Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký is fresh of winning the Bundesliga for the first time. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga
Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký is fresh of winning the Bundesliga for the first time. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga

Lukáš Hrádecký on title celebrations, Bayer Leverkusen's last-minute goals, and the season run-in


Lukáš Hrádecký credits the "phenomenal tactics" of Bayer Leverkusen head coach Xabi Alonso for their Bundesliga tile win, while also hailing the impact of summer arrivals Granit Xhaka and Alejandro Grimaldo.

In this wide-ranging exclusive interview with, the 34-year-old reflects in his side's title celebrations, the chance of going unbeaten throughout the whole season, and much more besides... Now that some time has passed, how does it feel to be a Bundesliga champion with Leverkusen for the first time in the club's history?

Lukáš Hrádecký: “Of course, it feels fantastic. It hasn’t been that long yet, so I don’t think I can fully reflect on what we’ve really achieved. The games keep going on, and we had to go to London [against West Ham in the UEFA Europa League], where we did our job. Against Dortmund we wanted to maintain our unbeaten run, so the highlight still lives on – to have the possibility to be the first Invincibles in German football history. We have a big task that we still need to fulfil, but the team has done really well. Now we have two fewer games to go, to achieve our dream of all time.”

Watch: Bayer Leverkusen - champions at last! How would you rate the title party that night on a scale of one to 10? Why?

Hrádecký: “It was great to see the fans storming on the pitch, to see the joy in their eyes. I saw a few tears of joy as well - it was good to have all of our families and friends here celebrating with us. There was only one day of partying, and Xabi Alonso understood that as well; we had to quickly focus on the jobs in Dortmund and London.

"We needed to take it a little bit easy, but if you can work hard, you can party hard. I think the team shows the right kind of attitude and energy when it comes to how much to party and work hard. Victor Boniface was spot on; the party goes on and on, but at times we need to pause it a little bit. We have a couple of more parties to come, and I'm looking forward to them.” Leverkusen seem to be invincible at the moment, even Dortmund couldn’t break the spell last week. Is ending the season undefeated also a goal for you?                

Hrádecký: “Maybe it would be the cherry on top. We have already won the title in a fashion that none of us could have ever imagined; to finish on Matchday 29. Bayern are usually the only team that finish it that early; to win our first title in our history without any defeats would be amazing – it's definitely in the back of our minds. We 'lltry to keep it going; everyone saw how much it meant to us in Dortmund, with the celebrations after we made it 1-1. It’s definitely something we have in our heads.”

Watch: My Story: Lukáš Hrádecký In the Europa League semi-finals you face Roma. After last year’s defeat, do you feel like it’s the right time for payback this year?

Hrádecký: “We have a pretty recent history with Roma. Last year they got through, but I can say a little undeservedly so. This year the Roma team is a bit different. What Daniele De Rossi has done with the club and the players is phenomenal – it reminds me of what we have been doing up here with a legend of our own in Xabi Alonso. It’s going to be an interesting duel between two legends in the dugout. We are looking forward to having a little bit of a payback for what happened here last year.” What was the most emotional moment this season, aside from winning the Meisterschale?

Hrádecký: “We've had a couple of those moments. I could name all the times where we scored in extra time, and the celebrations. Hopefully we start to score the goals a little bit earlier, so that I don’t have to sprint at this age anymore – it’s becoming a bit too hard on me to do the last-minute sprints. There have been many beautiful moments, and I hope the most beautiful ones are still to come in the upcoming seven or eight games.” What’s the magic behind Leverkusen and last-minute goals this season?

Hrádecký: “I think physiologically, when you control the game for 90 minutes, I would assume that the other team is more tired than you at the end of the game because they are running after the ball all game. That's the kind of process we want to build up, and we don’t have to score in the 70th or 20th minute. It's the product of the game that we have been showcasing the whole season, and that's the only way for me to explain it, in a way that makes sense.

"You can add the psychological part on top of it – the thought that Bayer have not lost in 40-odd games, and that at some point they will strike; that also plays a big role in it. The biggest role is that the team and players are starting to get tired at the end of the games, and so the risk of failure starts to increase. That's how the goals were created.”

Watch: Leverkusen's late goals in 2023/24 When Alonso took over in October 2022, did anyone in the dressing room foresee anything that happened this season? 

Hrádecký: “We had hopes and dreams, but even he admitted in an interview that it was all part of a plan that came to fruition much sooner than expected. The pace of it all is coming to us now. As Victor Boniface said, it’s been a fantastic run of games and what we've been able to achieve speaks for itself. I think we would have been happy to finish second or third given the way we've been playing. I don’t have anything against it, don’t get me wrong, but we have to be happy. The earlier the better, if I can say it like that.” What makes Alonso such a great leader, as head coach but also as a person?

Hrádecký: “I don’t have to highlight him anymore. He’s been phenomenal when it comes to tactics. I’m just a goalkeeper, I don’t even care about that part. What I care about in a manager, and all the managers I've had, is how they are, how they treat people. Xabi is phenomenal in that sense – he brings the right mentality day to day, and how he treats the players that aren’t playing that much, as well as the ones that are; he takes them as they are. I think the biggest job he’s brought here is the day to day of how it was at Liverpool, Real Madrid or Bayern. The mentality is what has changed the most since I have been here. I think that’s what has brought us up to this point.” What was key this season? Do you remember any moment or game that made you think: 'We're going to win the Bundesliga this season'?

Hrádecký: “Our sense of belief started to go higher and higher. When we got our first transfers: Grimaldo, Granit Xhaka – you saw the quality and personality that they brought in the training camp. We then started to play our game throughout the season. We lost a couple of games in pre-season, but we started the season really well.

"Against Bayern, to say we dominated is too strong of a word, but I think the way we played against Bayern in Munich – the way we controlled that match, started to bring even more hope, and more real credit to the way we were playing. It kept on going; I saw the players coming back from the winter break, and they were fit – they had worked on themselves. The last moment that we really thought it was possible was the away win in Leipzig. We realised then that we had a real shot at it. We just kept on working and now, here we are talking about it.”

Watch: Granit Xhaka - breaking the lines And you also turned the game around against Leipzig...

Hrádecký: “We would have been happy to draw 2-2, but the mentality we showed, and the belief we had got us there. Of course, you also need a bit of luck, but you also earn the luck. That’s the personality and the togetherness. If you do the right things, you get rewarded. That's basically been the story of our season.” There are so many great characters in the team. If you could pick three of your colleagues, who has made the biggest development since Alonso took over?

Hrádecký: “Maybe not in-game but on the whole team, I have to say Granit Xhaka. He's a genuine, authentic leader. I'm happy he came on board, and we complement each other as well. I happen to be the captain, but that doesn’t mean we only have one captain. Granit made the other people around him stronger. The amount of goals and assists by Grimaldo can't go unnoticed. A guy like Jonas Hofmann might be more in the shadows, but he’s a fantastic character. Those are the kind of players that we've been missing in the last couple of years.” Matěj Kovář and you are taking on the goalkeeper challenge in different competitions. How is that working for both of you?

Hrádecký: “For me it’s really welcome. Matěj is a great guy and an even better goalkeeper. We understand each other as we both speak Czech. We have a bit of fun with that, and we talk about a lot of situations. I’m pushing 35, so I don’t mind when I get a midweek game off. He’s been doing really well. The harmony is a positive problem to have. I haven’t asked Xabi if he is a better goalkeeper than me. On some things he's definitely better: he's taller and better with his feet, but I know my tricks and I have my own strengths. Xabi isn't blind when it comes to goalkeepers and he respects both of us.”

Watch: Alejandro Grimaldo - knuckleball specialist The DFB Cup could be the last chapter for Leverkusen this season. What do you expect from that match in Berlin?

Hrádecký: “It’s a set-up that favours us. Our opponents, Kaiserslautern, are having a hard time but in a one-off game you can get an early red card, or a couple of injuries. You never know, so we have to keep on going like we have been.

"Of course, we're favourites. We may have another final that week, so it could be a really packed last week. We want to win more than one title this season, and I don’t think our team cares about who we play against – if it’s Düsseldorf, or Stuttgart in the cup, we keep going. Kaiserslautern have a fantastic chance to save their season, but we also want to make proper history. We will see what happens.”