Fernando Caro is demanding and ambitious. The club coach wants to win titles with Bayer Leverkusen. Not for every price. But preferably as soon as possible.
Leverkusen – In an interview with dpa, Fernando Caro spoke of ambitious thinking, the transition from Rudi Voeller to Simon Rolfes and the prejudices he faced as a “side-partner” from the business sector.
Since 2018, Caro has been the chief managing director of football club Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, and therefore president of the club.
Mr Caro, about a third of Bundesliga clubs have separated from their coach after the end of the season. At Bayer Leverkusen you have the feeling that the club has finally found a really suitable coach.
Fernando Caro: We are very happy with Gerardo Siwan. He has many of the skills we were looking for. Skills that helped the team a lot, even and especially in difficult stages. His high standards and expectations of utmost professionalism in all areas are in line with mine and will help us become better as an organization as a whole. That’s why I hope he stays with us for a long time and forms an important part of Bayer 04’s future with us.
In contrast, Rudi Fuller says goodbye after more than 20 years in sports leadership positions and moves up to number two. How much will we miss him?
Caro: His absence would change something in the daily routine. However, if we need his advice, he will be there. Rudy has pulled more and more from everyday issues over the past few weeks and months. I prepared it well with insight. He understands that his experience and advice are still important. We may not need them every day, but we can refer to them in critical situations.
What distinguishes his successor, Simon Rolfes, who managed to get acquainted with Fuller for almost four years?
Caro: Simon has irreplaceable experience as an excellent specialist and professional knowledge. He is intelligent and analytical, thinking strategically and farsightedly. He has a talent for transfers and team planning. He also has the heart of Leverkusen and played here for ten years, seven of them as captain. All in all, it fits perfectly with Bayer Leverkusen. We both love working closely together and complement each other well.
In recent decades, the model with its managing director and sporting director has proven itself in the sports sector. First with Fuller alongside Rainer Calmond, then with Jonas Boldt and Rolfes alongside Fuller. Will Bayer appoint another sporting director? Or introduce Stefan Kissling to this area?
Caro: Stefan Kessling plays a different organizational role at the club. Simon has, but also other powerful people on his team. In addition, as CEO, I am ultimately responsible for everything, and therefore I get involved in important sporting and economic events and support Simon. Of course there will be a lot of work for him and us, but we don’t currently see any need for the sporting director role.
Rudi Fuller recently said that he was skeptical of you at first because you were a “side participant.” In the meantime, he called it “a stroke of luck” for the club.
Caro: I know Rudy’s opinion, and I’m so proud of him when he makes it public like this. We worked very closely together and well and complemented each other well. I had no experiences he had. And he didn’t do what I did. So it fit. Overall, though, it always bothered me at first when I came across the cliché that you’re not in a position to lead a club if you’re from the business world. It’s a different world and therefore not easy. But if you have certain skills and personality, you are capable of being a football pioneer.
How did you convince him?
Caro: I did my business as usual and did what I had to do as CEO. He must have noticed that I do not run away from any subject, that I am obsessed with details and always ready to make decisions. Even some that may not be common. I always think of the best for the club.
Some time ago you asked for a rethink of the club and you boldly declared titles as your goal. Even if this doesn’t exist yet, did you feel a change of mindset?
Caro: I believed very much that we could win the Europa League this year. Unfortunately, the match against Cologne did us a lot with one defeat and two injuries between the round of 16 against Bergamo. It’s not all about clumsiness to win the title over and over again. I am more interested in the heightened expectations we have of ourselves. We still have to develop it a little more. If you don’t set yourself ambitious goals, you won’t be able to achieve them. This is my faith.
But that doesn’t mean the third-placed season doesn’t work out in the end, does it?
Caro: Our season with third place, qualification for the Champions League and above all a good second half of the season was satisfying. But as the big clubs in Germany, Dortmund and Leipzig, we and now also Frankfurt have the task of making this league even more exciting. This is why a sense of entitlement is so important to me, and I hold ourselves accountable. I would like to be a hero, yes. But if we can’t do that, I at least wish we’d been able to keep the league exciting for a while longer. Anyway, we should get more than 70 points for that. That means not just playing a good second half of the season with 36 points, but two halves of the season.
You’ve asked the DFL to raise revenue in foreign marketing on several occasions, but did you also know that you have to make prepayments?
Caro: We must urgently and significantly increase the revenue, which is currently swaying at less than 200 million euros, if we are to continue playing in the gala of the major tournaments in Europe. We all have to cooperate together. As clubs with international aspirations, we have to make sure that Donata Hopfen has good arguments when speaking to foreign TV partners. This includes more excitement in the league, successes in European competitions and all the clubs trying to establish themselves in key international markets to give the league more visibility and strength. We recently made a contribution by spending a week in Mexico after the season ended. Preparations are underway for another trip abroad in the fall.
Do you think Bayern can be stopped in the next few years?
Caro: Someone will break Bayern Munich’s streak in the end. I hope that happens as soon as possible. And I hope we are. We are working hard for this.
But success in the cup is more likely?
Karo: Perhaps the look of the cup is more realistic. But we talk a lot about it now. What is even more important is that you work well and seriously, which increases the likelihood of maximizing success.
Rudi Fuller said recently that director Rainer Callmond took him and Bernd Schuster out of folklore in the 1990s. Bayer did not bring ready-made stars for a long time. But many talents are well developed. Florian Wirtz, Patrick Schick and Moussa Diaby are now the focus of the big clubs. Should the next step be to retain such players?
KARUO: That’s it. If we manage to keep our key players like Patrick Schick recently, we will have an excellent team in a very professional and ambitious environment. This increases our chances of being more successful.
What should Bayer stand for apart from the successes?
Caro: First of all, it is important to me that we are a traditional club. Our club is over 100 years old and has played in the Bundesliga since 1979 and internationally for many years. I will be happy if we continue to strengthen our position not only at the international level but also at the national level. People realize we have more than a solid fan base, which was not only evident when Rudi Fuller said goodbye at BayArena, but can be seen statistically clearly from the number of fans traveling from abroad. We’ve made excellent progress in this regard, and I hope we can inspire more and more people across Germany to follow Bayer Leverkusen. Internationally, we want to enhance our good reputation, enter into partnerships, demonstrate our presence and profitably use the natural connection of the Bayer Group, as we did in Mexico.
About the person: Fernando Caro de Prada (57) was born and raised in Barcelona. After graduation, he joined Bertelsmann, most recently serving as CEO of the Arvato subsidiary. He has been the CEO of Bayer Leverkusen since 1 July 2018. He has been on the Board of Directors of the European Club Association (ECA) since July 2021.