Most German football fans will be familiar with the “Neverkusen” tag that Bayer Leverkusen have carried around with them since the turn of the century.
Runners-up in the Bundesliga four times in six straight seasons, they concluded the last of those second-place finishes in 2002 with losses in both the Champions League and German Cup finals.
The trifecta of disappointments has haunted them ever since.
It will have been with some relief, then, that Leverkusen saw off fourth division side Saarbrücken with a comfortable 3-0 win in the German Cup semifinals last month.
“Every athlete dreams of competing in a final. I’m really up for it and so is the team,” Kerem Demirbay said postgame.
Demirbay’s dream will become a reality on Saturday when the “Werkself” face league champions Bayern Munich in the German Cup final on Saturday. The game represents a massive chance for Leverkusen to defy their standing as the Bundesliga’s perennial bridesmaids and end an almost 30-year wait for silverware.
Defining game for Bosz
This final will be just as much a test for coach Peter Bosz and his trophyless career as it will for his team.
The Dutchman’s unfaltering love for high-tempo, high-pressing football inspired Leverkusen’s 2-1 victory over Bayern back in November. Yet he couldn’t repeat the feat last month as Hansi Flick’s well-oiled machine beat Leverkusen at their own game in a 4-2 victory.
Bosz, having struggled to impose his tactics in his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund, has often been dismissed as a one-trick, attack-obsessed entertainer.
Peter Bosz is yet to win a trophy as a coach
But a German Cup victory on top would prove satisfying vindication. It could also prove Leverkusen’s best opportunity for redemption with a potentially disruptive transfer window looming.
Stars in demand
With recent signings Nadiem Amiri, Kerem Demirbay, Moussa Diaby, and Edmond Tapsoba finding consistent form and a squad boasting depth across the pitch, it’s an exciting time for Leverkusen.
Though they missed out on next season’s Champions League by finishing fifth in the Bundesliga, they are among the favorites to win the Europa League when it resumes in August.
Budding star Kai Havertz could soon be out the door, though Leverkusen have maintained they will not accept a discount in the coronavirus-affected transfer market. A number of top European clubs, including Bayern, are showing interest. A report in May suggested that London-based Chelsea is leading the chase with an €80 million ($90.9 million) bid.
Havertz’s influence on this team cannot be underestimated and Bosz will find it difficult to replicate Leverkusen’s form without the playmaker. Add in a few irresistible offers for other stars and it’s looking like another rebuild soon enough.
Now or Neverkusen
Leverkusen has never won the Bundesliga and last tasted success in the 1993 German Cup final, which, amazingly, also featured Hertha Berlin’s reserve team.
Almost 30 years later, they’re in a great position to lay down a marker for a club that often suffers ridicule for its non-traditional origins and the team’s bad luck when it comes to clutch matches.
Turning the Neverkusen legend into a myth would be a crowning moment for Bosz, especially if he were to prevent the Bavarian giants from winning a second consecutive domestic double.