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Jeremie Frimpong (l.) and Florian Wirtz (r.) are just two of the players Bayer Leverkusen and recruited and developed into first-team successes. - © Joosep Martinson/Getty Images
Jeremie Frimpong (l.) and Florian Wirtz (r.) are just two of the players Bayer Leverkusen and recruited and developed into first-team successes. - © Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

How Bayer Leverkusen and Simon Rolfes use AWS to keep getting transfers and player development right

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From nurturing Kai Havertz into a world-class UEFA Champions League winner, to recruiting Florian Wirtz at just 16 and developing him into a full Germany international, Bayer Leverkusen tend to get it right when it comes to player recruitment and development.

Leverkusen has become a conveyor belt of talent in recent years, using their immense scouting networks and world-class training facilities to uncover and then polish a series of gems.

Alongside their recruitment, Die Werkself have invested heavily in youth coaching to ensure academy players are given every opportunity to flourish and that they see a clear route to the first team.

In this warring part of the industry, Leverkusen are excelling with an approach that sits at the very heart of the club's philosophy.

"It's really competitive, and it drives you as an organisation to be better than the others. It's not easy to sign the players but we try to be a centre of excellence in the youth development, to really focus on the high-potential players," explains Simon Rolfes, the former Leverkusen and Germany midfielder who is now director of sport at the BayArena and a keen user of AWS - which powers Bundesliga Match Facts - to help find and track the potential new targets.

Watch: How Rolfes uses AWS for his scouting for Leverkusen

"It's really important not only to have good scouts but to have the best environment, the best facilities and the best coaches for development and those are big advantages."

According to Rolfes, there are three key pillars to the Leverkusen blueprint: atmosphere, development, and performance.

Atmosphere

When looking for the perfect player, Rolfes and his team have the club's culture as much at the forefront of their mind as the potential signing's ability. That's why Leverkusen's player care department travels with Rolfes when he speaks to targets, immediately looking to make the fit as perfect as possible for both the club and player.

This process of selection not only aids the dressing room harmony in the first team, but also provides young players at the club with both a welcoming environment to grow into, as well as model professionals to show them the way when they make the step up to senior football.

"If the atmosphere in the club is really cold or not inspiring, you will not get the best out of the players," said Rolfes. "I try to build the best squad we can from the personality side. We try to create a good team spirit and good relationships between the players."

Robert Andrich (c.) and Amine Adli (r.) joined Bayer Leverkusen this summer as very different players at different stages of their careers but they share critical key attributes. - Christopher Neundorf via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Kirchner-Media

Two recent examples are Robert Andrich and Amine Adli, who both joined the club in the summer. On paper, they couldn't be more contrasting players.

Andrich joined as a 27-year-old midfielder hardened by working his way up the German pyramid, Adli a 21-year-old winger with one full season under his belt in his native France. But Rolfes saw traits in both that would, crucially, fit the Leverkusen philosophy.

"Step-by-step, he reached the next level through work, with discipline. He was really interesting from the mentality side, to have a role model for the young high-potential players," he said of Andrich before explaining that Adli "was outstanding in his behaviour and never gives up. He showed that he has ambition to improve and to work hard."

Development

Whether it's a new arrival, an academy player or experienced pro, once someone is in the club, it is their development that takes precedence.

As Leverkusen's academy head, Thomas Eichin, puts it: "You can have the best strategy, the best philosophy but if you don't have the best coaches, you cannot reach your goals. It's crucial that we bring players to the next step."

Citing Wirtz - who Rolfes helped to convince to sign from Rhine rivals Cologne in 2020 - as an example of taking that next step, Rolfes says it is a clear club vision to see their players continue their development where they can learn the most: in the first team.

Watch: The best of Florian Wirtz

"It's part of our strategy to sign high-potential young players, to give them playing time to develop them and to give them also the opportunity very early to train with our professional team," he said.

"Florian Wirtz, we took from the U17 of the other club and directly put him in our first team training. You always have to have a little bit of luck but if you make the right decisions and have the right strategy for the players then the possibility for success is much higher."

That pathway to the first team is also a major draw when it comes to convincing players to pick Leverkusen over other rivals, especially when competing against teams with bigger budgets.

There is no such thing as holding a player back at Leverkusen, as was the case with Havertz and is the case now with Wirtz. And, although Havertz eventually moved on from the club, Rolfes says Die Werkself are far from fearful of similar success drawing the interest of other teams. In fact, he sees it as the proof of their pudding.

"I'm not afraid of success or the success of our players," Rolfes said. "If they have the opportunities to go to one of the top-five clubs in the world, that's a successful story."

Watch: The best of Havertz in the Bundesliga

Performance

The third and final pillar of Leverkusen's development foundations aims to help players deliver the kind of displays that put the names of Havertz and Wirtz on lips the world over.

It is those kinds of performances that they hope to see when Rolfes & Co. peer into their magic balls, ones that will continue to fire Leverkusen to the upper reaches of the Bundesliga and keep them competing at Europe's top table in the UEFA Champions League.

This time, he uses the scouting of Piero Hincapie and Jeremie Frimpong as examples, saying his recruitment team could see early on that Hincapie was "very complete and very experienced in his behaviour," despite being just 19. Rolfes, meanwhile, was "totally convinced" that Leverkusen could develop Frimpong after studying data and video of the Dutch defender.

The club's use of AWS and other data suppliers helps keep them ahead of the curve when it comes to analysis, as well as allowing them to make informed, analytical decisions on players either already wearing red and black, or that soon will be.

But there is also a more traditional form of scouting that continues to serve the club well, especially in South America.

Iconic Brazilian duo Ze Roberto (l.) and Lucio (r.) have left a lasting legacy at Bayer Leverkusen that South American players are still following today. - /

It is there that they gained a leg-up years ago, discovering the likes of iconic Brazilians Lucio and Ze Roberto. The club's links to South America have only been strengthened ever since and these ties have helped beat rivals to the jump in capturing Lucas Alario, Exequiel Palacios and Paulinho in recent years.

Hincapie was another tempted to the club by its long tradition in the region, as revealed by Rolfes: "It helps if we say to a Brazilian guy there has been 15 or 20 players and Lucio, Ze Roberto, fantastic players have been here. We found it with Piero Hincapie this summer. We showed him he can have a good career here.

"I think you have to have your own unique way as a club, to also have a connection with your history. We don't scout everywhere, [but] where we do scout, we try to be the best."

This clear, strategic approach has certainly served Leverkusen well thus far, and it appears that the rest of the continent are now playing catch up.