We spoke to the now 29-year-old keeper, who played 233 Bundesliga games for the Werkself in his seven years at Leverkusen, about his memories of his debut, how close his contact is to Bayer 04 and how he is doing in London…
Bernd Leno on…
…His first game for the Werkself on 14 August 2011: I was extremely nervous. The match was on a Sunday and I'd only joined the squad on Thursday. It all went incredibly fast. But the fans gave me a really warm reception at the stadium. Also experienced players like Simon Rolfes, Michael Ballack and Stefan Kießling gave me great support. Michael Ballack was the captain for the game against Bremen and I walked onto the pitch at the BayArena behind him and I had real goose bumps. I enjoyed the whole thing very much because at that moment it was a dream come true for me. We won 1-0. I didn't have much to do but I had a comfortable performance. It was the perfect debut for me.
…his seven years at Leverkusen: There were lots of emotional moments on the pitch including my first Champions League game at Chelsea just four weeks after my Bundesliga debut. We had successful times as a team but also a couple of difficult phases. But regardless of the results: I made so many new friends in Leverkusen – not just amongst teammates but also amongst members of staff. I'm still in close contact with a lot of them. I came as a teenager and left as a grown-up, experienced Bundesliga player. It was a time that shaped me in every respect. I became an international player here and got to know my wife in Leverkusen; she was born in Leverkusen.
…what he misses about Bayer 04: Above all, the many friends I don't see as often now. But also celebrating with the fans after wins, singing with them after the game and the Mexican waves. It's a bit different in England. Here you are more likely to get polite applause. And, to be honest, what I also miss is currywurst at the BayArena.
…London and Arsenal: London is a great city to live in. My wife and I really enjoy private life here. But I also feel very good from a sporting perspective. Last year was a bit of a mixed bag for us and unfortunately we went out of the Europa League in the semi-finals against Villarreal and only finished eighth in the league. But the Premier League is extremely exciting and is the best league. It's much tougher than the Bundesliga. It's brought me on as a goalkeeper and helped me to improve. It was definitely the right move to go abroad. Not just because of the sporting challenge but also because of the new life experiences.
…his targets for the new season: "We definitely have to aim to at least qualify for the Europa League. Last season we dropped a lot of points unnecessarily. And in the end we were six points short of the Champions League and four points away from the Europa League. In England the teams in the top third of the table are much closer than in the Bundesliga. We can fully concentrate on the league as we're not playing in Europe this season. It will definitely be difficult to get into the Champions League but it is doable.
…his ambitions regarding the national team: Of course, I want to be at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. I'm trying to get there. But I'm not putting any unnecessary pressure on myself and I won't be impatient. Perhaps, I can move up a place in the rankings.
…the Werkself in 2021/22: The team has so much quality again that I believe they can qualify for the Champions League. And I think Bayer 04 will do well in the Europa League this season. I experienced how far you can go in that competition with Arsenal. And none of our opponents were stronger than Bayer in terms of potential. I will definitely watch as many games as possible of my former club on television. At the end of the day, I'm still a Werkself fan.
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Following the weekend’s draw against Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, the Werkself are again at home on Wednesday for the visit of Paderborn to the BayArena in the DFB-Pokal last 16 (kick-off: 18:00 CET). Ahead of the game, head coach Xavi Alonso made it abundantly clear that his team will in no way underestimate their Bundesliga 2 opponents.Show more