Rudi Völler was given a send-off by the Bayer Leverkusen supporters on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign as his time as sporting director came to an end. - © ROBERTO PFEIL/AFP via Getty Images
Rudi Völler was given a send-off by the Bayer Leverkusen supporters on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign as his time as sporting director came to an end. - © ROBERTO PFEIL/AFP via Getty Images

Rudi Völler: The man that did it all and revolutionised Bayer Leverkusen


A former Bayer Leverkusen player and coach, interim Germany manager Rudi Völler doubled down on his club legend status with two highly successful stints as sporting director that spanned 21 years.

His perm is iconic and so too were his diving headers, respectively resulting in the nicknames of Tante Käthe - or "Aunt Käthe - in his homeland and the far more flattering il tedesco volante - The flying German - in Rome.

The Hanau native will forever be linked to Frank Rijkaard and appear on FIFA World Cup's most infamous lists, but he is also one of only four men in history to reach the final as both a player and coach, while Völler struck three times as Germany became world champions in 1990.

He won trophies in France and Italy and became a UEFA Champions League winner in 1993, a year prior to starting his love affair with Leverkusen, where Völler went on to establish the club as one of Germany's biggest - one that produces stellar German talent while regularly competing on the continent's biggest stage.

Whatever way you look at it, Völler is a legend of the game and few can rival his influence on German football both on and off the pitch.

Rudi Völler has spent more than 23 years with Bayer Leverkusen, serving the club as a player, coach and sporting director. - hoto by ROBERTO PFEIL/AFP via Getty Images

"Let's be honest: Where would Bayer 04 be without Rudi Völler?," asked Reiner Calmund, the man who first brought Völler to Leverkusen and then handed him the baton as sporting director.

It's easy to see Calmund's point when you take a look back to the 1995/96 season; Völler's last as a player.

Leverkusen barely clung to their Bundesliga status, with Völler scoring a 10th of the campaign in a 2-1 win over his former club 1860 Munich on Matchday 32. It was just their second victory of the Rückrunde - and final one of the season - which would prove crucial as Leverkusen stayed up on the final day thanks to a 1-1 draw with Kaiserslautern, who were relegated instead.

Things may have looked very different for the club had they fallen through the trapdoor that year. It turns out that it also saved the mood of Völler's testimonial farewell three days later.

"His last game as a player will never be forgotten, our dramatic finale against Kaiserslautern to avoid relegation," then Leverkusen coach Peter Hermann told the club's website in a series of #DankeRudi pieces celebrating the great man's career.

"It would have been impossible to think Rudi would end his playing career with relegation from the Bundesliga. There would have been the atmosphere of a funeral at his farewell game three days later.

"Everybody was there, the full international team, teammates from Marseille, who he won the Champions League with in 1993. But they all had a really good time in the Bayer casino in the end!”

One thing is for certain: the recruitment of Völler was far from a gamble and, after two years, 75 appearances and 31 goals at the BayArena, he moved upstairs. His impact was immediate.

"Today, I have to say bringing him to Leverkusen as a player in 1994 and making him sporting director two years later were two of my best decisions," explained Calmund, again to

"His job with signing players was not initially negotiating wages or transfer fees. Rudi had both his feet on the ground as a player and as sporting director. Rudi was worth his weight in gold for us as an international legend as a player, and that certainly helped us to convince lads like Emerson, Ze Roberto, Michael Ballack and Bernd Schneider to sign for Bayer 04.

"Beyond that, he again and again suggested changes over the years, and the current outstanding infrastructure at the club on the footballing side is primarily down to him."

That setup has helped Leverkusen continue to unearth gems from all over the world with Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby, Jeremie Frimpong, Exequiel Palacios, and Edmond Tapsoba fresh-in-the-memory examples of players plucked from all corners of the planet who have gone on to flourish.

Then there is the emergence of the club's academy in recent years, with Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz the poster boys of its success - both have gone on to become fully fledged Germany internationals.

Völler helped to foster the environment for these players to grow and the 62-year-old's humility, that sees him described as supersympathisch by countrymen that meet him, has been critical in establishing trust and respect wherever he has gone.

Watch: All of Florian Wirtz's goals and assists in 2022/23

"Rudi is incredibly empathetic and is very good at understanding the feelings of other people and reacting accordingly," said former Leverkusen CEO Wolfgang Holzhäuser in his tribute to the man he describes as "my best signing".

"I've rarely met anybody who is as friendly as Rudi Völler," he continued. "Being loyal is one of his great strengths. Rudi also accepted responsibility for decisions, which he wasn't completely convinced about. We also never needed a note on the files about things we discussed. He always stuck to his word even if there was resistance from other quarters."

It's also helped that Völler has been there and done it as a player himself and the esteem that he is held for his feats across Europe clearly had a positive impact when it came to both coaching and recruitment.

"I had a very deep relationship of trust with him and we often talked," explained Ballack, who played under Völler the coach for both Leverkusen and Germany and was inducted to Germany's Hall of Fame alongside his former boss in 2021. "Rudi knew exactly what made players tick... He knew exactly that top players were burdened with great expectations and he was able to deal well with stress."

As Völler passed the baton to Simon Rolfes - another former Leverkusen and Germany player - he left Leverkusen in a strong position to continue to challenge at the top end of German football.

Watch: How Simon Rolfes uses AWS for his scouting for Bayer Leverkusen

Subsquently, Völler became a member of the shareholders committee and took on a role as a club ambassador before replacing Oliver Bierhoff as the new director of the Germany national team in Ferbaruy 2023.

“Today is the day where I say thank you to everybody who has supported our wonderful club from the bottom of their hearts over the years," he told supporters on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign. "As the club anthem says, we have to stand together in coming years with a cross on our chest in good and bad times.”

Across his 75 appearances, two stints as sporting director and a pair of brief coaching positions, Völler has certainly lived the highs and lows of life at Leverkusen. As such, his efforts and dedication mean he will never be forgotten at the BayArena.