28.01.2021Bayer 04

Marko Babic: ‘Friendships for life’

Marko Babic played for the Werkself for seven and a half years (01/2000-06/2007), making 191 appearances for Bayer 04 (21 goals), including the Champions League final in 2002 and he also started his international career with Croatia (49 caps). Today (Thursday), Marko celebrates his 40th birthday. We spoke to him by phone in Osijek, his birthplace and hometown, where he lives with his wife Martina and their three daughters Lucia, Petra and Bruna.

Marko, many happy returns on your 40th birthday. How will you celebrate today?
Babic: Thank you for that. I will celebrate at home with my wife and three daughters. Nothing else is possible during the coronavirus pandemic. But the main thing is we’re all well. And we hadn’t planned to have a big party anyway.

Where are you working now?
Babic: I’m looking after my soccer school in Osijek that I set up ten years ago. We’ve coached up to 300 children there and some of them have made it into Serie A in Italy and the top division in Croatia. I’m very proud of the school. In terms of me coaching, I’m not with a club at the moment. The last time was in the summer of 2020 when I coached NK Rudes, a second division club in Croatia. Before that, I coached the Bosnian first division side NK Celik Zenica and I was assistant coach at Olympiakos in 2017.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane: Do you remember when you played your first game for Bayer 04?
Babic: To be honest: No. But it must have been a game for the Reserves. Back then, I was very young when I came to Leverkusen in January 2000, not even 19 years old. But I’ll never forget the day when I first went to the BayArena and the first team dressing room. They were all sat there: Nowotny, Ballack, Emerson, Schneider, Ramelow, Kirsten, Neuville, Ze Roberto. Oh my gosh, they were big names! It blew me away. Bayer 04 was a completely new world for me.

There were some of your fellow countrymen there at the time.
Babic: Yes, Robert Kovac for example. And Boris Zivkovic plus Jurica Vranjes. That definitely helped me to settle in quickly. But all the players treated me really well. It felt like being in a family.

You stayed at Leverkusen for seven years – that was the longest time at any club during your playing career...
Babic: … and by far the best time in career. I was able to play in sensationally good teams. I experienced some brilliant sporting moments as well as some difficult times. But I enjoyed every minute – on the training ground, in games or meals together afterwards. I’m really grateful for that time.

Your first coach was Christoph Daum, then came Berti Vogts, Klaus Toppmöller, Thomas Hörster, Klaus Augenthaler, Michael Skibbe - and, in between, Rudi Völler twice helped out as caretaker coach. Seven coaches in seven years…
Babic: (He laughs) Yes, that was a lot. And I was able to learn so much from all of them. And, of course, I won’t forget Peter Hermann who was a great assistant coach.

You can’t recall your first match but I bet you can remember your first goal?
Babic: Oh yes, it was really special: the third goal against Juventus in the Champions League group stage in 2001/2002. I came on for Dimitar Berbatov with a couple of minutes to play. We were leading 2-1. After a free kick for Juve in the last minute, we mounted a lightning counter-attack and I got the ball on the halfway line, ran a few metres, passed the ball out to left to Ze Roberto, who first beat Buffon and then passed back to me – I had a tap-in from two or three metres out. Brilliant! The stadium was rocking. An absolute moment of happiness.

You were so excited, you took off your shirt and got booked for it…
Babic: Did I? (he laughs) Well, it was worth it. It was an extremely important win for us as it kept us in contention. We won 3-1 at La Coruna on the final matchday to win the group.

It ended up with the final against Real Madrid where you made a brief appearance.
Babic: For one or two minutes, yes. But the atmosphere at Hampden Park was fantastic. We gave Real a run for their money. It was an incredible season overall.

You had your best season in 2003/04: You clocked up 32 Bundesliga games, six goals and ten assists. You finished third in league with a total of 73 goals in that season, the highest number in the Bundesliga history of Bayer 04.
Babic: That might have been my best season statistically. I think we had a brilliant first half of the season. But what actually meant most to me during my time at Leverkusen are the many friendships that came about and are still going today. They really are friendships for life.

Including the ones you have with the Veterans team.
Babic: Yes, but not only. I normally visit Leverkusen every two or tree months. Because Bayer 04 became my second home a long time ago.

How do you think the current team will do this season?
Babic: They’ve got loads of potential. I’m crossing my fingers in all three competitions and hope, above all, they qualify for the Champions League again. A big hello to the whole club!

© Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fussball GmbH

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