Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonas Boldt discusses his plans to break into Europe’s elite
Jonas Boldt will be glued to the television this Saturday for the Champions League final. Though he’ll be watching to see if his countryman Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool side can keep Real Madrid from winning a third consecutive title, he’ll also be evaluating the competition with the hope that one day his Bayer Leverkusen team can break into the Champions League elite.
Just 36 years old, Bayer Leverkusen’s youthful technical director has built a reputation as one of the best recruiters and scouts in European football. His greatest hits include bringing a 20-year old Arturo Vidal to the Bundesliga in 2007 and resurrecting the career of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the summer of 2015, when he signed the Mexican international and a 26 goal renaissance followed.
Both Vidal and Chicharito have since moved on from Leverkusen, as has most of the top tier talent that has passed through the club since Boldt joined as a scout in 2007. The hard truth for any European club outside of the continent’s biggest spenders is that their players will move on more often than not. But Boldt wants to build something more powerful than a farm team in Leverkusen.
“Say it openly: We want to win something, even if it’s sometimes impossible,” he tells Eight by Eight. “But you know in sports you have to believe. And that’s also why some players are staying, because something happens here, we are getting older one year to one year, the group is good, the club shows more ambition. I don’t want to work to be every year fifth in the Bundesliga.”
The fifth place finish Boldt refers to is Leverkusen’s most recent Bundesliga campaign, when the club came up just three goals short of Dortmund in fourth place. When the final whistle blew in the last game of the season, the Leverkusen players collapsed to the field, crushed to be missing out on Champions League football next season. “I like that the players have been disappointed,” Boldt says, “Because it shows that they are ambitious, that they want to reach it.”
Boldt and Leverkusen will have to make do with the Europa League next season as he aims to break out of the middle of the pack in Germany and into the European elite. It’s another reason why he’s rooting for Jürgen Klopp in the Champions League final tomorrow, admiring the way Klopp has rebuilt Liverpool into a title contender over three seasons.
“Because it is one single game, I have hopes that Liverpool does it because I wish it for Klopp,” he says. Beyond Klopp, Boldt says that he admires Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone, another manager who has crafted a squad using a specific counter-attacking blueprint. Atletico’s recent success and Liverpool’s run to the Champions League final are both the result of meticulous squad building, something Boldt hopes to emulate in Leverkusen.
To do so, Boldt will need to balance letting some of Leverkusen’s talented players go, while retaining as much of the team’s core as possible. On the day we spoke to Boldt, Leverkusen Leverkusen announced the signing of Frankfurt goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, amidst rumors of long-time starting keeper Bernd Leno’s imminent departure for the Premier League. The club also recently extended the contract of Jonathan Tah, a highly rated young German center back until 2023.
For Boldt, the Tah extension is a signal that players are buying into his vision for the club’s future. “Now you see for example, we have a lot of player that continue to renew their contracts. Players like Jonathan Tah, players who would leave this year but they see something is building up in Leverkusen, they are feeling good,” he says.
Key to that vision will be Boldt’s own talents as a scout, and his ability to add solid young players to the group. Most recently, Boldt beat a host of other European clubs to secure the services of the highly sought-after Brazilian teenager Paulinho, who has been hailed as the next Kaka. Add into the mix Leon Bailey, the electric Jamaican (though potentially English, German or Belgian) winger, and a top-caliber squad certainly seems to be brewing in Leverkusen.
The first step, however, will be getting to the Champions League. Boldt is confident that if Leverkusen manage to qualify next season, the team has the talent to go far. “I think once you pass the group stage, anything is possible if you have a bit of luck,” Boldt says.
“But I don’t want to talk about winning the Champions League. Our target is to qualify, and when you build up a team and the young talents are getting older, more and more experienced, something special one day is possible.”