15.08.2023Bayer 04

Carro: 'We have to keep our foot on the gas'

Fernando Carro has led Bayer 04 as chairman of the board since 2018. The contract extension with head coach Xabi Alonso represents a coup for the 59-year-old Spaniard together with the sporting managing director Simon Rolfes. In an interview for the Werkself Yearbook coming out on Friday, Fernando Carro explains how he has rebuilt the club away from the coaching appointment, talks about professionalism, his understanding of leadership quality and he speaks about sporting political issues openly as usual.
Fernando Carro
Fernando Carro

The football media are as one: Bayer 04 have an incredibly good squad and perhaps the best in recent years. How do you see this premature praise?

Carro: Once bitten, twice shy. We said last year: We have a great squad, we’ve let nobody go and everything is top. And then we experienced a very difficult season that we were able to restructure from a contractual point of view with great effort and some luck. But yes, we are happy with the players we’ve brought in. Of course, we would have preferred to hold onto Moussa Diaby but we also have our budgets, our overall circumstances that we work too. So we have to sell players like that now and again. The squad looks good on paper and there could still be minor changes made. However, it is still the case that truth only appears when the competitions start.

How do you get involved in this process of squad planning?

Carro: Discussions are held at different levels. We have a fundamental squad debate that involves the coach Xabi Alonso, sporting managing director Simon Rolfes and myself dealing with the questions of which positions we need to strengthen and which character types we are looking for. And for every position there are obviously five or six alternatives suggested by the scouting team under Kim Falkenberg. I primarily trust Simon, in tandem with the coach, to produce a ranking with priorities and basic financial information. Although I always have my own opinion I don't get involved in sporting assessments. I work with Simon in achieving the transfer under the given framework agreed with the shareholders committee chairman Werner Wenning. We have established a smooth functioning distribution of roles. It worked out really well in the summer. Up to now, we've brought in the players we wanted. They are all our number one candidates. It's not often it works out like that.

The truth is on the pitch. Also in the dressing room. With Thomas Eichin as the new head of football Bayer 04 have established a new approach around the team.

Carro: We have made a number of changes. Simon moved up to sporting managing director when Rudi Völler stepped down in the summer of 2022 and he has taken on another role. At the same time, his previous post of sporting director was not filled although he did take a look at it first: Where should he be more involved? What does he need? Which role did he have to fill now? On the one hand, Kim Falkenberg has taken over more responsibility with squad planning and Thomas Eichin has also arrived on top of that. The tasks and processes with the first team squad have become more varied and more complex in recent years – there is a bigger number of personnel and there is greater need for agreement in all the different areas. Thomas Eichin has shown in the first few weeks that he is very valuable including with his experience as a former Bundesliga player and former director at Werder Bremen. His approach and expertise are good for us, the team and to give Simon space to deal with all the issues that demand a day-to-day presence. It's more about an inner conviction that you need these changes to become even better.

What role does the coach play here?

Carro: Xabi knows from his career what he has to demand from each individual player in terms of professionalism and mentality. It's a blessing to have such an experienced and successful former player at the club who knows exactly what the squad and what the dressing room need. We've tried out this combination over the last six months and are working on fine tuning it. It's a very good arrangement where everybody can bring forward their strengths. We are very well set up both on and off the pitch.


Fernando Carro with Simon Rolfes and Xabi Alonso

When was the moment that it became clear a more fundamental approach was needed in this area?

Carro: That really difficult phase of the start of the season obviously forced us to be even stronger in our analysis, looking harder at what we have to change so that it doesn't happen again and instead increases the probability of being successful on the pitch. Perhaps experience was missing. We are well known for having lots of young players with lots of potential. But, at times, there was a lack of balance in discipline, professionalism, experience in the squad and around it. That is often only visible when the results don't go right.

Is Bayer 04 becoming more grown up in a certain way?

Carro: I'd say: We are more experienced, more professional more disciplined. That's why we have also brought in several established and mature players around the age of 30. We don't want to lose the youthful dynamic. But we want to add to what we have already. Young, great players who have great potential with the addition of a certain experience and professionalism in the team - that is essential.

And you also have plenty of experience now in football management.

Carro: I've now been in the business for five years and have represented Bayer 04 and German football for nearly four years at UEFA and the EuropeanC lub Association ECA. My sense of responsibility in sports politics is very strong at home and abroad. I'm used to it and I like accepting responsibility. In a few weeks time, I will also stand for the next period of office on the ECA board and try to contribute my management experience – the football business still needs to pick up in my opinion.

Do you feel that your CV as a successful manager is valued more internationally than perhaps it is here?

Carro: It's not primarily that much about me. Bayer 04 has a completely different standing internationally than on the national stage. We are clearly a German top four club and that’s also evident in the worldwide Bundesliga viewing figures. I'm quite disconcerted by many discussion here. This calling on former successes is extensive. Of course, there are many clubs here who are incredibly established independent of which leak therein. But internationally there are many of the so-called big clubs that are unknown. At the moment it is mainly Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer 04, RB Leipzig – and most recently Eintracht Frankfurt has come in. They are the big five in the Bundesliga that represent German football on the European management level.

What do your international colleagues think of German football?

Carro: We are always something special. We stand out with the 50+1 rule. I say that without any bias. In the end, I think we are much more complicated than many others in comparison. Of course, there is a different perception of football in Germany compared with other countries.

It sounds as though you regret certain German debates.

Carro: My opinion is well known: 50+1 does not make any sense these days. At the same time we do not have any advantage by this rule being lifted, quite the contrary. But the debate should not just be about your own club. I'm convinced that German football could develop even stronger if we got rid of this rule. For example, we would have guaranteed bigger and wider competition. Every club could decide on the involvement of an investor and I am also convinced that that would not automatically lead to an increase in ticket prices. But that's a pointless debate. The majority in Germany don't want that at the moment. I realise that and I work professionally with this situation. Regardless of this specific 50+1 subject, I think that German football should get moving and be more courageous if we don't want to get left behind.

Is this the moment where the internationally focussed Spaniard Fernando Carro despairs about the German entity?

Carro: No, I accept it as is. I won't lose any sleep. It's not bad to reject things. I think the approach is sometimes even worse. As with the subject of investors being involved.

The application by the DFL to permit an investor in the subsidiary failed to get the necessary two thirds majority at the general meeting. Around €2 billion would have gone to the DFL for the marketing of the Bundesliga, primarily abroad. The clubs would have had around €300 million of that at their disposal. But the rejection was too strong.

Carro: The fact that you, as a member of the committee, first agrees unanimously to the motion and then shoot it down is unbelievable. There was a lot of egoistic behaviour. Everybody is just looking at their own books and saying:' I'm not getting enough' and then rejecting everything. Much more important than the constant discussion about distribution would be a debate on how we can bring in more money for everybody.

That's in the inbox for the newly elected DFL leadership around the duo of Dr Marc Lenz and Dr Steffen Merkel who waswere surprisingly elected.

Carro: I think first of all it's a pity that we are not in the position at the end of having a experienced Bundesliga manager for this position. It's always an advantage if you've been at a club rather than when you are only know the view from the headquarters. Nevertheless, I think Mr Lenz and Mr Merkel are suitable and are definitely outstanding managers who will have my full support.

The big task for the DFL leadership, after the failed question of investors, will now be the award of media rights from 2025. What do you expect to happen?

Carro: It will be crucial to defeat the no single buyer rule. That would be good for the fans as they would then only have to have a subscription. Then there would be a competitive process where one provider would get it all. My expectation is still that we can increase turnover and achieve growth.


Fernando Carro

Your big issue was also strengthening overseas marketing. What's the situation in that area?

Carro: I'm on the supervisory board of the DFL International and I believe that the board are doing a decent job. I'm also expecting growth there. How high it is will have to see but at least it should be in the direction of €200 million and then very quickly more. But we have to show a greater presence as a league abroad.

Recently the BVB director Carsten Cramer openly scoffed at only FC Bayern and Borussia Dortmund being wants to travel aboard to represent German football.

Carro: I was amazed to read that. You should stick to the facts. As Bayer 04 we were in Mexico in May 2022 and in the USA in November and we’ll be away again next summer. But what is right: We need a joint strategy to be able to position the Bundesliga in global competition better in the future.

What would a strategy like that look like?

Carro: That primarily requires the strengthening of marketing, local offices, tours, clever and sustainable PR measures, a media presence. But those are all subjects that have to be financed and which we wanted to do with the funds from the investor deal. With money that's not there now. We have to consider what we can achieve with our own available means and, above all, achieve a result. Then the question now is if the point has been reached where you can't achieve anything more internationally and the other leagues overtake you – the Italian or French for example. Financial competition with the Premier League will have to be written off anyway over the next few years. That's a lost cause.

Where do you think Bayer 04 stands overall?

Carro: We have achieved a lot in terms of income in the area of sponsorship but also with ticketing. That's why we've been able to make the season cards relatively more affordable. The issue of fans is important was and the development in the areas of digital reach and followers is very satisfying. We are number three nationally – and internationally now nearing the top 20. In addition, we are planning important infrastructure projects with the house of talents, with a modern performance centre, whose implementation takes time and strength to achieve in Germany due to the bureaucracy. Digitalisation is everywhere and has a high priority if you want to meet modern expectations. So, we have an incredibly thick bundle of issues that we can work on successfully as a club. But, of course, there is always room to grow upwards. There is no question of resting, we have to keep our foot on the gas.

This development again and again requires personnel changes.

Carro: Definitely. Football is a people business. I've always tried to bring in top people everywhere. As exactly as the quality of the players and a coach are important the quality of employees and management in the whole club is crucial. Here too at Bayer 04 we have tried over recent years to increase or drive forward the level of the management and the development of the organisation.

What do you identify as leadership quality?

Carro: When I flew to Spain incognito with Simon Rolfes to meet Xabi, Simon covered the footballing side and I looked at the subject of leadership. Leadership in the sense: How he thinks, what makes him tick, what his idea of teamwork is? A coach has 30 players and staff so that surround forty people report to him. An incredible number. That doesn't really happen in the real world of business and there are significantly smaller leadership groups. Leadership is a core theme. Here it's about involving people and taking up their ideas – and to recognise when others in certain areas can be even better than you are yourself. Strong leadership means gathering strong people around you.

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