Twin brothers Lars and Sven Bender made their professional debuts for 1860 Munich within three weeks of each other back in 2006. Now, 15 years later, they will wave goodbye to German football on the same day after two outstanding careers respectively.
bundesliga.com sat down with Lars and Sven for an exclusive interview on retirement, career highlights, playing against and alongside one another and what the future holds...
bundesliga.com: Saddest shared moment in your career?
Lars Bender: "The saddest of course is the cup final. We would've liked to win. It would've been nice to win a title with him, to win it together and win it for the club, a club that is always there and we were so close and because of that, it was one of the saddest moments. We've had some great moments, like qualifying for the Champions League, for us to play in the Champions League together, we laughed ourselves to death, it's unbelievable. What luck we had, of course, you have to earn it but you're really thankful for it because it doesn't just happen. For us both to be on the pitch for it is really cool."
bundesliga.com: Would you like to play in front of fans one last time?
Lars: "Gladly, to soak it all up again is certainly the greatest thing and it's not just deserved on our side but on the other side because it's not often people say farewell as a package and with my long history here, these are moments that are also special for the fans, that is something that has been robbed from us a bit but it also doesn't change anything in our decision."
bundesliga.com: The last match will be against Dortmund. That must be something special?
Sven Bender: "Yeah, it would've been something cool with a full house but you can't really think about that now. I'm thankful that I can play with my brother with Leverkusen for the last time and against Dortmund is just great, it's a super way to close it."
bundesliga.com: What does the future hold?
Lars: "Originally, I had planned to reset a bit, travel for a while, get involved in business but quite relaxed there, not diving into that because we're such private people. But of course, we want to stay in contact with everything but above all, just want to reset, reflect on everything, sit down and take a break."
bundesliga.com: How was that time at 1860 Munich?
Sven: "We were incredibly proud to play for the club and I'm still proud of the time we spent there. We were lions and for us, the most beautiful animals were the lions."
bundesliga.com: How was it to face each other as opponents?
Lars: "We'd see each other two days before and again the day afterwards. It was always fun but it's also a job and it requires a certain effort and a certain focus. We've always been guys who get into that tunnel vision, not just when we step on the pitch but much earlier. It's not a lack of respect or brotherly love at that moment, rather it's a massive focus on the game and for what was about to happen, it was totally normal for us because it had to be that way."
bundesliga.com: You've had great coaches. Who has had an impact on you?
Lars: "As a coach, I have to say, Jupp Heynckes, he was a kind of father-figure with class and calm and a certain authority. He always had wise words, he did that well. It was needed in the early phase here, the transition from the second league to the first takes getting used to and he found the right moments to offer help but also to remain calm, that helped me a lot. As a player, I would say Sami Hyypiä, definitely, because it was incredible to see him, he was not the fastest but he was so calm and experienced and he worked out problems with ease, thanks to his experience from the years playing at the top level. Besides that, he was just such a cool guy, just like Manu Friedrich, Kastrup, Banetta, it was a cool group, we had a lot of fun at that time, which I needed off the pitch, the fun never stopped at Leverkusen because we had fun groups with whom you could have fun."
bundesliga.com: On reflection, how do you see your career?
Lars: "In hindsight, I'm very proud and happy that I was at Leverkusen for so long, I've definitely left my footprint here. Though I would've liked to see where my absolute limit as a player was, be at one of the top clubs and compete for the top, top titles, but I've come to terms with that. Unfortunately, my body has given me a few problems and honestly, in my mid-twenties, I would've liked to go just that bit higher but today I have to say that I'm not sad about it, I'm very happy to have been here so long. I got to know some amazing people here, a brilliant atmosphere, some awesome evenings in the stadium, I cannot forget the great games. All in all, very happy about this time."
bundesliga.com: Lars on Sven?
Lars: "First of all, more successful than me, won more titles but for me as a brother, I saw it as a title for the family, I probably felt the same as our sister, our mother and father, so I could come to terms with that. He had an incredible development and grew into one of the very best No.6s, he got his international caps, which is the next honour and all in all, some phenomenal years. Of course, he took the opportunity to go to Berlin, that was also a spectacular trip, I went with a couple of friends and he joined the party after the game, it was a great weekend in Berlin. I would've also liked to win the thing, though we had the chance but I really enjoyed all of his successes and it was cool for him to find his way and develop at this club, become a regular and then a leader and that is quite an achievement."
bundesliga.com: How big was the step to the Bundesliga?
Lars: "I didn't go about trying to get to Leverkusen, I found it unlikely that the two of us, quite similar, in the same position, would be taken from the second league as young players to the same first league team. I knew that we wouldn't manage that, I found it great for him but felt that I also wanted to take the next step. It was a bit unnerving but I have to say I had a great environment and perspectives at Munich, so I didn't find it bad but when the brother makes the step up to the Bundesliga, you want to do the same."
bundesliga.com: Sven on Lars?
Sven: "Yeah, I think he played for a really cool team, had a great coach and developed into a player that when you look back at, you can say, you really have someone here who made his mark, one of the longest servants at the club and left a real legacy at the club. Unfortunately, didn't quite make it to the very top, which was important for me, I wanted to come here and help Leverkusen win the title. You look at Leverkusen and say, yeah, they're always good but never quite make it to the final and I saw that as a challenge for me, wanting to support him as well because it was his task for so long, to finally win something. We were close but didn't make it. That's a real pity but that's football sometimes, you don't always get what you want, even if you give everything for it. But at the end of the day, what's important is what you leave behind, how the people see you and you can leave with your head held high and I think he can do that. People will always remember his name and how he played, this guy left everything here and did everything for Leverkusen to win the title, although it wasn't quite achieved. That is the most important thing, we all play to leave something behind, it goes so quickly, and I think people will remember him."
bundesliga.com: How was the separation after 1860 Munich?
Sven: "It was suggested to us, we were told we had to go our separate ways. We took it on board, we understood and I think it did us good at the time. Whether it wouldn't have worked with us together is not certain, we had the Olympics at the time and we wanted to see how we would work together there and saw that is was quite good, we got to know both sides and were happy with both sides."
bundesliga.com: How was the move from Dortmund to Leverkusen?
Sven: "For me, there was a real sense of anticipation, incredibly open from the beginning, because it was said it's being made easy but it was sensational. From the fans, to the board, to the players, I was somebody who spent eight years in Dortmund and had a lot of success and played a lot, so everyone knew the club would always have a place in my heart. It's not easy to stand there and suddenly have a red shirt on but I said that if I make this step, I'll identify myself 100 percent with Bayer Leverkusen, I did that from the beginning. But it was a two-way street and that's what I found so good, the respect was immediately there and I'm very thankful for that because it's not a given, that you come to a new club and are welcomed with open arms. They tolerate everything that happened and take you for who you are and are thankful that you made the move from there to here, not the other way around. It couldn't have been better for me, it's brilliant at such a club, to play with him. When we were this small, who would of thought it, you'd get tears in your eyes thinking about it, it's beautiful, really nice."
bundesliga.com: How did your move from BVB to Leverkusen come about?
Sven: "It was the opportunity that presented itself. I hadn't thought about leaving Dortmund but in the final two or three months before the summer break, so much happened. I had two injuries that year, out for three months with my foot which has given me problems since and played a part in this summer's decision. I was out for a long while and said to myself maybe it makes sense to have a change of scenery, prove myself elsewhere and get out of this injury cycle. The attack on the bus was at that time and nothing was quite the same after that. After the injury, fighting back onto the pitch, the moments of injury, trauma, the ball cleared off the line and so on, all happened incredibly quickly and suddenly you feel useless and have no role. We went on to win the cup and I stood there with a feeling I never had, looking at the team, thinking how great we were to have come through everything and won and at the same time thinking that somehow, this is coming to an end for me, there is no better way to end my time with Dortmund than with a title. I believe this is the moment, I have to use this moment to know that I've done all I can with Dortmund, now it's time for something new. During the summer, I spoke to Michael Sorge for the first time, told him what was up and that we should speak when training begins, they had a new coach at the time. I had already made my decision, I wanted to go and I was very thankful that Dortmund allowed me to make that move to Leverkusen, who didn't play in Europe in that first year and people were saying, because of Lars, because of Lars, it was never certain when we would stop, it could've been three years later when we came together. I just said, 'hey, it's a big club, a great chance for me' but they didn't play in Europe and that was a defining factor for me. I had come off of long injuries and I wanted continuous training and playing, I wanted to find my rhythm again and thankfully it worked, because of that, it was a logical move for me at the time, even if it was surprising."