In the first round of the DFB-Pokal, Simon Roles will have a reunion with Alemannia Aachen. It was there that the current sporting director of Bayer Leverkusen established himself in professional football before he joined the Werkself. In an interview with DFB.de, the former Germany international spoke with colleague Tobias Gonscherowski about his time in Aachen and his aims with Leverkusen.
DFB.de:Mr Rolfes, in the DFB-Pokal, Bayer Leverkusen are playing against your old team. How did you react when you heard?
Simon Rolfes: I heard the news on the radio and was obviously really happy. I already met them in the final of the Mittelrhein-Pokal with the women’s team and I actually had hoped that we would perhaps be drawn against them in the DFB-Pokal.
DFB.de: You played for Alemannia Aachen in the 2004/05 season. Can you say in hindsight that your professional career started there?
Rolfes: Absolutely. That time was very important and brought about my breakthrough with the international games in the UEFA-Cup. The Tivoli was sold out a lot. We had an amazing atmosphere, it was a great time. DFB.de: What memories do you have from your time in Aachen?
Rolfes: Very good ones and lots of them. I still live in the Aachen region. I met my wife there and played a great season there. We had a great team spirit within the team. It was very special to play in the UEFA-Cup as a second division side and to beat Lille who were second in the French league at the time.
DFB.de: The Alemannia coach was Dieter Hecking and you had charismatic players like Erik Meijer, Willi Landgraf and Jan Schlaudraff. They can play pretty well, no?
Rolfes: Yeah definitely. Our success wasn’t unfounded. It wasn’t just a good team in a sporting sense but also one with great character. Lots of names were there that are still in football today and we helped each other on the way. DFB.de: It was a big time in Alemannia. They became Pokal finalists and a Europa League team. One year later they were in the Bundesliga.
Rolfes: Friday night games at the Tivoli were crazy and just wonderful. There was always a very special atmosphere in that cramped stadium.
DFB.de: Do you still have contact with some of them?
Rolfes: Very few, but there was a good connection between Alemannia and Bayer Leverkusen, especially in the youth teams. A few of them or former Alemannia guys came to us. One of the famous ones is Kai Havertz, who was born in Alemannia and played there in his youth.
DFB.de: Alemannia Aachen should be just the first hurdle for Bayer Leverkusen on the way to Pokal victory, which Rudi Völler outlined as a target. What significance does the DFB-Pokal hold for you?
Rolfes: A high one. I played in the 2004 final with Werder Bremen against Alemannia Aachen when we won it. In 2009 we lost it with Leverkusen against Werder. The final is always something special – they’re the best moments of your career. That’s why it’s an important competition for us.
DFB.de: Your personal Pokal record is quite something. You were in the final but were also knocked out in the first or second round ten times. How did that happen?
Rolfes: Ten times? In the first round – I think – we were only knocked out once by Dynamo Dresden. The record is now not so bad. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get over the line in the 2009 final. At the end of the day it isn’t about the second or third round or whatever, but to win the whole thing. We want to do that this year.
DFB.de: In the Leverkusen squad you haven’t completed as many transfers as other teams. In terms outgoing players, you’ve just had Julian Brandt leave. You’ve also brought in Kerem Demirbay from Hoffenheim. Is the squad now stronger?
Rolfes: At the end of the day every squad has to change. We’ve strengthened through our changes. Now it’s important that the team find themselves and get going. You can understand a step-back at the beginning of the season, but we are optimistic that this year we will have a very good squad.
DFB.de: What kind of impact will the new signings have?
Rolfes: A good one. They showed their quality and that’s why we got them. I believe that our squad has improved in several positions. Now the team has to help integrate them and develop further.
DFB.de: It’s your first pre-season as sporting director. How have you experienced that whole situation? Rolfes: I know how a training camp goes and it doesn’t surprise me. I now have other tasks and other things that I need to do during a training camp.
DFB.de: How high is the ‘fun-factor’ in your new job?
Rolfes: Very high because you can shape and change a lot. Football is the profession that probably facilitates the most fun out of any and I have the knowhow about having fun. That’s why it’s such a fun job.
DFB.de: You have been away from Aachen since 2005. Would you have thought you’d be so rooted in Bayer Leverkusen.
Rolfes: No of course I never guessed that. At the time it was already known that I felt very at home during my time in Aachen. I was glad that I got an offer from Leverkusen. There were a few Budnesliga clubs who were interested in me, but I had already speculated that Leverkusen was among them. I liked the club, the style of the team and the region. It was totally not on my mind that I would be with Leverkusen for so long and then become sporting director.