Bayer Leverkusen: From History to Modern Success

Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen’s amazing season is approaching a coronation but the success has been years in the making, dating back to 1891

Matt Ford

Sat 13 Apr 2024 23.00 CEST

Before Bayer Leverkusen’s recent German Cup semi-final against Fortuna Düsseldorf, the Ultras Leverkusen arranged a performance to celebrate the 90th birthday of the Bayer-Kreuz – the Bayer Cross, the 51-metre-diameter illuminated logo of Bayer pharmaceuticals that dominates the Leverkusen skyline.

“Bright in the night over my roof,” read the golden letters across the upper tier of the BayArena. Below, a replica of the Bayer-Kreuz was plugged in, shining above a row of cardboard houses.

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“For us, the Bayer-Kreuz is more than just advertising,” the ultras explained after leading a campaign to save the landmark from demolition in 2007. “When you return from holiday and see the Bayer-Kreuz lit up in the distance, you know you’re home.”

Openly and proudly celebrating a pharma giant’s logo might seem unusual behaviour from football fans, and particularly German supporters so notoriously opposed to overt commercialisation. But when it comes to Bayer and Leverkusen, company, city and football club are inextricably linked.

“You only have to look at the history of the city, the company and the development of sport here to see that everything has developed over time,” says Michael Preuss, head of communications at Bayer and one of three company representatives on the football club’s shareholders’ committee.

In 1891, Friedrich Bayer moved his dye factory to the banks of the Rhine to take over an industrial complex belonging to his fellow businessman Carl Leverkus, who gave the settlement his name – although it would not officially be called Leverkusen until 1930.

The Bayer Leverkusen fans utilise the Bayer-Kreuz in a tifo prior to the DFB cup semi-final match against Fortuna Dusseldorf. Photograph: Hesham Elsherif/Anadolu/Getty Images

“When the company first moved here, it was hours away from the big cities, so it had to be made attractive for the workers, providing them with living quarters, culture and sport,” Preuss says.

In 1904, workers at the chemical plant requested permission to form a football team, and 120 years later, the Werkself – the “works XI” – are on the verge of winning the Bundesliga for the first time. They started this weekend 16 points clear with six games to play. Second-placed Bayern Munich – champions for the past 11 years – delayed the inevitable for at least 24 hours by beating Cologne 2-0 on Saturday, but that sets up Leverkusen to clinch the title with victory in front of their own fans against Werder Bremen on Sunday.

The immediate plaudits belong to Xabi Alonso who, in his first full season as a first-team coach, has fashioned a veritable Swiss army knife of a team, unbeaten in all competitions.

“Alonso has created a creature which resembles the hydra,” wrote Kicker magazine in November, referring to the mythological Greek monster that grew two new heads for each one chopped off. “You block off one route to goal and two others open up.”

The magazine 11Friends preferred a more futuristic analogy, describing a UFO that landed in Leverkusen and is “patiently waiting for its superhero to re-embark and fly off to another football galaxy”.

The superhero is going nowhere for now after Alonso turned down advances from Merseyside and Munich to commit his immediate future to Leverkusen. The decision may have surprised many beyond the rather unfashionable factory town between Cologne and Düsseldorf, but it was testament to the work done by the chief executive, Fernando Carro.

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Since joining from the German publishing conglomerate Bertelsmann in 2018, the Barcelona-born Carro has streamlined the internal structures at Leverkusen and recalibrated expectations. Not content with the unflattering “Vizekusen” moniker (often anglicised as “Neverkusen”) bestowed on the club after finishing second in the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League in 2002, Carro’s Leverkusen now have much more in common with the commercial behemoth to which they belong.

“Professional structures, continuity in leadership positions and a modern, ambitious working culture are bound to be an attractive environment,” he says when asked about Alonso’s arrival in Leverkusen and his decision to stay. “For any manager.”

Carro’s task has been made easier by Leverkusen’s exemption from German football’s 50+1 rule, which stipulates that the outsourced companies that operate clubs’ professional football teams remain under the majority control of the parent clubs. Exemptions are allowed in cases where an investor can prove 20 years of “substantial and consistent” support. The first was granted to Leverkusen in 1999, the second to Wolfsburg and Volkswagen in 2001.

Leverkusen’s exemption may be legitimate but it doesn’t win them many friends beyond the factory walls, where they are often accused of being “plastic” and benefiting from financial support not available to others. Neither club nor company comments on the precise level of investment, but nor do club sources deny figures of about €25m (£21.3m) a season. Any losses incurred by the club are offset by Bayer which, in 2006, injected a reported €100m extra to ward off an impending insolvency.

Although Leverkusen are exposed to less financial jeopardy than other clubs – and didn’t face the same existential threat during the pandemic – they can hardly be accused of splashing the cash in the transfer market. Last summer, the director of sport, Simon Rolfes, smartly reinvested the €55m (£47m) received from Aston Villa for Moussa Diaby in their top scorer this season, Victor Boniface (€20.5m from Union Saint-Gilloise), the Bundesliga veteran Jonas Hofmann (€10m from Borussia Mönchengladbach) and Granit Xhaka (€15m from Arsenal). Nathan Tella (€23.3m from Southampton) was the most expensive acquisition and Álex Grimaldo was signed on a free from Benfica. The mercurial Florian Wirtz was snapped up from Cologne’s under-17s for €200,000 in 2019.

Bayer Leverkusen’s €23.3m signing Nathan Tella has found the net on five occasions during his 19 Bundesliga games this season. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

“If Bayer Leverkusen have any advantage, then it’s that they are able to operate with the business culture and management philosophy of a stock market company,” says professor Christoph Breuer from the German Sports University in Cologne. “Football in Germany is still often very traditional, with former stars presumed to be competent based on past exploits. But decision-makers in Leverkusen don’t need to answer to voting members and can get more out of the resources available to them.”

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Advocates of the 50+1 rule regard it as the final bastion of the people’s game in Germany, protecting clubs from the sort of controversial takeovers seen in the Premier League and giving fans agency to influence issues from kick-off times to private equity deals. Critics, of which Carro unsurprisingly is one, lament that the rule discourages large-scale investment. “We have to make commercial decisions for the good of the club,” he says – and why should anyone invest money they then can’t control?

It all prompts the question: why don’t Bayer invest even more? The reality is that while Carro is not accountable to a franchised membership, he does have to justify to the football sceptics among Bayer shareholders why, with the share price in freefall and sweeping job cuts on the way, a Bundesliga team is still a worthwhile investment.

Bayer Leverkusen’s first title, and potentially a German Cup and Europa League crown to boot, will do him no harm.













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2024-04-14 01:30:00
#Xabi #Alonso #finally #antidote #Bayers #Neverkusen #jibes #Bayer #Leverkusen


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