Focus: Werkself Stryder – Part One

Posted on July 7, 2011

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We have a new addition to the Bundesliga blogsphere – sorry, I’ve just heard that term used and I think it’s cool – with Bayer Leverkusen fans worldwide contributing to the excellent Werkself Stryder blog.

Ahead of its debut season, I got in touch with the three contributors to find out their thoughts on all things Leverkusen.

Reflecting on last season, you must be very pleased with the league finish?

Monz: Not quite. We could have fought more for the title, and securing a second place finish was on the rocks until the very last match day. The choking and faltering that happens by the end of the season is quite frustrating. For me, there’s nothing else for Bayer to achieve except the 1st spot + title. Anything less than that (especially when we are serious contenders) is disappointing.

Scott: With half the summer break behind us, the fast answer is a sound “absolutely,” although while we were making our way to second there were times that it seemed a disappointing conclusion. Not to sound like FC Bayern, who seem to think they’re somehow earned themselves a guarantee of first place in the league by name alone, there were definitely times last season where too many errors in the pitch translated to lost opportunities: times we could have, and should have taken three points against obviously weaker squads, who instead kept us to a draw or worse. Still, nobody can complain with second, a return to the Champions League and the resolve the Werkself displayed almost consistently across the 2010/11 season.

Vampy: It was surely a roller-coaster ride. I had many moments of to be or not to be and being almost there, once again, was great. However, if we sit along for the rundown then we might feel that we gave away some points without any fight but I just can’t complain, really. It was a fantastic season all-in-all.

Who would you say was player of the year last season?

Monz: No doubt about it, Arturo Vidal – as everyone would attest. The engine that furiously worked the midfield, doesnt give less than a 110%. I would like to erase from my memory his premature performance for Bayern Munich though.

Scott: For on-pitch performance it’s hard to think of anyone other than Arturo Vidal. The man was everywhere, and showed his value to the squad in nearly every appearance. Precisely why we’re now struggling to keep him.

Vampy: Arturo Vidal — he was a monster last season.

Thoughts on Jupp Heynckes leaving and being replaced by Robin Dutt?

Monz: More cynical thoughts than usual, owing to the fact that Heynckes struggled to extend one more year for us, yet in less than a second was signing for Bayern again.

Looking forward to Dutt’s new philosophy and style of coaching, yet I was very skeptical at first considering that he does not have any international experience and we are competing in the Champions League. I’m reserving all expectations for now until I see how we perform against Dortmund and Bayern (whom we play early on in the season).

Scott: Heynckes’ departure left a bit of bad feeling toward the general ease of turnabout in the BL. For the past few seasons coaches have come and gone across the league, not only through firings but also their own desire to seek out more lucrative contracts (how’d that work out for you, Felix?) or higher-profile clubs. It’s a bit absurd that a coach can announce with crucial matches still left to be played that he will soon be leaving to join a side that his current club is in tight competition with, as was the case with Jupp.

We have much to thank him for, but the conspiracy theorists weren’t without a hint of plausibility when they pointed an accusatory finger toward Bayer’s humiliating loss to FCB in the closing weeks of the season. Robin Dutt has a proven ability to lead a squad in the right direction, but this year will certainly be a trial-by-fire. Not even considering that Dutt is making his International coaching debut in the CL, he’s also got exactly one position on the league table he can lead us to be able to say he has improved performance, and that position has remained elusive even to our most seasoned coaches.

Vampy:  It’s not like I was surprised to see Heynckes jumping the ship, especially when the name of the ship happens to be Bayern, but I was disappointed on the manner of his departure. It should have been kept secret until the season was over but the announcement was made midway through the second half of the season; lost the match against Bayern, lost the match against Billy Goats… this and that — and eventually, all that melodrama left a bad taste in mouth. Good riddance (with all due respect) — must say thanks but no thanks.

On the other side, was a bit pessimistic on Dutt even before he had arrived in Leverkusen but the way he has addressed some issues and has approached the things with lot of innovation and the ideas around training, I think he has swept away many of my fears around the team. He makes a good impression for now and truly looking forward to his stewardship at Bayer Leverkusen.

Is there one player in particular you expect to shine next season?

Monz: André Schürrle

Scott: Just one?  I’ve got a good sense that this will be a glorious year for Michael Ballack in terms of going out strong. With all the bumps along the road last year, recurring injury and the sideshow of his National Team captaincy, his form nonetheless bettered as the season went on. He is a player for whom personal excellence has always been a top priority, and I think he’ll go all out to prove he is still world-class and show-up the naysayers, Joachim Löw in particular, who dismissed him as done.

Vampy: It’s going to be Ballack. Just don’t feel that he would end his career at Löw key-note. He’s going to play the season of his life. Looking at how silent he has been since his last rebuttal against DFB (Löw) and the concentration in pre-season training tells he is up to something.

In young players, I have lot of expectations for Bastian Oczipka.

What’s the bare minimum to achieve next year in domestic and European competition? 

Monz: Domestically: the title (which I do not see happening) so a 2nd place finish at least, for the Polka a good run that would at least see us in the final.

European: Knockout stages at the minimum. Quarter or Semi finals at least.

Scott:  Three cups, of course!

Vampy: Second if not first in the league; quarter-final as far as Europe is concerned.

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