Inter Miami officially announced the hiring of Diego Alonso as the club’s first-ever manager. Following coaching stints with Pachuca and Monterrey in Liga MX, the Uruguayan is now set to lead the expansion team that is quickly beginning to take shape ahead of the 2020 season.
With the next MLS season just months away, let’s take a brief look into the manager’s past and discuss what it could mean for Inter Miami’s future.
Who is Diego Alonso?
The 44-year-old was an accomplished striker who once played for the likes of Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Shanghai Shenhua and Pumas. Through a playing career that took him to 11 clubs in Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Mexico and China, Alonso thrived as an efficient goalscorer. “El Tornado” – a nickname given to him in Argentina – also earned eight caps with Uruguay’s national team and a second-place finish in the 1999 Copa America.
After retiring, Alonso made his managerial debut with Bella Vista (9W-13L-3D) and quickly rescued them from relegation in the 2011-12 Uruguayan first-division season. Although he ran into problems as a coach of Peñarol in 2013 (1W-4L-3D), the hard-working, charismatic young manager had better luck and moderate success in Paraguay with Guarani in 2012-2013 (24W-8L-12D) and Olimpia in 2014 (14W-7L-9D).
Pachuca noticed his quiet progress from afar and took a chance in late 2014 when they announced that Alonso would be the team’s manager for the 2015 Clausura season. During his presentation, the Uruguayan confessed that the new job would be “a big challenge in my career.”
Alonso’s time in Liga MX
Pachuca undoubtedly benefited from Alonso’s arrival. During his tenure from 2015-2018 (74W-53L-45D), Los Tuzos won a Liga MX title in the 2016 Clausura and a Concacaf Champions League trophy in 2017 (beating a very good FC Dallas side in the semifinals). They were also runners-up in the 2017 Apertura edition of Copa MX and finished third in the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup.
Through an approach that balanced out minutes for marquee internationals and young Mexicans, Alonso was praised for developing talent while also earning titles. Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez, Victor Guzman and Rodolfo Pizarro all became household names in Mexico under the guidance of Alonso.
By the time his contract ended in mid-2018, the manager had become one of the more respected figures in Liga MX and was lured north by giants CF Monterrey. Despite the fact that Los Rayados won the 2019 CCL – and that Alonso would ultimately finish with a better win ratio (39W-20L-13D in 2018-2019) than the one he had at Pachuca – the club’s exceedingly high expectations proved to be his downfall. With one of the most talented rosters in Mexican soccer at his disposal, league titles were also demanded.
Instead, Rayados suffered consecutive exits in the semifinal stage of the playoffs in the 2018 Apertura and the 2019 Clausura. In the recent Apertura tournament, the last straw for Alonso was a 2-0 loss at home to crosstown rivals Tigres on Sept. 28. The setback left the team in 12th place, outside the playoff positions, and Alonso was dismissed shortly after.
Alonso’s successor, Antonio Mohamed, hit the ground running with a five-game undefeated run in the regular season to narrowly earn Monterrey a place in the Liga MX playoffs as the eighth and final seed. Los Rayados would then embark on an impressive liguilla run that ended with them lifting the Liga MX trophy after a dramatic defeat of Club America in the two-legged final.
Monterrey finished the year on a 12W-1L-4D tear in all competitions, including a bronze-medal performance at the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup. The only loss? It came to Liverpool in heartbreaking fashion.
With Pachuca, Alonso tended to utilize an entertaining and high-pressing 4-2-3-1 system. Los Tuzos loved to control possession and dictate the pace of the game week in and week out. We saw glimpses of this with Monterrey, but in hopes of securing more wins for his impatient bosses, the former Rayados coach occasionally experimented and tinkered with his structure and game plans.
Alonso has done an exceptional job of building relationships through his connection with players. He isn’t as bombastic or idiosyncratic as a Miguel “Piojo” Herrera or Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, but he’s still been recognized as an excellent man-manager.
It’s also worth noting that after winning the Liga MX title on Sunday, Monterrey players Vincent Janssen and Carlos “Charly” Rodriguez both praised their former coach, who had a short run as a TV analyst back home in Uruguay before being hired by Inter Miami:
Charly Rodriguez and Vincent Janssen both making a point of praising Diego Alonso, even though things didn't go as hoped for him this season. Fascinated to see how he does at Inter Miami. #ligamxeng #MLS— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) December 30, 2019
The Uruguayan is a diligent worker, and in the past he has cited the likes of Michael Jordan, Rafael Nadal and Michael Phelps as sources of inspiration. Their stories of perseverance and dedication have resonated very strongly with the way that he carries himself on and off the field. In a Liga MX era where coaches regularly make headlines for controversial or dramatic quotes, Alonso usually let his work on the pitch do the talking.
Inter Miami outlook
For a manager of his age, Alonso has a very high ceiling. He blossomed with Pachuca and significantly improved a mid-table team in need of a new direction. Although things didn’t go as planned with Monterrey, his firing appears to be more of a question of expectations rather than results. The fact that his former players still hold him in high regard also speaks volumes.
There’s likely something appealing to him about a new project like Inter Miami. A run at a playoff spot and providing opportunities for some of the team’s up-and-coming players are all reasonable goals for the head coach in his first season. Similar to what he did with Pachuca, it also wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see him seek a balance between those younger options and established stars.
Developing the foundation of the project is clearly an exciting opportunity for Alonso. He’ll not only have a blank slate with Inter, but also a chance to build his own promising career.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Freelance writer Cesar Hernandez is an expert in all things Mexican soccer. He has covered Liga MX, the Mexican national team and Mexicans abroad for ESPN FC, The Athletic, The Guardian, FourFourTwo, VICE Sports and several other publications. Along with writing and previous radio appearances on the BBC, talkSPORT and SiriusXM FC, Cesar is also a member of the Mexican Soccer Show podcast.