After enjoying a trophy-laden playing career, Xabi Alonso has now turned his hand to the managerial side of the game and he is already making a big impression.
Frequently described as one of the best midfielders of his generation, the Spanish star played for Real Sociedad, Eibar (loan), Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich before hanging up his boots in 2017.
Since then he has embarked on a career in coaching, and in his first senior managerial role the Spaniard has inspired Bayer Leverkusen to the joint-best start ever recorded in a Bundesliga season - winning 11 and drawing one of their opening 12 matches to match Bayern Munich's feat of 2015/16.
Alonso won 14 major domestic trophies as a player, including the Champions League with Liverpool and Madrid, while he was also capped 114 times for Spain and won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 either side of the World Cup success in 2010.
Not all great players are able to transfer that experience into the managerial side of the game, but the 41-year-old has proven he has the footballing brain to make it in the dugout and he looks set for a long, successful future.
Alonso's first taste of managing came with Real Madrid's youth sides from 2018-19 before he then took on the role of Real Sociedad B boss from 2019-2022, earning promotion in his second season in charge at Sanse.
In May last year, the club confirmed the Spaniard would leave his position at the end of the campaign, with the team already relegated from the second level.
Alonso's chance to impress at an elite level came in October 2022 when he was named as the new head coach of Bayer Leverkusen, signing a deal until June 2024 and replacing Gerardo Seoane.
With the team second from bottom when he was appointed, the former Liverpool midfielder managed to guide the club to a sixth-placed finish and secure qualification for the Europa League group stage.
Not only did Alonso oversee that charge up the Bundesliga table, but he also steered his side to the semi-finals of the 2022/23 Europa League where they were edged out by Jose Mourinho's Roma.
It was a fantastic start to his managerial career and it set him up nicely going into the summer transfer window, with Leverkusen happy to back him in the market after seeing what he can do.
Alonso and his team look to have made some astute signings this summer, adding the likes of Nathan Tella and Victor Boniface to their attacking ranks.
Granit Xhaka, Jonas Hofmann and Alejandro Grimaldo have added experience and quality to the squad, while there is also a freshness following the additions of 20-year-old Arthur and 23-year-old Josip Stanisic.
Nigerian ace Boniface has already proven to be a hit, registering 13 goals contributions - seven goals and six assists - in his opening 12 Bundesliga games.
The 2023/24 campaign is Alonso's first full season at the helm and his side currently sit top of the table on 34 points, two ahead of defending champions Bayern Munich.
It was a tough opening fixture list for Bayer on paper, but they showcased their quality with a 3-2 victory over RB Leipzig, which was followed by 3-0 and 5-1 wins over Borussia Monchengladbach and Darmstadt respectively.
The biggest test arrived in September when they travelled to Bayern and Leverkusen will be delighted with their performance, having come away with a share of the spoils from a 2-2 draw to demonstrate their ability to compete with the might of the Bavarian giants.
Alonso's side twice came from behind to ensure they left with a point, with a Grimaldo strike and a stoppage-time Exequiel Palacios penalty securing the draw.
Having fallen at the semi-final stage of the Europa League last season, Alonso will be hoping his side can go further and end up lifting the trophy at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on 22nd May.
Drawn in Group H alongside BK Hacken, Molde and Qarabag, Bayer have won their first four matches to put themselves in the driving seat to qualify to the knockout stages.
The Bundesliga leaders are currently second favourites behind Liverpool at 9/1 to win the Europa League, with Bayer having won the UEFA Cup back in 1987/88.