Those who follow the Bundesliga have an impression of Leverkusen Coach Roger Schmidt — he is INTENSE. His team plays an intense pressing style, pressuring their opponents backline to get a quick turnover and turn that into a goal. You’ve seen Herr Schmidt, the 49 year-old dark-haired mentor on the sidelines, wound tight. And of course, no Bundesliga fan can forget his refusal to leave the sidelines after a disputed call against BvB last February that led to the winning goal for Thomas Tuchel’s men and a lengthy delay of the match and a three game suspension for Leverkusen’s head man when he refused to leave the sidelines after being ordered to do so by referee Felix Zwayer.
But on Tuesday, we saw a different side of Coach Schmidt. After all, people, even highly paid and highly pressured coaches, aren’t so one-dimensional.
Part of the fun of going to open practices of professional teams is seeing the players in a more relaxed atmosphere, interacting with each other and fans, and showing that though they may be wealthy with elite athletic talents, they are still young men (and in some cases, boys) who like to have fun. And that goes for coaches too.
At Bayer Leverkusen’s afternoon practice Tuesday near their hotel in Orlando, Roger Schmidt displayed a side of himself that the public normally doesn’t see. After practice, he hung around and signed autographs and stood for pictures, especially with very young fans. As he was walking away from the practice area, a few young boys followed him, and one of them, Anthony, a seven year-old from Tampa, was the recipient of Schmidt’s Leverkusen black jacket.
Anthony was overjoyed, and his Mother told me that Anthony didn’t even ask the coach for the jacket but that Schmidt voluntarily gave it to the boy. Really, really cool.
The cynic in us might say, oh, big deal, Schmidt will just go back to the hotel and get another jacket. Yes, that’s right. But it is hardly the point. Sometimes in life the smallest gestures still have great meaning, and I’m sure that Anthony and his family will always remember the day that a bigtime professional coach took a few minutes to show a young boy that he was special. Which is why, if you are a sports fan, you should go see your team at practice, seeing them working hard but clowning around afterwards, see them interact and forget for a moment that they are the highly paid professionals you see on television but instead are humans just like the rest of us.
Florida Cup Notes
Had the pleasure of meeting the DFL’s Susanne Jahrresis of the DFL, who was lovely to chat with and wants to meet to hear the Fanatic’s thoughts on growing support of the Bundelsiga in North America. Also got to meet several other very nice individuals, including Kara Head, who tweets the official @bayer_en account and Pannos (?) from the club’s international relations department.
Also saw Frank, the ultimate Leverkusen fan who has travelled to Orlando from Germany for all three Florida Cups. A good guy and the kind of fan every club needs. Met a couple who were family friends of Leverkusen’s Lukas Boeder, who travelled from Essen to support the young midfielder. And of course, as always, Die Werkself players were generous with fans for autographs and pictures. Chicharito is always pleasant even though he can’t take two steps without attracting a crowd, and finally I got a selfie with him, so I can brag to all my Mexican friends. German international Bernd Leno is always willing to take time with fans. It is rather hard to believe that Leno, still only 24, has already made 241 appearance for Die Werkself in all competitions
Also had a chance to congratulate Julian Baumgartlinger, who just welcomed a new addition to his family on Saturday before flying to Orlando and later met two-time Copa America champion Charles Aranguiz.
What is it with broken hands at Leverkusen? Chicharito and Kevin Volland both suffered a broken hand early in the Hinrunde. And when I asked about the whereabouts of club executive Michael Schade, who is usually front and center at the Florida Cup, I was informed that he too broke his hand and is in Germany.
But there is some good news on the injury front to report. Karim Bellarabi participated in the full drills and scrimmage Tuesday. If you recall, Leverkusen’s fortunes dimmed when the German international suffered an early season injury that kept him out of the greater portion of the Hinrunde, so Werkself fans will be glad that he should be ready for the restart of the season when Leverkusen host Hertha Berlin in the early Sunday match on January 22.
And don’t forget, Roger Schmidt’s boys will play Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro Wednesday night at the ESPN Complex in Orlando at 700 pm, while the Wolfsburg youth will entertain their entourage of travelling fans Thursday night at the same venue against another Brazilian team, SC Bahia….same time and location. The ESPN soccer stadium is cozy and nice, treat yourself and see your favorites up close. For those who can’t be at the stadium, both matches will be streamed live on Fox Soccer 2 Go