Written by 06:02 World

Why We Should Have Nice Things

All being well, Bayer Leverkusen will end this season with one record, two trophies and just three haunting, existential questions. They will all trace back to Wednesday, back to Dublin, back to the Europa League final, and they will all take exactly the same, baleful form: What if?

What if Exequiel Palacios had seen Ademola Lookman coming? What if Granit Xhaka had not given the ball away? What if Edmond Tapsoba had stretched out his leg? Could the final have been different? Could Leverkusen have rallied to beat Atalanta? Could Leverkusen’s manager, Xabi Alonso, have steered his team to an unbeaten treble?

It is cruel, of course, that it should be this way. Leverkusen has, after all, illuminated the European season like no other team. It has won its first German championship, after 120 years of trying. It should, this weekend, add the German cup to its trophy haul. It has overtaken Benfica as the owner of the longest unbeaten run in European soccer since World War I. And it has done it all, in case nobody has mentioned it, in Alonso’s first full season in management.

That is how its season should be remembered. When Alonso, his players and his fans reflect on this campaign in years to come, they should focus on what the team achieved, not on where it fell short. It has outstripped even the most fanciful of its ambitions. But should is not the same as will. Nothing hurts as much as nearly. Leverkusen will, whether it wants to or not, always wonder.

There is, though, a silver lining. A couple of months ago, as both Liverpool and Bayern Munich began to search for a new coach, Alonso made it clear that he would not welcome an approach from either club. He was, he said, still honing his craft. He had made a long-term commitment to Leverkusen, and he did not intend to break it at the first available opportunity.

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Last modified: 27 May 2024
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