Bayer Leverkusen Bundesliga winners GFXGetty/GOAL

From 'Neverkusen' to 'Neverlusen'! How Xabi Alonso led Bayer Leverkusen to a first Bundesliga title without suffering a single defeat

Former Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Reiner Calmund once said that in the cruel and unforgiving world of football, "You are worth nothing without a title." And his club didn't have one. They just had a nickname: 'Vizekusen', which literally translated as 'Secondkusen'. In English, though, Bayer were better known as 'Neverkusen', the German game's eternal bridesmaids, a seemingly cursed club incapable of escaping its painful past.

In the space of six seasons around the turn of the century, Leverkusen finished as runners-up four times. In 2000, they threw away the title despite only needing a draw in their final game, against SpVgg Unterhaching, a club best known for its bobsleigh team. Bayer buckled under the pressure again two years later, losing two of their final three games to hand the league to Borussia Dortmund.

Leverkusen really outdid themselves in 2001-02, though. A week after their Bundesliga blow, they suffered a demoralising 4-2 defeat to Schalke in the DFB-Pokal final. Four days later, Bayer were beaten by Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League, victims of a Zinedine Zidane wonder-goal.

Manager Klaus Toppmoller had called for celebratory wine and cigarettes after the shock semi-final win over Manchester United but, in Glasgow, he was almost reaching for the painkillers after a terrific team containing great players like Lucio, Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto ended a sensational season empty-handed.

"I am proud of what we have achieved this season, but we have played so hard and it hurts us to end with nothing," he told reporters. "The disappointment is huge - you don't always get the rewards you deserve in football, and no-one knows that better than us after what we have been through. What has happened to us is difficult to take and makes us feel bitter."

Leverkusen would finish second again in 2010-11, for the fifth time in the club’s history, although at least on that occasion there was no devastating collapse. Nonetheless, the ‘Neverkusen’ nickname endured. It became part of the club’s culture.

Bayer continued to produce world-class players. but success remained just as elusive. “The quality has always been there in Leverkusen,” Ballack lamented in an interview with 11Freunde, “but something has always been missing." That something, it turns out, was Xabi Alonso, who has just led Leverkusen to their first ever Bundesliga title - and without suffering a single defeat, thus going from 'Neverkusen' to 'Neverlusen'.

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