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9.02.2018Bayer 04

'I'm crossing my fingers for Hertha'

Andreas 'Zecke' Neuendorf wore the Bayer 04 shirt for four years:The then 19-year-old sign for Leverkusen from Reinickendorfer Füchsen in the summer of 1994 before going out on loan to his hometown club Hertha Berlin in 1997 the year after the Werkself finished runners-up. After three years away in the capital the central midfielder returned to Leverkusen for one season before again moving on to the 'Old Lady'. Following a spell at FC Ingolstadt (2007 to 2010) he ended his playing career at Hertha in 2014. Today, 'Zecke', who was given his nickname by the Bayer 04 legend Ulf Kirsten, is 43 today. We've taken the opportunity of his birthday to talk to the Hertha Berlin U17 coach his past and our next opponents in the Bundesliga…
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Zecke, first of all, happy birthday. You made a total of 60 competitive appearances for the Werkself and you scored one goal. What are your memories of your time at Bayer 04?
Zecke Neuendorf: Leverkusen was my first club as a professional and you don't forget something like that. Dragoslav Stepanovic, Erich Ribbeck and Peter Hermann were my coaches back then. Looking back, I really felt at home at Bayer 04 and I got to know some great people who I still value very much today – such as Reiner Calmund, Rudi Völler, Ulf Kirsten and Hans-Peter Lehnhoff. From a footballing point of view, it was a rather mixed bag. Particularly when Christoph Daum took over as the new coach for the 1996/97 season: I fell out with him because I expressed my dissatisfaction with decisions he made. But I'm a direct sort of bloke who says what he thinks – and, at the age of 20, I was possibly a bit less experienced than I am today. (he laughs) Anyway,  the coach didn't want me any more and I went out on loan to Hertha. So it wasn't really very nice story  for either side…

Your return three years later didn't go much better and you finally returned to your place of birth. Are you still in contact with team-mates from your time at Leverkusen?
Neuendorf: I met up again with Reiner Calmund recently. I've a lot to thank him for and he is simply one of those people who fascinates others and never forgets where he's come from. The same applies to Rudi Völler. It's always great to see former team-mates again in the Veterans team. Or just call them up when I'm in the area – but that doesn't happen very often in connection with my work. To be honest, I never really kept in touch. But the good thing about sport is whenever you meet again you always feel like you just met each other yesterday.  A couple of years ago, Christoph Daum and I settled our differences and made our peace. (he laughs)

How closely do you follow events at Bayer 04?
Neuendorf: Of course, you know what's happening – on Tuesday I was backing Leverkusen in the Cup game against Bremen. But I've never made a secret that Hertha  is now 100 per cent my club. There's a lot of good work going on at Leverkusen and I like Heiko Herrlich because he's very genuine, doesn't hide anything and sticks to his principles. For example with the dive at Mönchengladbach. There are other coaches who would have maintained years later that they were knocked over. He's a good bloke and I like people like that. I think we'd get on if we got to know each other…

Let's move on to tomorrow's game between Bayer 04 and Hertha Berlin. What results are you looking for? Will you be at the match?
Neuendorf: No, I'm in Kiel with my U 17 side so unfortunately I won't be able to go to the game but I'll cross my fingers from afar for Hertha at Leverkusen.  It will be a really tough challenge but I hope they can give Leverkusen a run for their money and pick up at least a point. Everything needs to go right on Saturday for that to happen. I do hope Bayer end up in second place and win the Cup but I'll gladly see Hertha pick up a third draw in succession – obviously, I'd prefer all three points.

Thanks to the sixth-place finish last season the Berliners qualified for the Europa League for the second time in succession. Now they are eleventh in the table with 27 points from 21 games. How will Hertha do this season?
Neuendorf: The whole club has been through massive changes over the past three years. After promotion and relegation in the previous year, 2015 saw the arrival of Pal Dardai as coach and he gave the team a new direction. He said at the time, given the policy of reducing debt, that he would bring players from in and around Berlin through to the first team. From my point of view, he's doing a brilliant job: In spite of limited resources, the club has qualified for Europe for the past two seasons. And there are a lot more players from Berlin in the squad. Under him, nine to ten players have made it from the club's youth teams and they have had time on the pitch with the pros such as a Maximilian Mittelstädt or a Jordan Torunarigha. And a couple more will soon make it from our strongest age group born in 99. In addition, there players like Marvin Plattenhardt and Davie Selke who have a bit more experience and have learned to stand on their own two feet. We've got a very young team – it's obvious we can't win every game and we can't afford to start dreaming. But if we carry on working as we are then we'll have a really strong team in two years. Just like Bayer Leverkusen now.

Finally. Hertha often appear to be (un)intentionally provocative and audacious in their media output. Is that a way of making the 'Old Lady' sexy?
Neuendorf: Well, I'm sure that's not meant to be insulting. At some point, clubs have to ask themselves what they stand for. While other sports clubs from Berlin have won one title after the next, Hertha have found it difficult to make headway over recent decades. Whichever city you go to, everybody just raves about Berlin and Berlin is the centre and source of many great stories. Perhaps, we've let ourselves be distracted by that for too long and become somewhat arrogant. We all need to get off our high horses and stop being 'just Hertha'. We need to appeal to the city and the people who live here and become Hertha from Berlin again. Yes, and the Berlin character is er audacious, relaxed and cheeky. (he laughs)

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