Mr Kaenzig, you moved under the Bayer Cross as youth coordinator in 1998. How did the post at Leverkusen come about? You were only 24 years old at the time…
Kaenzig: Back then it was my dream to work in the Bundesliga one day. The first contact with Bayer 04 came during my time at the then top Swiss club Grasshoppers, where I was the transfer coordinator from 1994. In that role I got to know Andreas Rettig having met him several times watching games. Andreas was my predecessor at Leverkusen. When he became sporting director at SC Freiburg in 1998 he remembered me and mentioned me as his possible successor. I was invited for interview and had uncomplicated and positive discussions with Reiner Calmund. And then the dream of the Bundesliga suddenly became reality.
You are often described as a protégé of Reiner Calmund. What was it like working with the legendary Leverkusen general manager?
Kaenzig: It was a great time from the first day – above all thanks to Calli. He was like a father to all members of staff and he definitely shaped the culture of the club. He had great confidence in every individual and devolved lots of responsibility to them. Thanks to his personable manner, every member of staff was completely motivated. Through that, coupled with the perfection of Bayer AG, Bayer 04 at that time rose to become the best managed and best organised club in Germany alongside Bayern Munich. Together with the Munich side, they were the benchmark of German football – and in my opinion are still that today along with FC Bayern in terms of structure within the club.
What was your area of responsibility? What did Reiner Calmund entrust you with?
Kaenzig: In principle, it was the whole of management. Negotiating, scouting, developing. I had a free rein but also his full support. I was able to make a lot of contacts and gather experience. Something else to mention: We worked together with several people as a team and also spent a lot of time together after work. We used to go on holiday with a number of colleagues and their families.
In Bayer 04's legendary season of 2001/02, when the club finished second in the league, were runners-up in the DFB Cup final and reached the final of the Champions League, you were in the thick of it. What are your memories of that season?
Kaenzig: Most people probably need 30 years to experience the things I did in my six years at Leverkusen. Of course, the season mentioned stands out. In the final weeks of the season whenever I went out of the house in the morning I thought every day: Today you're coming back with a medal or a title. It's obviously disappointing to miss out on three title triumphs in ten days. But the countless moments in challenges along the way that we collected, experienced and mastered are much more memorable. We dominated Europe. We contributed to European football history.
Regardless of the defeat in the final, the #RoadtoGlasgow was exceptional. It was the fourth time the club was in the Champions League. In spite of winning the UEFA Cup in 1988, Leverkusen were an unknown quantity amongst the top clubs in Europe. What challenges did the headquarters face in this story of sporting success?
Kaenzig: Respect and recognition were huge. Back then we did everything by hand with a few people. We flew off ourselves and asked for rooms in hotels in situ. Calli dealt with the VIP trips himself. That way, we experienced everything more directly with our little team. You can't imagine that at all these days. Even though we all went to our limit: it was a unique time.
The team was made up of many well-known players. Who do you particularly remember?
Kaenzig: You can include them all. It wasn't just the success that made the whole of Europe aware of us but also the attractive and thrilling football. The semi-finals against Manchester United – superb. The second leg against Liverpool – one of the most dramatic games ever. The way we had the opponents on the ropes at times – they were epic matches.
The head coach was Klaus Toppmöller who took VfL Bochum to the UEFA Cup for the first time in the club's history in 1997. How closely did you work with him and what was his contribution in that successful season?
Kaenzig: With his manner, he was able to build unshakeable self belief with every individual on and off the pitch and unleashed great euphoria. Regardless of whether it was Lyon or Barcelona: He was sure we could win ahead of every game. Without doubt, Toppi was the right man in the right place at the right time. He was and is always authentic, a man to trust his gut feelings and he did a brilliant job of looking after the stars in the squad. Whenever we've met in recent years, we've always talked about that brilliant time together.
What would you say: Why wasn't it enough in the end?
Kaenzig: During half-time in the quarter-final second leg in the Champions League against Liverpool, Calli already feared that if we reached the semi-finals then we could forget the German league title. The workload was simply too big. Then we turned it round against Liverpool and went through to the final. In the end we were running on empty. Before the Champions League final we had already played over 50 matches.
Did playing in the Champions League final change the club?
Kaenzig: We were on the finishing line but didn’t cross it in the end. Before that, we competed with the best teams from the big football leagues and knocked them out of the competition. So, it was much more the route to that final with all the personalities and stories that finally made Bayer 04 Leverkusen known throughout European football. That Champions League season was a script that could only have come from a football god.
Ilja Kaenzig worked under the Bayer Cross as head of youth and general manager between 1998 and 2004. Born in Switzerland, he went on to work for Grasshoppers, Young Boys Bern, Hannover 96 and the French second division club FC Sochaux. Since February 2018, the now 48-year-old has been head of the board at VfL Bochum and, after eleven years absence, he led the club from Castroper Straße back to the Bundesliga in the summer.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen have given U17 player Francis Onyeka a long-term contact. The club has agreed a deal with the 16-year-old to 30 June 2027.Show more
#B04eSports team suffered the first defeat of the season on matchday five in the VBL Club Championship 2023/24. Last night’s other games ended in a win and a draw. The Black and Reds are now fifth in the North West division.Show more
BK Häcken have yet to gain a point in Group H. The club from Gothenburg entertain the Werkself on Thursday 30 November (kick-off: 21.00 CET). Häcken will be looking to improve their record in the last European home game of the year against the group leaders.Show more
Bayer 04 celebrate a special anniversary next year. 1 July 1904 saw the foundation of the sports club from the paint factories called the ‘Turn- und Spielverein der Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co. in Leverkusen’Show more
The Werkself beat Werder Bremen 3-0 on Bundesliga matchday 12 and again succeeded in holding on to top spot in the table as well as setting a new Bundesliga and club record. The facts, stats and reaction to the away win in Bremen is here in the Werkself review.Show more