The announcement would perhaps have been a whole lot funnier 10 days before, on April 1, but then it's not actually meant as a joke, of course: On Tuesday, Bayer 04 Leverkusen confirmed it had trademarked and patented the word "Vizekusen."
Vize is German for vice (as in vice president) or runner-up, and "Vizekusen" is not exactly a nickname of the endearing or flattering sort: Opposing supporters have taken to belittling Bayer in that way ever since it ended the 2002 season losing both the Champions League and German Cup finals, as well as finishing as runner-up in the Bundesliga. "Vizekusen," in other words, is shorthand for choking. Not the kind of brand you'd want on a T-shirt, coffee mug or kids duvet covers, surely?
"We thought to ourselves, What can we do with that name?" Leverkusen communications director
Couched in those terms, it looks as if Bayer's move was both defensive and commercially motivated. By controlling the business use of the insulting term, it can at least prevent someone else from cashing in on its misery.
It does, however, take a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor to face up to its detractors in the first place. Bayer has form in this respect. A while ago, it also trademarked "Pillendreher." It's the German word for a dung beetle, and a play on the club owners, pharmaceutical giant Bayer. "Pillendreher" literally means pill mover(s). Before Leverkusen became the eternal bridesmaids at the turn of the century, they were also routinely dismissed as "Retortenverein," a test tube club. Traditionalists turned up their noses at the company-controlled team, who were only promoted to Germany's top-flight in 1979.
Seven near misses (four in the league, two in the Cup and one lost Champions League) in 13 years have changed the club's perception to the point where always coming second seems to have transmuted into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When
Four months later and four points behind second-placed Schalke 04, another German team seen as perpetual losers, Leverkusen are in no acute danger of living up the cliché, at least as far as coming in second is concerned. After a poor run of two wins in their last 10 games, they're much more worried about defending their third place and possibility of Champions League qualification against Dortmund and Bremen.
"We might lose everything," defender
Needless to say, the championship is no longer an issue. Bayer had one last chance to get closer to league leader Bayern on Saturday. Heynckes' men played very well in the BayArena, created plenty of chances but still blew it. The 1-1 draw leaves them six points behind
It would be tempting to blame Leverkusen's slide in the last third of the season on the Vizekusen syndrome. It would also be wrong. No one in this talented squad lived through the triple trauma of 2002, and there was little external pressure from supporters or the media to win the title. If anything, it's worth remembering that Leverkusen finished ninth a year ago, so they've come a long way in a short space. The wily Heynckes, 64, and former Liverpool defender
Leverkusen's main problem after the winter break was not psychological, but much more mundane. Long-term injuries to captain
Bayer's only real crime this season, then, has been of being far too successful. Heynckes was right to point out that qualification for the Europa League had been the sole aim before the start of this campaign, and an ambitious one at that. "If you take into account how many regulars were missing today, we played fantastically well," he said after the Bayern draw.
Völler might not go as far as his predecessor,
Hannover 96 right back
It was also a good week for Gladbach midfielder