Fear The Wall was recently asked to perform some Capital J Journalism and have a small interview with former Dortmund great and current BVB International Ambassador Patrick Owomoyela. We had a fun conversation about what it was like to play for Borussia Dortmund, how much the club has changed since his playing days, what it was like to play under Jürgen Klopp, his time playing for the national team, his involvement with the BVB International Academy, and more!
The interview was done in the beginning of October before the poor run of form, so if any questions or answers seem dated, that’s why.
NK: What was it like playing for Borussia Dortmund?
OWO: When you look at the stadium, and the fans, and the fan engagement, it was a fantastic time to be part of. Things weren’t as bright then as they were now when I joined in 2008, but we got better every year. So overall, I had a very, very good time there.
NK: What did you think of Borussia Dortmund before you joined from Werder Bremen?
OWO: I was always sympathetic towards Borussia Dortmund because I had a friend who played for them a couple of years before my time, so I obviously knew about the troubles they were having and their successful history. And when my friend played there from 1999 until 2005, I got to see a lot of games there, including when they challenged for the title in 2002. The stadium was beautiful. Obviously they had a little valley there when they went bankrupt and the success wasn’t there anymore. Bremen was successful then so I wasn’t sure Borussia Dortmund would be right for me, but it turns out it was exactly what I needed.
NK: I’m sure all the Dortmund fans are more than happy that you joined the team.
OWO: I hope so.
NK: How would you describe playing in Signal Iduna Park? It’s known for its atmosphere and you hear stories from fans, but how would you describe playing in front of 80,000 screaming fans?
OWO: It was special every game. Even before as an opponent it gives you something extra. Many are probably afraid of playing against such a huge crowd, especially with the Yellow Wall behind the goal. It always gave me a boost going into the stadium as a visitor. When I joined the club and all those fans were cheering for me, I got even better. It really lifts you up when 80,000 people are screaming for you.
NK: Do you have a favorite memory of playing in Signal Iduna Park, either before your time at Dortmund or when you played for Dortmund?
OWO: I remember every game in Signal Iduna Park, and every game was special, but one of my favorites was in December 2009. It was very cold, around -16 C, everything was frozen. I was wearing shorts and short sleeves with nothing under and I was freezing. It was the 100 year anniversary of BVB and we played against Freiburg. It was a special atmosphere and we had special throwback jerseys on because of the anniversary. In the season where we won the championship where every game to close the season felt like a celebration was especially great as well.
NK: Do you feel that the club has changed at all from when you played to now? I know they’re more financially stable, but has that changed the club in terms of their international appeal or how they’re marketed to non-fans?
OWO: There is a different market out there now. With social media and other new media there are new opportunities. The club is always looking into new ways for money to stay competitive. For fans it is still the same. It’s deep within the DNA of Dortmund to stay true to their history, their fans, and the area. It’s something that has never changed and never will change. Of course we have a a bigger marketing department and are more international with academies in China, Japan, India and the US.
NK: What did you think of the Amazon Prime docu-series? Do you think that’s another way Dortmund can market itself to potential new fans, with behind-the-scenes videos or other kinds of content?
OWO: With all of the sports documentaries going on I think it was a great chance on getting a new look on things. We had a great opportunity to show fans our real selves. It was a great chance to increase fans around the world because it was streamed around the world. I really liked it. I know most of what was said already and I still watched it and couldn’t turn it off.
NK: I thought it was a wonderful series. I thought they did a really good job of presenting the inner-workings of the club. Let’s shift towards what’s going on this season, what do you think of their title chances a month into the season?
OWO: We are still only three points behind the current leader and things are very close together at the moment in the top of the Bundesliga. The club is in 8th but only three points behind number one and the team has way too much talent to be written off. There are a couple of titles to win and you never know how the season will turn out. There’s a lot of points to be given out there. I still think this team has what it takes, there’s not much missing.
NK: Right. I’m hopeful we win at least one trophy this year, other than the Supercup. That should be every Dortmund fan’s goal, that the club wins one. As the BVB international ambassador, you’ve traveled with the club for the last two international tours to the United States. Do you have a moment or a memory that stands out about those trips?
OWO: I’m a huge American sports fan, all the interaction between the different sports, football, basketball, is great for me personally because I’m such a huge fan of everything you guys do. This trip I got the chance to talk to the academy kids. It was great to give them advice and see the passion they had for the game and BVB. It’s something that makes me proud. These are the things I like most, traveling the world. Every time I get a new experience, I’m happy I have the opportunity to do this.
NK: I know you earned eleven caps for Die Mannschaft, so what was it like to represent your country on such a big stage?
OWO: In my opinion, it’s the biggest honor. It was a time there wasn’t too many changes in the national team throughout the year. These days the national teams get changed up too much, with new players every international break. For the boys it’s nice but it’s tough to have a tight educated team with so many changes. It was such a honor to represent my country, the biggest honor you can achieve. It was me and my family’s honor to represent the team eleven times, even though it was eleven friendly caps because we didn’t have to play World Cup qualifiers due to hosting the World Cup. It was important for me and it was important for Germany. Jurgen Klinsmann had just come in and brought in many new things to Germany. I think that he and the team did a great job back then.
NK: Staying on the topic of the national team, they had disappointing showings at Russia 2018 and in the Nations League. What do you think Germany needs to do to bounce back from that?
OWO: There are a lot of critics out there criticizing everything. Overall, there has been a change of players and change of the way of playing. When you change so much it takes time to arrange things perfectly. People expected things to happen right away. In 2018 people expect that since it’s mostly the same team from 2014 that things would be the same but a lot of things had changed. Other teams have changed, and the sport in general has changed. What the manager and the DFB did to switch things up with young players being given more responsibility, I thought it was the right choice. You just need to give these guys some time. Just like I said about Dortmund, these guys are too intelligent to not get it together and start playing well.
NK: That’s good insight, because I believe that a good Germany is good for international football, so hopefully they do well in Euro qualifying and then they have a good performance in 2020. You mentioned earlier the BVB International Academy. What exactly is that, and how did Dortmund become involved in these youth academies in America, Asia, and elsewhere throughout the world?
OWO: Dortmund entered the US soccer market two years ago. It’s not that we just want to bring the team here, play some friendlies and earn some money. It’s a great chance for our club to open up an academy for kids to come and train at the highest level. To give the kids the education the BVB way. We have our coaches train local coaches in the BVB way and train them how we do things. Then every once in awhile someone like me comes and gives them lessons, something to follow after. We found an academy in Dallas that had already been established and partnered with them. We gave them the BVB DNA to help develop those kids further in our way. It’s all just more proof that we are committed to BVB fans worldwide, not just because we had an American named Christian Pulisic. We want to expand our academies to other places in the US.
NK: You mentioned Christian Pulisic, a former Dortmund player who’s now at Chelsea. There’s a lot of young Americans now playing in Germany; Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, even Giovanni Reyna in the Dortmund youth set-up. Why do you think so many young American players are making the move to Germany instead of playing in other top European leagues?
OWO: In the Bundesliga, they will get a chance to prove themselves at the highest level. The league has shown over the last decade it’s always young talent that will get a chance on the highest stage. You don’t see that much from the other countries in Europe. BVB is a club that also has that written in their DNA, to have the best young talent compete at the highest level.
NK: That’s one of the reasons why I try and get people who watch soccer to follow the Bundesliga, because they’ll get the chance to watch so many young and talented players. What was it like playing under Jurgen Klopp? Are you surprised at all by the success he’s had at Liverpool?
OWO: It was fun. He was fun for 350 days a year. The other two weeks you had to find someone else to joke with but for the most part he was always entertaining. He was a good coach and him and his staff were great at teaching the game. He taught us a style that was good for Dortmund at the time. He had great characteristics for a good coach, entertaining, knows what to do, charismatic and good and describing things to us.
Thanks again to Patrick Owomoyela for taking the time to sit and chat with someone who , quite frankly, has only been a recent fan. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to do more things like this with Borussia Dortmund in the future.