind win over Luton. Perhaps that won't matter to Liverpool supporters. Still, it seems shrewder to let someone else ride out the early stages of post-Klopp grief.

It is not as if staying at Leverkusen would do Alonso's reputation much harm. Some players might go. Jeremie Frimpong has many admirers in the Premier League, including Manchester United, while Victor Boniface has also caught the eye of a great many clubs. This is, however, a team that lost Moussa Diaby last summer, Leon Bailey two years before, Kai Havertz back in 2020. They tend to cope quite well.

They almost certainly would if they can retain the jewel in the crown. Florian Wirtz is back to the player he was before his knee injury in early 2022, averaging more than one goal-creating action per 90 minutes, the third-best mark among those who have played over 1000 minutes in Europe's top four leagues. Clubs should be scrabbling over themselves to test Leverkusen's resolve but Real Madrid and Barcelona, by whom he has long been coveted, do not seem likely to have the money this summer. Bayern Munich have Jamal Musiala as their 10 of the future while there is not an obvious vacancy in that role at the Premier League's top clubs.

Keep Wirtz, Exequiel Palacios, Piero Hincapie and their veterans and Leverkusen's is a squad that can make noise in the Champions League. That would be all the more true if the club repeats its Diaby trick, a near $60 million sale that funded the purchase of three key starters in Boniface, Granit Xhaka and Jonas Hoffmann. There is always the risk that Leverkusen suffer the same fate as Ajax, Benfica and Monaco, great sides ripped apart by monied vultures before they had come close to fulfilling their collective potential. The ever-more stratified European game does ultimately mean there are only a few clubs who can pick apart the German champions in waiting. For those neutrals who want the breakout teams to stay together a bit longer, it would be a pity if Alonso himself kickstarted the exodus.

All the more so when perhaps the most attractive of gigs will surely become available before too long. Real Madrid might have enjoyed an unusual period of managerial stability over the last decade-plus -- since 2010 there have been six head coaches at the Santiago Bernabeu, though Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane have taken the mantle twice -- but the current incumbent seems unlikely to stay beyond the extension to 2026 he signed in December. Even that lengthy a tenure seems unlikely for Ancelotti, who had not spent more than two years in any job between leaving AC Milan in 2009 and this most recent gig with Madrid. 

That would be the job to leave Leverkusen for without much of a second thought. The demands might be stratospheric but whoever is in charge of Madrid will be afforded the best young squad in the sport, a cavalcade of luxury problems such as how to fit Rodrygo, Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham and quite likely Kylian Mbappe. It is a club that would afford him the best chance to add as many garlands to his coaching CV as are on the one from his playing days. After all, when you are the most admired young coach in the sport, why settle for the second-best job?