With Chicharito signing in a league unfamiliar to many Mexican fans, we thought having someone come in and catch us up on Bayer Leverkusen would be appropriate. We were able to grab Edgar Avalos from the ever growing @Bayer04LevMX Twitter account. He gives us a glimpse into how he became a Bayer fan and a history lesson on Chicharito’s new club. If you have any questions for him, feel free to ask in the comments below.
If you look into a map of Germany, you would have a hard time finding Leverkusen on it. Unless the map is very detailed, you won’t find it listed and I doubt most non-football fan Germans can find it either. It barely scraps into the top 50 of the most populous cities in Germany (160,000 people) and doesn’t have a historical past, old churches or castles. In a country where there are cities more than a thousand years old, Leverkusen is still fifteen years short of celebrating its first century as a city. And yet, this small city has become one of the top searches in Google in the last hours by fans of Mexican football, as Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has signed for the team of the city, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, also known to its fans by the nickname of “Die Werkself” (roughly translated as “the factory team”).
How does a city so small and unremarkable have a team that has been playing for 35 seasons uninterrupted in the first division of Germany and how does a guy born and raised in Mexico City, with a passion for Chivas since his day of birth, become a fan of such a team? Both questions have a common answer: the pharmaceutical company Bayer. Bayer, which you may know because they first commercialized Aspirin, have its headquarters in the city of Leverkusen. They employ around 30,000 employees there and it was the employees that founded the sports club Bayer Leverkusen in 1904, nowadays with football, athletics and basketball among its’ departments. It is also the company that my mother worked at for the better part of four decades. Her career lead us to live there for a period in the late 80’s, and to be able to visit many times, during the following decade. It is while being in Leverkusen that I fell in love with the city and its football team.
The football team spent the first 70 years of its life in lower level mediocrity, until a stroke of luck brought the team up to the Bundesliga in 1979. The first years were difficult until the mid 1980s, when Bayer realized having a team in the league could be good advertising. The pharmaceutical giant started giving more money to the club, culminating with the dramatic final of the UEFA Cup against Espanyol in 1988, which Bayer went on to win in penalties, after losing the first leg in Barcelona 3-0.
That is one of the only two trophies the club has won, the other being the Pokal Cup (the German Cup) in 1993. The Bundesliga title has proven elusive, as Leverkusen have finished as runner-up six different times. The team, however, has been a constant in European football during the last couple of decades, and it is what is expected every season: European qualification, Champions League ideally. The title is also something the fans dream of, but taking it away from Bayern seems something idealistic at best at the moment.
In Germany, there is a regulation stating that 50+1 percent of the club must be owned by its members and not private companies, Bayer is one of two teams officially owned by a private company, the other being Wolfsburg. Bayer,the parent company, does not tend to invest silly money on the team. They give money to help run the day-to-day operations and every now and then provide some money for transfers, but not as much as many people think. The record transfer fee paid for a player is the 15 million euros the club paid for Hakan Calhanoglu last year. Leverkusen prides itself on scouting young, promising players and developing them into stars. This has happened with players like Michael Ballack, Ze Roberto, Lucio, Dimitar Berbatov, Jorginho or Arturo Vidal, all arriving young and relatively unknown and leaving the club as big time stars. Currently, the club has one of the youngest squads in the Bundesliga, with only Kiessling being older than 30 years old in the ideal starting eleven.
This is where Chicharito comes in. Initially, it will be difficult for him to replace Kiessling in the starting lineup, as Stefan is an integral part of the team and a proven goal scorer (all-time second for the club), but I think he has all the weapons to eventually become the first-choice striker. If he is patient (and we know he is), by the second half of the season or, at the latest, the start of the next one, he will be the first choice. Roger Schmidt is one of the most exciting up-and-coming managers in Europe, and the club has put all the faith in him, giving him resources and time. This season should be one to build upon his ideas, and if all goes to plan, then maybe the next one will be the one where Leverkusen will challenge for the title.
Finally, it’s got to be said that Leverkusen are not very good at promoting their brand. The English section of the website is not as up to date as the German one, and they don’t have a twitter account in English. The Shop section of the website is in English and would be your best bet to get a Chicharito kit. The team also has a reputation in Germany of not having many fans. And though this is a constant source of mockery, it is not far from the truth when compared to its neighbors and other Bundesliga powerhouses. The blessing of being stuck between Cologne and Düsseldorf is also a curse, as these two cities have each one football team with a big followings. Fortuna Düsseldorf, is one of the main rivals, though the team has been stuck in the lower leagues for the best time of the last two decades, so the rivalry has cooled down. That is not the case with 1 F.C. Köln, the three-time Bundesliga champions that have also fallen on hard times lately, but boast a massive social mass, and happen to have a strong dislike of their smaller but recently more successful neighbors. It is by far the biggest rivalry of Leverkusen and although sometimes dismissed by the Kölner as not as important, they become fairly upset whenever they lose against Leverkusen (which, let’s face it, has become the norm). If Chicharito scores in the Derby against them, he would be wise to not wander around Cologne for a while.