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“The team finally deserves the title”

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“The team finally deserves the title”

On Saturday, Bundesliga leader Bayer Leverkusen will host Bayern Munich in the top battle. Calmund wishes the club the title that was denied him during his time in office due to some highly dramatic decisions.

Under him, Bayer 04 became a top club: manager Reiner Calmund (left), here in 1989 with then Leverkusen coach Jürgen Gelsdorf.


Mr. Calmund, where can we reach you?

I’m currently on vacation in Thailand celebrating an old friend’s 85th birthday. My old companion Christoph Daum from our time together in Leverkusen is also there.

What are you planning to do next Saturday?

Of course I’m watching the Leverkusen game against Bayern with Christoph Daum – with a six hour delay. And tremble! And I hope that afterwards I can celebrate a bit and then go to bed.

Leverkusen are leaders, still unbeaten and are not going into this game as outsiders. What makes the team so strong?

It is excellently staffed, not only in attack, but also in midfield and defense. She is very well-adjusted tactically and can play dominantly but also counterattack. And she has an excellent mentality. And of course that has to do with the coach Xabi Alonso.

The coach who is currently being discussed by some major clubs. Where do you see his qualities?

Xabi Alonso is Basque, and guess what: Behind Tokyo, Kyoto, Paris, Osaka and New York, Alonso’s home region, San Sebastián and Bilbao, has the most starred restaurants in the world. I’m a bit of a sweet tooth myself, so I know that. And Xabi Alonso is like a star menu.

I’m sorry, what?

Just take a look at his CV: He was world champion and twice European champion with Spain. He won the Champions League with Liverpool and Real Madrid, and finally became German champion three times with Bayern Munich. Xabi Alonso has worked with coaches such as Rafael Benítez, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Jupp Heynckes. More is not possible. That was a very good move by Bayer 04.

Does he have what it takes to lead Leverkusen to the first championship in the club’s history?

Look at him. The way he performs is impressive. He can’t be disturbed. The team is stable and doesn’t get nervous. Now some players were at the African Cup, so Xabi Alonso couldn’t work with all the professionals. But there are no complaints, no one is looking for alibis, not even after the injury to striker Victor Boniface. You haven’t heard him complain all season. And that also makes the other players stronger. If one fails, then things continue. And if things don’t work out against Bayern at the weekend, then that won’t be the end of their championship dreams. It’s not a decisive game, at most a preliminary game. But it’s not just Xabi Alonso alone.

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“That was a very good move by Bayer 04.” – Rainer Calmund on the commitment of coach Xabi Alonso.

Ronald Wittek/EPA


Bayer 04 is managed excellently, at all levels. Simon Rolfes, the manager, is also one of the crème de la crème internationally. The football boss Fernando Carro is a total football madman. Fernando’s mother was the translator for Hans Krankl, the striker from Austria, at FC Barcelona and later also for the German head coach Udo Lattek. Then he became infected with the football virus. As a manager on Bertelsmann’s board of directors, he was responsible for billions in sales. This is someone who thinks extremely entrepreneurially, but is completely crazy about football. But what I’m particularly pleased about is that the second row also works perfectly, both in shorts and long trousers. An example: Marcel, Christoph Daum’s son, does an excellent job there as an assistant trainer and video analyst.

Anyone who talks about Leverkusen is talking about spectacular football – but not about titles.

Yes, that was Leverkusen’s fate. We were runners-up four times. In 1996 I hired Christoph Daum as coach; we had played against relegation the season before. With Christoph we came second straight away. I was happy, but Christoph already had a different way of thinking. He pulled a long face at the end-of-season party. I said, “If you don’t look friendly, I’ll kick your ass, you idiot.” He had the highest standards. Then we played the Champions League, that was a time of change.

This change progressed quickly.

That’s it. In 2000 we finished level on points with Bayern Munich, but were runners-up due to a worse goal difference. It still felt like a big defeat because a draw would have been enough for us in the last game in Unterhaching. It’s unbelievable that our two top stars of the season, Emerson and Michael Ballack, didn’t perform in midfield in their usual form. Ballack, the most dangerous midfielder, fabricated even an own goal. We’re suddenly behind and losing 2-0. All you can do is wipe your mouth. There is no explanation for this.

A championship has rarely been more dramatic than in the 1999/2000 season.


How did you experience the game with Michael Ballack’s own goal?

I was always nervous in the days before. But when I was sitting in the stands in Unterhaching, I said to Rudi Völler: “I think I’m going to fall asleep. I am completely calm. What if the players are like me?” And then we lose the game. After the game, Uli Hoeness, the Bayern manager, called me on the way to the airport. He said he was of course really happy about Bayern winning the championship, but he was sorry for me.

In 2002, Leverkusen lost another championship. The team also lost the Champions League final against Real Madrid and the DFB Cup final. When was the disappointment greater?

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Man, a visit to the dentist is harmless when it comes to questions like these! You can’t compare it, the 2002 season was completely different. Christoph Daum was no longer the coach, he was supposed to take over the German national team, and you know what happened then (note: Daum did not become the national coach because of a cocaine affair). Then came Berti Vogts, an outstanding specialist who did a lot for German football. But unfortunately it didn’t work. And then we looked and signed Klaus Toppmöller.

Reiner Calmund (left) consoles leader Michael Ballack – in 2002, Leverkusen lost another championship after 2000.

Tobias Heyer / DPA

He came from 1. FC Saarbrücken in the 2nd Bundesliga and not everyone was on the bill.

No, he was a completely different type than Christoph Daum and even more so than Berti Vogts. He had a very relaxed manner. He was the shallowest and smoked a cigarette with the equipment manager and the masseur. This season it worked wonderfully, we played great football.

Almost everything worked until shortly before the end of the season.

Yes, this season was on the one hand particularly beautiful and at the same time particularly bitter. When I think about the circumstances back then, they were just as unfortunate as in 2000. We were in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. Think about the way there. We have Barcelona in the Defeated in the preliminary round, in the intermediate round Nobody gave us a chance in a group with Juventus and Arsenal London, who became Italian and English champions at the same time. And in the end we win the group. We beat Liverpool in the quarter-finals. In the semi-finals we knocked out Manchester United, who were one of the biggest teams of the entire decade under coach Alex Ferguson.

Back then, they were constantly underdogs against the top European teams.

Afterwards we face Real Madrid in the Champions League final, who had absolute world class Morientes on board with Zinédine Zidane, Luís Figo, Raul and Roberto Carlos. And do you know why we lost? Because the regular goalkeeper César was injured. Then a young goalkeeper comes in, his name is Iker Casillas, who the whole world knows today. We were very superior in the second half, we had so many opportunities to score a goal. But the guy really held everything. He flies to the left, the ball goes to the right and he deflects it with his foot.

In 2002, Leverkusen also lost the Champions League final – because Real goalie Iker Casillas (far right, on the ground) held everything.

Tony Marshall / PA / Getty

What did Leverkusen lack in these years apart from luck?

Only luck. Only luck. Nothing else. But I didn’t argue. Even though we didn’t win the championship, I was very lucky in life. At work, with family, with health. All you can say is: Hip, hip, hurray! But if the football god I would like to believe in is a just God, then this year it’s Leverkusen’s turn. It can’t be any other way.

For the sake of equal justice – or because Leverkusen worked so seriously?

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Both of course! If I analyze Bayer 04’s many unfortunate runner-up titles, then they finally deserve the championship trophy!

The name “Vizekusen” came into being during these years. Did this hurt you?

I found “Vizekusen”. always next to it. Not because it was about us, but because behind the second there is always a third and fourth. As a result, top performance is downplayed. I’m really the last person who doesn’t respect Bayern’s performance. I can quickly tell you my Bayern “Hall of Fame” so you can see what caliber this club is from the 1970s to the present.

Go ahead!

Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Sepp Meier, Paul Breitner, Lothar Matthäus, Oliver Kahn, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. And of course Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge are also included, who were absolutely world-class not only on the pitch but also afterwards in the management of the club. They got Bayern to where they are today. And they just have different options than the competition. You can sign players from the most expensive shelf, see Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, eleven Bayern championships in a row is an eternity. What is the competition doing wrong?

Just take a look at the extent to which Bayern are playing financially. The players’ transfer values ​​clearly confirm this. Bayern are at just under a billion, 978 million euros. In second place is Leverkusen with 566 million euros, followed by Leipzig with 483 million and Dortmund with 467 million euros. These are Mickey Mouse dimensions compared to Bayern. You have to fight it first. A second place is also worth something.

What do you do if Leverkusen becomes champions?

I turned 75 years old. If Bayer wins the title, I’ll stroke the bowl and be happy that it’s finally come to Leverkusen.

Reiner Calmund: a manager with a legendary reputation

sos. Under Reiner Calmund, Leverkusen became a top club. The now 75-year-old was manager from 1988 to 2004, during which time the team came second four times, which earned them the nickname “Vizekusen”. In 2002, the team lost 1-2 to Real Madrid in the Champions League final. During Calmund’s term of office, coach Christoph Daum was also hired. Calmund was one of the most popular figures in German football. Because of his enormous physical size at the time, he was also called “the XXL manager”.

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