The last time Bayer Leverkusen beat Bayern in the Bundesliga, Jörg Butt was in goal for the Werkself. The match, played more than six years ago in August 2004, finished 4-1 to Leverkusen – and it is by no means the only positive memory of his six seasons in the Rhneland from 2001 to 2006 cherished by the current FCB keeper. “It was a very successful period, and I recall it with happiness,” said Butt on the eve of returning to his former stamping ground on Saturday, “although the fact we failed to win a trophy still rankles today.”
Jörg’s first season in Leverkusen was the one likely to provoke the most rueful memories, as Bayer finished runners-up in the Bundesliga, DFB Cup and the Champions League. With the exception of 2002-3, the Rhineland side claimed a place in Europe every season, but Butt finally won the first trophy of his long career with Bayern last term.
The keeper still retains good contacts with his former club, “even though most of the players from my time simply aren’t there any more,” the 34-year-old noted. “Simon Rolfes is the only player I speak to regularly, but I have good contacts with some members of the staff.”
Memory lane for Kroos
Jörg also knows Bayer boss Jupp Heynckes well enough, from the last five matches of the 2008-9 campaign, when the veteran coach took the FCB helm on a caretaker basis. “He’s an outstanding coach and an outstanding personality, I saw that even in the short time he was here,” said Butt, “I’m delighted I had the chance of working with him.”
However, the FCB keeper is not going to the BayArena armed with gifts. “We need a result to stay in touch at the top,” he declared. Toni Kroos, Bayern’s second former Bayer man, wholeheartedly agreed. “We need wins,” said the 20-year-old, who made the breakthrough in the Bundesliga while on loan at Leverkusen from January 2009 to June 2010.
“Leverkusen was very important for me and my career,” said Kroos ahead of his first return to the Rhineland in Bayern colours, “the game’s a bit special to me”. Last term, the midfielder contributed nine goals and twelve assists in 33 league appearances for the Werkself, who led the table for a long spell and ultimately finished fourth. “It really helped my confidence, and it’s doing me good now,” he reasoned.
This season, Kroos has appeared in all Bayern’s 18 competitive fixtures, starting 16 of them. With five assists, he shares the status of top provider at FCB with Danijel Pranjic, and has himself scored twice. The man capped 13 times by Germany has filled roles in the centre, to the right and on the left of midfield. “Just playing was what mattered to me,” he said recently.
Two-thirds of the season to go
Kroos and Butt are certain starters on Saturday. “The team we’ve had out recently has done very well,” commented the keeper, although he too is glad to see players coming back from injury. “You always play better when there’s competition for places.”
As the table indicates, there is certainly scope for Bayern to deliver better performances. “Obviously, Dortmund have pulled out an intimidating lead. But on the other hand, we’re only a third of the way into the season,” said Butt, “we can still win the league.” For all his happy memories, the Bayern number one intends to leave Leverkusen on Saturday as a member of the winning team.