Ilja Kaenzig: Leverkusen can be the third force

Ilja Kaenzig was the head of youth football and general manager under the Bayer Cross from 1998 to 2004. The Swiss then went on to work for Hannover 96 and the French second division team FC Sochaux. The 48-year-old Swiss has been the spokesperson for the board at VfL Bochum 1848 since February 2018. Ahead of the Bundesliga match at the BayArena, we spoke to him about the reasons for the promotion of the former "unrelegatebles", his fellow countrymen Gerardo Seoane and what he thinks about Bayer 04.

Mr Kaenzig, your last match against Bayer 04 in a management position was over 15 years ago. On matchday five in 2006/07 there was a 1-1 draw against Hannover 96 where you were working as general manager. What are your memories and feelings ahead of a return to the BayArena?

Kaenzig: I'm most happy about being able to make a return. Without promotion – with the exception of the DFB Cup – that would not have been possible. In addition, I'm looking forward to a reunion with my former stomping ground and old friends. Members of staff like Gerald Grips in accounting, Silke Steinhausen in marketing, Petra Braun-Hahn in the press department and Stephan Rehm as events manager have worked for Bayer 04 for a very long time, which says a lot for continuity in personnel at the club. Also, some of my Bochum colleagues are in very close contact with staff at Bayer 04.



It's not just a return to Bismarckstraße for yourself but also the first time for VfL Bochum on the Bundesliga stage in eleven years. How important was promotion for the club that can look back at 34 years in the top-flight?

Kaenzig: The ambition was always there but the means were not always comparable with those of the competition. However, it is part of the Bochum DNA to make a lot out of a little. At the same time, we were convinced we would get promoted at some point. I believe success in football can be planned – just not the timescale. We were promoted at just the right time given the background of the coronavirus pandemic and very strong teams relegated from the Bundesliga from Bremen and Gelsenkirchen. Of course, fortune also plays a part but that favours the brave as we know. Now we want to establish the club where it belongs. VfL have not be promoted but have returned instead.

You started working at VfL Bochum early in 2018. At that time the team was involved in a relegation battle but two years later the group took off after the coronavirus lockdown and were promoted in 2021. What were the main reasons for this outstanding sporting development?

Kaenzig: As management, we were involved with the club at a difficult point in time four years ago. In our eyes, continuity is the main factor for success in modern football. Continuity breeds the required calm and that calm only develops from mutual trust, and trust only flourishes within clear structures. With a few hiccups, we succeeded in doing that from the start. The trend was upwards and positive off the pitch. We were able to improve turnover and the popularity with the fans is continually increasing. We will continue to focus on continuity in the Bundesliga – that has worked pretty well for us up to now.

What role does the coach Thomas Reis play in this framework?

Kaenzig: He is the right man in the right place at the right time. He has a great touch. Leadership is a basic requirement at clubs like Bochum – VfL traditionally has a lot of strong characters in the team, a really varied group. Young, old, national and international. Thomas does a brilliant job of managing this team. He doesn't let anybody fall by the wayside but he still applies performance principles. It's very pleasant working with him day-to-day.

Against this background, is it no coincidence that both the head coach Thomas Reis as well as the sporting director Sebastian Schindzielorz used to play for VfL?

Kaenzig: It would be unfair to everybody who didn't have that. For example, Robin Dutt (predecessor to Thomas Reis, ed.) did an outstanding job. Of course, it was an advantage for Thomas and Sebastian in having that trust when they started. But I'm sure they would have been successful elsewhere.

Staying up is definitely the main target. If that happens, what are the medium-term ambitions for a club like VfL Bochum 1848?

Kaenzig: If we stay up then it's a huge success for everybody involved. And then it will become even tougher. We are aware of that. You are generally well established in the third Bundesliga season – look at Union Berlin. We want to close the gap to the clubs above us quicker than it built up in our eleven years in the second division. That is definitely possible at Bochum even if it is a big challenge.




The Ruhr Valley has two beacons in Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04. Where do VfL fit in?

Kaenzig: We are in no way an alternative product. Our football should remain a popular sport while for others it is part of an entertainment industry. That's not a criticism but it is just a matter of course. We know where we belong – and we want to remain in this niche. Anything else would not be credible or authentic.

While VfL are fighting to stay up, the Werkself want to qualify for Europe. What's your assessment of the season so far for your former club and how far do you think the team under head coach Gerardo Seoane can go?

Kaenzig: Leverkusen are a top team with their squad, extremely interesting transfer policy and coach. In addition, there is the necessary continuity at the club and calm environment. The potential is there to realise their ambitious targets sooner or later. I'm convinced of that. For me, Leverkusen can and must be the third force in German football.

Seoane is a fellow countrymen of yours. Have you followed his career? Does he have what it takes to be a successful in the Bundesliga as Lucien Favre or Urs Fischer?

Kaenzig: Gerardo Seoane was an excellent choice even if his coaching career has only just begun. He is one of the best coaches in the whole of Europe and not only has great ability to communicate but he is also on a par with the best in the game in terms of tactics. Bayer 04 are really well off with him.


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