GGFN Advent Calendar | Day 22 – The Tragic Becoming of Bayer Neverkusen

Welcome back to the Get German Football News advent calendar. As the countdown to Christmas continues, so does our festive fun on day twenty-two, as we celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the fabled Bayer Neverkusen campaign.

The 2001/02 campaign appeared to be a historic one for Bayer Leverkusen. With a side consisting of world-class players all over the pitch, Die Werkself could boast the likes of Lúcio, Zé Roberto, and Michael Ballack, as well as a young Dimitar Berbatov on the bench.

With such a star-studded side, by the end of matchday 30, Leverkusen found themselves in a position where they could become the first German side to claim the treble. Five points clear of Borussia Dortmund with four games remaining, a DFB-Pokal final against Schalke was lined up before their Champions League final at Hampden Park, where they were due to face Real Madrid.

However, if you do not know, their dreams quite quickly became their worst nightmare. A draw and two defeats in their next three league games saw Leverkusen relinquish top spot to Dortmund, who would hold their nerve on the final day to lift the Meisterschale, leaving the Werkself heartbroken. For a side that were seemingly running away in pole position, their collapse at the end of the season stunned the entire football world.

Regardless, a week later, they had the opportunity to redeem themselves in the DFB-Pokal final against Schalke. Berbatov would give Leverkusen the lead, but four Schalke goals without a reply until the 89th minute saw Die Königsblauen claim their fourth Pokal title, once again leaving Leverkusen’s dream shattered.

Nevertheless, if they were going to win one, they may as well have won Europe’s greatest prize, the Champions League. An early Raúl goal threatened to question the Werkself’s mentality after recent weeks, but Lúcio drew the game level. However, just before halftime, Zinedine Zidane restored Los Blancos’ advantage.

For Klaus Toppmöller’s side, it was a final that could have easily seen them come out victorious if it were not for the goalkeeping heroics of then-20-year-old Iker Casillas, who came off the bench to snub Leverkusen on multiple occasions. But ultimately, three trophies that seemed almost certain to come their way slipped through their grasp, and the moniker of Bayer Neverkusen still haunts them to this day.

Nonetheless, with Xabi Alonso turning the fortunes of the club around, heading into the winter break, they are sitting on 42 points, three more than their 2001/02 season. Three points that would have seen them win the Meisterschale then – could they finally do so now?

GGFN | Will Shopland

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