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Xabi Alonso in his element coaching Sociedad's younger generation

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain : Ex-Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso paces up and down the sideline on a rainy Friday night in San Sebastian giving instructions to his new charges - Real Sociedad's youth team, playing in Spain's Second Division.

It may seem a humble managerial role for a great like Alonso, winner of the World Cup, two European Championships, the Champions League with Liverpool and domestic league titles with Real and Bayern, but the 39-year-old could not be happier.

"I'm from here, I feel a strong connection to this city and this club. So when I made the decision to become a coach, it was an easy transition here, because I didn't feel the rush or the need to begin in a big club or in the first division," he told Reuters in an interview the next day.

"I wanted to take my time, know myself and improve. It's a process, and here I have full support from the club and maybe a bigger margin for error," Alonso said with a smile after leading his team's practice at Zubieta, Real Sociedad's training ground.

Alonso is in his third season managing the second team, having led them to the second-highest division in Spanish football for the first time in more than 60 years.

At the Friday night game, Real Sociedad first team players Mikel Merino and Mikel Oyarzabal - both Spanish internationals - and former Real Madrid midfielder Asier Illarramendi and goalkeeper Alex Remiro all sit in the stands watching.

Most of them were also second team players in their youth, before making the transition to the first team.

"Making the jump to the first team is usually hard but here it became something natural. They feel like two days ago this was their team, their family. So the connection is pure and authentic," Alonso explained.

Despite having players like former Manchester City veteran David Silva, Swedish striker Alexander Isak and Belgium international Adnan Januzaj, Real Sociedad aim to have at least 60per cent of their first team players from their youth programme.

Indeed, many of their best players were born or grew up close to San Sebastian and have spent years in Zubieta, where the training complex is based, before becoming professionals, a process Alonso clearly respects.

"In my job I have two missions: I have to develop and educate my players so they can be ready to step up to the first team at any time, but I'm also in the second division and I want to compete," he said.

"Doing both at the same time is extremely difficult but it's an exciting challenge that takes us to the limit every day. It's a great demand but it's good because I learn from it constantly."

Thanks to his reputation and results in his short time as a youth coach at Real Sociedad, Alonso is aware that his name may be in demand from elite clubs that are in the market for coaches. But he appears to be in no rush to sign elsewhere.

"I don't know how long I'll be staying or if I'm leaving at all, but I'm happy now, I like what I do. I live day-by-day and have no deadline for taking the next step. I have the ambition but not the rush to coach at the elite level," he said.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Source: Reuters


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