Bayer Leverkusen’s Amine Adli: ‘We can’t remember what’s it’s like to lose’

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Amine Adli;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Amine Adli</a> celebrates the completion of <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Bayer Leverkusen;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Bayer Leverkusen</a>’s unbeaten season at <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Augsburg;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Augsburg</a>. His side seek another trophy on Wednesday when they face Atalanta in Dublin.</span><span>Photograph: Christopher Neundorf/EPA</span>

Life in the Bayer Leverkusen changing room is never boring when Jeremie Frimpong is around. Just ask Amine Adli. “It’s a lot of fun,” smirks the Morocco international. “Every day something is happening. Every player is funny in his own way and when you have a guy like Jeremie, he is always making everyone laugh. Even the coach sometimes … ”

There have been plenty of other reasons for Xabi Alonso to smile during the record-breaking campaign in which Leverkusen have become the first team to go through a Bundesliga season unbeaten. The Spaniard clambered into the stands at the Bay Arena after Saturday’s final-day defeat of Augsburg to celebrate with supporters at the club once referred to as “Neverkusen”. He will round off the campaign with a historic treble if they win Wednesday’s Europa League final against Atalanta in Dublin and Saturday’s German Cup final against second-tier Kaiserslautern.

Alonso’s side made it 51 matches unbeaten in all competitions against Augsburg – an astonishing run that has featured 42 victories and two 97th-minutes equalisers to establish a record in European football. “It’s a strange feeling – none of us can remember what it’s like to lose a game and how to react,” says Adli, who has scored 10 goals and provided 12 assists in 40 appearances. “I think that is why we are like this. We don’t want the run to end. This is the most important part of the season and it’s not the moment to lose focus. Yes we have achieved something amazing in the league by staying unbeaten but losing in these two finals would be very painful for us. So the most important thing is that we keep this run going.”

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When it is suggested to the 24-year-old attacking midfielder that everyone in football has been blown away by their achievements, he says: “It’s true. But us in the changing room – I think because we are living this – are much more calm about things. We don’t even really realise what is going on. We are in our own little bubble.”

Adli was signed from Toulouse in 2021 after winning player of the season in France’s Ligue 2 and has developed into an important player for Alonso since the manager took over in October 2022. Leverkusen are renowned for recruiting the best emerging talent and he is full of praise for the way the club handled his adaptation.

“When I arrived there were a lot of players who were in the same situation as me and the same age. That made it much easier to feel at home because it is difficult when you come to a new country and you are alone. But we all helped each other and felt comfortable straight away. I had come from the second division in France so there was a big difference in quality and I had to learn very quickly. The club really helped me – they are very supportive and patient with young players to make sure that you can reach your potential. I think this is why a lot of young players who come to Leverkusen are successful.”

It also helped that Frimpong – the Netherlands defender who joined Manchester City aged nine before going on to play for Celtic – had joined Leverkusen a few months before and helped Adli develop his English.

“When you are close friends with Frimpong you have to speak English so I practise with him a lot,” he says. “He also makes me work on my accent! I’m grateful to him that now I can speak good English – it means he has been a good teacher for me. He’s a special guy and these types of characters make the changing room better. I think you need someone like that and he has been having a brilliant season on the pitch as well. It’s a pleasure to work with him. But my German is another story. It’s definitely something I need to work more on.”

Adli insists that while there is no secret, much of Leverkusen’s success under Alonso with a squad that has an average age of less than 25 has been down to the bond the manager has helped to create. “Most of us have been together here for three or four years and the atmosphere is just amazing. There are only good guys – everyone wants to help each other. And we want to keep this feeling of not losing a game. When you come to the changing room every morning, everyone is happy to be there and no one feels uncomfortable. It’s just a pleasure to come to work every morning to see your friends.”

Confirmation in March that Alonso was staying for another season after rejecting Bayern Munich and Liverpool gave Leverkusen’s players “structure about their future” and Adli describes the former Spain midfielder as “very smart”.

“The manager knows me very well and knows my qualities and weaknesses,” he says. “He knows that I have a lot of energy and there are times when you need to push and other times when you need to be calm. With him I’ve learned a lot about my positioning and reading the rhythm of the game.”

At Bochum last May, Adli – who made his debut for his parents’ homeland, Morocco, last year having played for France Under-21s – was sent off in a 3-0 defeat and later forced to apologise in front of his teammates by his irate manager. Twelve months on, at the same venue, he showed how much he has matured by scoring the third goal in a 5-0 victory that made it a half-century unbeaten.

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“I wanted to get my revenge,” he says. “Last year I messed it up for the team, the manager and everyone. I made a big mistake but I learned from my mistake and it was special to come back a year later and score. Before the game, the manager spoke to me and said: ‘OK, you made a big mistake last year but now it’s time to show what a good player you are.’ That gave me more motivation and when I scored it felt like that story was completed.”

All eyes will be on whether they can end the season unbeaten, before the tantalising prospect of seeing how far this team can go in the Champions League under their formidable manager.

“We know that the club is growing and we have a very strong team,” says Adli, who has two years on his contract. “You never know what is going to happen in the future but if a lot of players stay next season then we can have a good chance in the Champions League. With all the things that have happened to us this season, every player here has grown so much and that is very nice. To work with Xabi Alonso is a pleasure and for a young player this is the perfect club to improve.”