Alonso finally lifted the Bayer 'Neverkusen' Bundesliga curse

15 Apr 2024

Bayer Leverkusen, a club with a rich history of exciting young talent and attacking football, finally exorcised the demons of their past and secured their first-ever Bundesliga title under the guidance of manager Xabi Alonso. For decades, they were known as the "Neverkusen," a cruel nickname highlighting their constant heartbreak of finishing runners-up in the league a staggering five times.

In this article, we will examine Bayer Leverkusen transformation from perennial bridesmaids to champions.

A History of Near Misses

The Bundesliga has witnessed 13 different champions since its inception in 1963. Powerhouse Bayern Munich reigns supreme with a record 32 titles, while other clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen have enjoyed multiple victories. Bayer Leverkusen, however, remained on the outside looking in, despite being a constant contender. Their five runner-up finishes – the most of any club without a title – earned them the infamous "Neverkusen" moniker. This aptly captured their agonizing proximity to glory, year after year.

The "Neverkusen" Curse

Leverkusen celebrate Bundesliga title after win vs. Werder Bremen

Beyond the Bundesliga, Leverkusen enjoyed success in Europe with their attacking style and talented youngsters. However, within Germany, their inability to claim the top prize despite consistent challenges earned them the nickname "Bayer Vizekusen," which translates to "second-queen" or "neverkusen" in English. This moniker embodied the emotional frustration that permeated the club and its supporters.

The 2001-02 season exemplified Leverkusen's misfortune. Led by a star-studded squad featuring Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville, and Lucio, they came tantalizingly close to a historic treble. However, their quest ended in heartbreak with runner-up finishes in the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, and Champions League. This particularly agonizing run cemented their status as the "Neverkusen."

Following a string of near misses and a lengthy silverware drought (their last major trophy being the 1992-93 DFB Pokal), Bayer Leverkusen entered the 2023-24 season under a new era. Xabi Alonso, a decorated player with an impressive trophy cabinet, took the helm. His experience as a serial winner, boasting two Champions League titles and a Bundesliga trophy amongst others, instilled hope in the club faithful.

Leverkusen's previous season under Alonso, where they rose from second-bottom to sixth and qualified for the Europa League, had already created a sense of optimism surrounding the BayArena. The new season, however, saw them surpass all expectations. Under Alonso's guidance, they not only challenged Bayern Munich's dominance but ultimately dethroned them. Their relentless pursuit of victory saw them break Bayern's long-standing Bundesliga record along the way.

A New Chapter for Leverkusen

By securing the Bundesliga title with five games to spare, Bayer Leverkusen not only etched their name in history but also ended Bayern Munich's 11-year reign of dominance. This historic victory signified the culmination of years of dedication and near misses. Xabi Alonso's leadership and strategic prowess played a pivotal role in dismantling the "Neverkusen" curse and ushering in a new era for the club.

Bayer Leverkusen's triumph serves as a testament to their resilience and determination. With a talented squad and a proven manager at the helm, they have the potential to build upon this success and establish themselves as a major force in German football for years to come. Whether they can maintain this momentum and create a dynasty remains to be seen, but they have undeniably rewritten their narrative, transforming from the "Neverkusen" to the Bundesliga champions.

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