Anel Dzaka: From refugee to Champions League finalist

Anel Dzaka pro­file


Few Werkself fans can associate his name with the phenomenal season of 2001/02. And yet, Anel Dzaka was part of the team that played thrilling football on the national and European stage. The midfielder trained with the senior players under Klaus Toppmöller but mainly played for the second team.

"And yet it was a fantastic time for me," said Dzaka. "I was able to train with all those great players – with Lucio, Zé Roberto, Jens Nowotny, Dimitar Berbatov, Ulf Kirsten, Michael Ballack and so many more. There was an incredible amount of quality on the pitch. That really helped me and my development as a player."

Nevertheless: Dzaka was able to play for the Werkself once in that memorable season. In the last match in 2001, he made an 85-minute appearance in the away game at VfL Wolfsburg because Yildiray Bastürk had to drop out late on. "Well, the game was played in incredibly bad weather. It rained for 90 minutes and we didn't put on a good performance," recalls Dzaka with a smile. Bayer 04 lost 3-1 but remained top of the table going into the winter break.

First team  player at 17

It was an unforgettable experience for Dzaka. He made his Bundesliga debut the year before under coach Berti Vogts in a 3-0 home win against Werder Bremen. "It was difficult for a young player like me at the time to establish a position in the first-team squad. Later, lads like Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Gonzalo Castro and René Adler came through the ranks. But back then I was proud to be offered a professional contract." Dzaka signed his first contract as a senior player at the age of 17 in 1997.

Markus Daun is like a brother to me

He joined Leverkusen two years before from FC Germania Dürwiß. Together with his good friend Markus Daun, who later trained with the first team like Dzaka and mostly played for the Reserves. Today, Daun is assistant coach with the Bayer 04 U19 team. "He's like a brother to me," says Dzaka, who was born in Sarajevo in 1980 and fled to Germany at the age of 12 with his aunt and uncle. "My parents were separated back then, my sister remained at home with my mother. My father fell in the Bosnian war in 1995 just as I joined Bayer 04." Hard times.

Unforgettable experiences

Leverkusen was the new home for Anel. At Kurtekotten, the prolific and versatile midfielder soon moved up from the U17s to the U19s. He later played for the Reserves in the Oberliga and ended up being promoted to the Regional League North with them. And although he did not break through to the first team at Bayer 04, the now 41-year-old still raves about the 2001/02 season. Dzaka was in the squad for many of the Champions League games. Once, in the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield in the quarter-finals, he warmed up behind the goal during the game. "I actually thought that our assistant coach Peter Hermann would give me the call at any moment but I didn't get on," recalls Dzaka. But he did manage to swap shirts with the Czech Republic player Vladimir Smicer after the game.

Werkself players including Anel Dzaka after defeat in the 2002 Champions League final.

Dzaka was also in the extended squad for several other European games in that legendary season. "I always gave my all in training and thereby earned the respect of the others. Klaus Toppmöller and Peter Hermann gave players, including those in the second team, the feeling of being an important part of the side. Everything was exactly right from a human perspective." Dzaka was also in the squad for the final in Glasgow. The fact he was able to experience the 2-1 defeat against Real Madrid – albeit from the bench – fills him with pride. "Nobody can take away those great moments from the 01/02 season. It's something I'll be able to tell my grandchildren about."

apperance for Germany

Anel Dzaka spent eight years at Leverkusen. He made four appearances for the Werkself and played 100 games for the second team in the Oberliga and Regional League. During his time at Bayer 04, he gained German nationality and made one appearance of the Germany U21s.

Dzaka went out on loan to VfL Osnabrück in the summer of 2003 and in August he scored a spectacular Goal of the Month: An acrobatic strike with a full-length dive. He then went on to play for TuS Koblenz, FC Kaiserslautern and SC Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. But Dzaka again and again returned to TuS Koblenz where he was the captain and crowd favourite and where he ended his playing career in 2015. The Bosnian player then went on to earn his coaching badges first taking charge of the U17s at TuS Koblenz before becoming the coach of the first team at the club in the Regional League South-west. "We parted company after nearly four years a month ago," says Dzaka who was released from his contract that runs to the summer of 2022.

at home in Koblenz

As before, is very happy living in Koblenz with his wife and two children Lana (17) and Daris (10). But he does like to come to Leverkusen where he not only calls in from time to time to watch Werkself games but also matches involving the U19s. Anel Dzaka also plays for the Bayer 04 Veterans on occasions. At some point he wants to go on a coaching course. "But at first, I'd like to get spend time with one or two clubs to help me develop and learn."

Anel Dzaka pulled on the Bayer 04 shirt again in the autumn of 2017 for a Veterans game against FC Köln.

But he is also happy to be able to have more time to build up contacts. As with Marko Babic and Boris Zivkovic, former teammates at Bayer 04. Good friends he sometimes meets up with in Croatia. And, of course, they know that Anel Dzaka also played his part in an exceptional season.