The Africans powering Leverkusen to glory

The Africans powering Leverkusen to glory
Leverkusen's Victor Boniface (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring the 1-0 lead during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt in Leverkusen, Germany, 17 December 2023. EPA/CHRISTOPHER NEUNDORF

by Thando Mpembe

Wednesday Apr 10, 2024. 12:10

One usually doesn’t bother looking at who is at the top of the Bundesliga, because it’s always boring old Bayern Munich.

If you have any kind of interest in the German top flight, it usually falls elsewhere: Who’s qualifying for the Champions League (alongside Bayern)? Who’s getting relegated? Who’s got the most stylish lederhosen?*

However, Bayern – who have won a record 33 Bundesliga titles, including the last 11 in a row – will not be lifting the trophy at the end of this season.

Instead the Bundesliga will be won by Bayer 04 Leverkusen. Xabi Alonso’s side have gone unbeaten in the league this season and will clinch the title (a first in the club’s history) this weekend if they defeat Werder Bremen at home.

There are a wide range of factors that have converted ‘Neverkusen’ into a winning machine, but key amongst them has been the stand-out performances of their African players.

In defence, Ivorian Odilon Kossounou and Edmond Tapsoba of Burkina Faso have a combined 39 appearances in a backline which has shipped just 19 goals in 28 league matches, while right wingback Jeremie Frimpong (who is Dutch by nationality, but of recent Ghanaian descent) has been sublime, with 23 goal contributions (12 goals, 11 assists) from 35 matches across all competitions.

Further up the field, Nigerian international Nathan Tella has been an effective impact player (mostly appearing as a substitute), with five goals and two assists from 19 Bundesliga appearances.

Yet he can also turn on the style as a starter, as he did when Leverkusen crushed Bayern 3-0 last month in the result which dispelled any doubt that ‘Die Schwarzroten’ had the gumption to go on and win the title.

It’s going well so far. I feel more confident in myself as a person compared to when I first arrived but that’s because of the team and the manager. They’ve given me a lot of confidence in myself and I’m doing the right thing so I want to continue to do that,” Tella told the official Bundesliga website.

In attack, Morocco’s Amine Adli has played a similar role to that of Tella, but it is Nigerian Victor Boniface who has been the jewel in the crown.

The Super Eagles star, who sadly missed the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year due to injury, has racked up 10 goals and eight assists from 17 league appearances – plus a further six goals and one assist in the UEFA Europa League and DFB-Pokal.

The 23-year-old has only recently returned from the adductor injury which ruled him out of the AFCON, but his presence will be a major boost as Leverkusen look to add the DFB-Pokal (they face Kaiserslautern in the final in late May) and Europa League (their quarterfinal tie against West Ham United will be played on 11 and 18 April) to the Bundesliga title they will inevitably secure.

This potential treble has echoes of the 2001-02 season when Leverkusen could have won the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and UEFA Champions League, but allowed all three to slip through their fingers in the space of just a few days.

This time around, with players such as Tella and Boniface driving them forward, the ‘Neverkusen’ tag is set to be discarded once and for all.

[*Answer: Nobody, lederhosen is awful.]

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