22.05.2024Europa League

Placente ahead of Europa League final: "Of course I'll be there in my heart!"

Ahead of the UEFA Europa League final against Atalanta, Diego Placente spoke to about the match in Dublin and also looked ahead to the second final this week in the DFB Pokal in Berlin on Saturday evening against 1. FC Kaiserslautern. The Argentinian, who is now the Albiceleste's youth coach, played for the Black & Reds in the 2001/02 UEFA Champions League, the Werkself's last European final to date.

Diego, how are you doing in these exciting days for Bayer 04? How did you experience the Bundersliga title race?

Placente: I wrote to Exequiel Palacios straight away and told him that he and his teammates made me and all the Leverkusen fans feel very relieved when it was finally over. (laughs) There were many, many years where Bayer 04 had a very good squad and were often close to winning the championship, but in the end it never quite worked out. This season was different. I went to bed very happy that day.

You were also close to winning the German championship with Bayer 04 more than 20 years ago...

Placente: Yes, unfortunately it never quite worked out back then. We were often teased at away games by the opposing fans singing that we would never become German champions. Fortunately, that will never happen again. We lacked a bit of that final punch towards the end of the campaign. But it was never in doubt this season, the title is more than deserved.

Exequiel Palacios with his World Cup winner's medal
A worthy "successor": Exequiel Palacios, pictured here with his 2022 World Cup medal, is the third Argentinian to join Bayer 04 after Diego Placente and Lucas Alario - and the first Argentine German champion from Leverkusen.

There could be two more trophies this season. The week begins with the first of two cup finals on Wednesday evening in Dublin in the Europa League against Atalanta. What do you think of the Werkself's chances in this clash?

Placente: Atalanta are a very strong side physically, so it won't be easy. For me it's a 50:50 game, both can win. But of course my heart is with Leverkusen and I'll be cheering them on!

Three days later, the action continues with the DFB Pokal final against 1. FC Kaiserslautern in Berlin. It could be the crowning glory of what has already been a historic season...

Placente: The team have worked hard for this chance throughout the season. They have a lot of confidence, especially after winning the league. This title has been liberating, but they will by no means rest on their laurels. That's not their mentality. 

Do you see any similarities between the team from the 2001/02 season and the current side?

Placente: Above all, it's these very special characters in the team; such an extraordinary season can only be achieved with mentally strong players. The playing styles of the two teams, on the other hand, are rather different, as are the starting positions: back then, we were the underdogs in pretty much every game and that's how we went into them, especially in the Champions League against the really big teams in Europe. The Leverkusen of today, no matter who they're up against, implement their own style and pay little attention to their opponents.

Diego Placente tussles with Luis Figo
Diego Placente in the 2001/02 Champions League final in a tussle with Real Madrid's Luis Figo.

What message would you like to send to Bayer 04 fans at the end of this historic season?

Placente: I'd like to congratulate all the fans on winning the Bundesliga, you deserve it so much! Many, many people here in Argentina also support Leverkusen, they love watching the team's football. I'm proud of the players, the coaches, the club management and the fans - you've all done a terrific job so far! I hope and believe that you will carry on having similar success.

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