July 24, 2017

Bayer Leverkusen – Questions in need of answering after a terrible season

When Bayer 04 Leverkusen head of business Michael Schade told reporters after MatchDay 33 loss against Köln that coach Tayfun Korkut was not going to be kept around at the club after his contract expires at the end of the season, he managed to put the crown on top of a dreadful season for Die Werkself. Sporting Director Rudi Völler and the rest of the staff were taken by surprise, as Korkut hadn’t been informed about the decision and it seemed like the rest of the people in charge had agreed upon to confirm that news story at the end of the season.

At the start of the 2016/2017 campaign Roger Schmidt and Völler were looking for Champions League qualification and maybe even an attack on the top two in the table if things were going really well. At that point Schmidt was considered to be one of the most innovative and exciting coaches in German football. Now, it seems like the officials at the club aren’t even willing to talk to one another on a day to day basis.

High octane pressing football has shown to tire out teams in the long run and after almost three years at the club the results started to go into the wrong direction for Schmidt and his team. A disastrous 6-2 loss against Borussia Dortmund left the board  feeling that it had to change things up before Bayer’s season might slip away from them. At that point the team had lost 11 out of 23 matches, but was only 5 points away from sixth place which could have potentially sweetened a dreadful season somewhat with Europa League football to look forward to in 2017/18.

Pressing the panic button – Tayfun Korkut arrives

A team not responding to its coach anymore needs a new lease of life,  That leaves officials at any given club with one very important question to answer though — who could potentially get the team to perform better under the current circumstances? The men around Völler thought long and hard and the best candidate they could get their hands on was Tayfun Korkut.

Not to be too harsh, but Korkut’s record before he joined Leverkusen wasn’t necessarily what most people would consider brilliant. The former Turkey international left Kaiserslautern in relegation trouble after he was hired for the 2016/17 season. Before that Korkut was in charge of Hannover for one and a half seasons, producing mixed results at best.

Putting a man with such a resume in charge is a gamble, to say the least. The fact that the board only gave him a contract until the end of the season speaks volumes about the confidence they were willing to put into the 43-year-old, who had been an assistant coach with the Turkey’s national team before his time at Hannover. A record of only one win, four draws and five losses from ten matches during Korkut’s short-lived time at the club left most fans and maybe even some the officials at the BayArena asking themselves if Roger Schmidt could have produced similar or even better results if he had been kept around at the club.

It may have been the case that Korkut was among the better candidates around that were willing to take the job at the given point. However, surely an internal solution should have been thought off before handing off an underperforming squad to a man who has a troubling record as a head coach.

Questions to be asked of the leadership

On paper the team looked like a shoe in for a European competition at the start of the season. The fact that Champions League football had become a regular occurrence of late and the club had managed to pull off two decent signings in Julian Baumgartlinger and Kevin Volland were cause for optimism at the start of the season. Despite many rumours, the club was even able to keep their top scorer Chicharito around for another season. Additionally Völler and the backroom staff decided against selling Ömer Toprak to Borussia Dortmund and kept their best defender around for another season as well.

In hindsight several of the problems that have kept bothering Bayer throughout the entire season came as a surprise to most the people in charge at the club, given that their squad planning seemingly went well during the summer. However, the somewhat dire Hinrunde could have given reason to think that the team needed more strength in depth. Völler didn’t react.

When it came apparent that Schmidt’s influence on the team was waning the officials reacted in the worst way possible and hired a man who couldn’t get the team out of its misery never mind getting them towards the European finish the club was aiming for.

Changing times at the club

Given the latest trends there are several changes to be made at the club. However, the man in charge, Michael Schade, and sporting director Rudi Völler are going to stay at the club despite the horrific results this season.

The squad in itself is going to change drastically due to the lack of European football. Several players may be on their way out. Most notably Hakan Calhanoglou, Chicharito, Karim Bellarabi and Kevin Kampl are all going to be sold if the right offer arrives according to Bild.

It’s already been confirmed that Ömer Toprak is going to join Borussia Dortmund next season. Additionally the long serving striker Stefan Kiessling might decide to retire at the end of the season due to his many injury plagues. As things stand Julian Brandt’s future at the club is up in the air. The midfielder has already stated that he’s unlikely to join Bayern, because he wants playing time ahead of the 2018 World Cup, however, there’s still a chance that a Champions League side willing to give the youngster playing time might be able to sign him.

The way things currently look Die Werkself are transitioning from a club fighting for Champions League football every season to a team that at best could compete for a Europa League finish. To accomplish just that it is going to be important the officials at the club find better answers to pressing questions next season than they have done of late. Both Völler and Schade need their next coaching choice and their transfers this summer to work out. If they don’t, these two men might be on their way out looking for new employment rather sooner than later.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball and on the @AufstiegPod.

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