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15.05.2022Bayer 04

#RoadtoGlasgow – Wenning: ‘We were proud of a great team’

As a young boy in short trousers, Werner Wenning used to cheer on the Werkself at the Am Stadtpark Stadium. Today he is the chairman of the shareholders committee at Bayer 04 Fußball GmbH and still closely connected with the club. 20 years ago, on 15 May 2002, the then chairman of the board at Bayer AG watched the Champions League final between Bayer 04 and Real Madrid as a guest at Hampden Park. In interview, the 75-year-old talks about meeting King Juan Carlos, an outstanding goalkeeper and the increasing popularity of Bayer 04 worldwide.
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Mr Wenning, what are your memories of 15 May 2002?

Wenning: It was a great night. You could feel the tension at that wonderful Hampden Park. The fans of both sides were singing their songs before the game. I’m definitely not objective but I think our fans were louder back then (he smiles).

You were in a box very close to Spain’s King Juan Carlos.

Wenning: Yes, that’s right, we exchanged a few words as I was able to speak good Spanish from my time with Bayer AG in Barcelona and South America. The King was a committed fan of Real Madrid. When we talked at half-time, he was surprised by our team strong performance. The actor Sean Connery was also sat near me. There were a lot of prominent people in the VIP boxes.

What were your impressions: How were Bayer 04 seen as a club in the days before the final?

Wenning: There I’d like to get away from just looking at the final. We had seen some fantastic football matches from our team in the group stages. Then we knocked out the top English clubs Liverpool and Manchester United in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. I will never forget the 4-2 win against Liverpool at the BayArena. And the way Lucio won that game with his footballing brilliance and his physical power. I think both Liverpool as well as Manchester United in the semi-finals were surprised at how strong Bayer 04 were. They underestimated us and were punished for it. At that time, we had the strongest team, at least in Germany.

 

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Werner Wenning has been the chairman of the shareholders committee at Bayer 04 Leverkusen Fußball GmbH since 2010.

Real Madrid with the big favourites in the final. Did you believe the Werkself were capable of creating a sensation in Glasgow after the tough semi-final matches against Manchester United?

Wenning: Yes. Of course, we were the underdogs on paper but you often get extra strength in finals. I still remember exactly how the goals were scored. The long throw-in from Roberto Carlos to Raul that put us behind early on. Then the equaliser from Lucio and the wonder goal from Zinedine Zidane just before half-time. We were on top in the second half. And then something happened that you don’t normally see in games: The goalkeeper was injured and the substitute keeper Iker Casillas came on for Madrid and he was the best man in the team. That says a lot about what the game was like in the second half. We had some clear-cut chances but Casillas just saved everything – that was the moment a world star was born. We fought with passion and were the better team. In the end we just lacked a bit of luck. And you can’t forget that Jens Nowotny couldn’t play because of a cruciate injury and one of our best players Ze Roberto was missing due to suspension. On top of that, there was some players with knocks who played nevertheless. Despite a long season with lots of matches the team stretched themselves again on the night. I’m convinced we would have won the final in extra time if we’d have scored late on.

The chance of the league title squandered, the DFB Cup final lost and now beaten by Real in the Champions League: How would you describe your feelings after the final whistle at Hampden Park?

Wenning: Well, you know, it was an unforgettable and wonderful day all in all. That match was broadcast in over 200 countries and had a billion viewers on TV. And absolutely everybody who felt connected to the club was proud of what this team showed in Glasgow again in terms of determination and the joy in playing. Later on when I was abroad I heard again and again a lot of people remember that final. Bayer 04 definitely gained lots and lots of fans worldwide in 2001/02 thanks to the European matches.

Why do you think we didn’t win any titles in the end?

Wenning: I think our squad wasn’t big enough back then to meet the high demands in terms of quality. Almost all the same players played every time. We had to compensate for the loss of the key players Nowotny and Ze Roberto were out and we didn’t have the necessary possibility of rotating given the high number of games.

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Werner Wenning (above, third right) in the stands at Hampden Park the Champions League final between Bayer 04 and Real Madrid on 15 May 2002.

How would you rank playing in the Champions League final in 2002 compared with winning the UEFA Cup in 1988, which you were also at?

Wenning: We were also the rank outsiders in 1988 after the 3-0 defeat in the first leg at Espanyol. We were rebuilding the stadium at the time and I remember the temporary wooden stands we sat in. There was an incredible atmosphere when we got back on level terms and we went on to win in the penalty shootout. But I wouldn’t want to compare these two finals because they happened at different times. Both nights were unique. It wouldn’t be fair to make an assessment here.

10,000 Bayer 04 fans travelled to Glasgow in May 2002 on 16 coaches, 12 planes or under their own steam. A former carnival prince even came on a bike. Four days before that, there were almost 20,000 Werkself supporters in Berlin for the cup final against Schalke 04. How impressed were you with this never before seen enthusiasm and above all the support of the fans at games?

Wenning: The support at home at the BayArena was sensational in that season. We always had good support from our fans. But that was topped in the exciting Champions League games. The further we went, the bigger the enthusiasm. And our supporters moved up a gear in the final in Glasgow. I think that was reflected in the team. Bayer 04 fans went to incredible lengths to support their team and get behind them in Scotland. They were the twelfth man in the final because they could see the team was giving their all. This great fan community has developed even further over the years and today it is still a key factor for success in tight games. When we see that we now have over eight million followers on our social media platforms then that’s incredible for a city like Leverkusen with a population of around 164,000. The Champions League campaign in 2001/02 was definitely a foundation for that worldwide recognition and popularity.

Did you feel yourself the growing interest in Bayer 04 in your working and personal environments?

Wenning: Yes, of course. When I’m abroad, either on business earlier on or on holiday, I like to do the taxi test. So, I asked the driver which are the favourite sports in his country. And normally you quickly get onto football. If you carry on asking which clubs he knows then almost always, wherever I am in the world, you hear the name Bayer Leverkusen. But, of course, we have to keep refreshing this popularity. And that’s why we want to continue playing in the Champions League if possible. Because that competition is also a vehicle for increasing the worldwide attraction of the club.

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Werner Wenning (l.) with Wolfgang Holzhäuser (centre) and Reiner Calmund in January 2002.

What feedback did you get back then as the chairman of the board at Bayer AG in business circles?

Wenning: Of course, I was often asked about that. And I always felt the greatest respect that was shown for that achievement. The tenor was: “What you managed to achieve is out of the ordinary” or “It’s a pity you didn’t win a title.” Obviously you sometimes hear the greeting: “Here comes Vizekusen.” But that was just a joke. I didn’t feel any malice but rather recognition for a great performance. And not just in our big sports community but also in society as a whole.

Back then, Bayer 04 played nearly all the top clubs on the continent, which were packed with superstars. But there were also some big names in the Werkself team. Did you have a favourite player in Klaus Toppmöller’s side?

Wenning: For me, the whole team produced exceptional performances over the whole season. The togetherness and standing up for each other was the key to success. You can only do that as a team. But, of course, there were lots of strong characters within the group. I’d like to highlight Dimitar Berbatov with the calmness he radiated, Lucio was an incredible player who combined football class with the ability to fight, Ze Roberto was a magician on the ball, Michael Ballack, Bernd Schneider of course – but you’d have to name so many others too…

Here are the articles on the #RoadtoGlasgow.

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