If I could ask anyone about how it feels to succeed with Borussia Dortmund, I would have a hard time coming up with a better answer than Karl-Heinz Riedle. The BVB and Germany legend has basically won everything football can throw at you. In 1990, Kalle became world champion with Die Mannschaft, and in 1995 and 1996, he won the Bundesliga title with Dortmund. He was also an instrumental part of Dortmund’s only ever Champions League winning squad, and he scored two of the most important goals in BVB-history, when The Black and Yellows beat Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final.
Now, almost 11 years after Borussia Dortmund last lifted Die Meisterschale, I had the chance to sit down with a bunch of skilled journalists for a roundtable with the man himself. This provided me with a great look behind the scenes in terms of how you handle intense pressure as a professional player and how special the Bundeslige title is for Borussia Dortmund — both as a professional football club and as a city.
Questions and answers are paraphrased for fluidity and understanding.
Question: You (Karl-Heinz Riedle) have experienced some tremendous success with Dortmund in the past. I’m wondering if you can perhaps share a detail or a moment where you saw how much it (the title) means to the city and how much the football team means means to the city.
Karl-Heinz Riedle: I mean, to be honest, when I joined Borussia Dortmund, and we won the title, I had no idea what was going on. It was just incredible. Here, 10 years after running behind Bayern Munich, we are so desperate to get another title on the shirt of Borussia Dortmund. The city will be boiling, and (I’m sure) it will be huge with about 1 million people around in the streets. There will be a parade around the city, and it will be absolutely special for the players, if they can make it. There’s still 90 minutes to go, but it looks very good.
Question: Do you think as a former center forward, do you think that we are seeing a bit of the rebirth of the number 9 at the moment, especially when you consider how important Sebastian Haller has been for the second half of the season? And maybe also how much Bayern and the National team have perhaps missed somebody like him in in recent months and years?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: It’s a small wonder that he has slowly been coming back to his best in the last six games. I think he is really on the way to becoming the player Borussia Dortmund signed in the beginning. I’m quite sure, that if we have had him from the start of the season, we would have gathered more points.
It’s very important to have a number 9 in our system. You need a point to where you can play the ball. He (Haller) is good at holding the ball. He’s good in the air. He’s technically good. He has all the attributes you need from a really good number 9, and on Saturday he will hopefully deliver another fantastic performance for us.
Question: Where do you see the next number 9 emerging in the Bundesliga, considering how few goals have been scored by strikers this year?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: To be honest, at the moment, I don’t see too many number nines coming up. I mean, we have Timo Werner for the national team, but he’s not a proper number 9, so I think we have to wait another 2-3 years before we can maybe see a top number nine of German origin again.
Question: This weekend could be to Bellingham’s last game for Dortmund. If we do happen to win the title, do you think he would leave Borussia Dortmund as a legend?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: I mean, he is already a legend. I have never seen a player, besides Erling Haaland, of this quality in this age. We haven’t seen a lot of players perform like Jude Bellingham for Borussia Dortmund. I really hope we can hold onto him, but it will be really difficult.
We have seen other players going back to Dortmund before. Jadon Sancho, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and (Shinji) Kagawa all played their best football here. They were heroes here, but we have not seen much to them after they left. I mean, with Jadon (Sancho), it’s such a shame (what happened to him), and I just don’t hope Jude’s making this decision too early.
Question (from me!): Dortmund have been chasing Die Meisterschale for almost 11 years now. Now that we are this close to the title, do you feel like there’s different this year compared to prior years? Maybe in terms of the team sheet and coaching staff.
Karl-Heinz Riedle: I definitely believe that we have maybe the best squad of the last 10 years right now. We even have players on the bench who can come off and make a difference. We also have a coach in Edin, who I think really has brought back the right mentality to Dortmund, which is really important if you want to win titles. Edin has an incredible story, coming from Die Süd Tribune as a big fan. It’s really an incredible story, and it would be absolutely fantastic for him (to lift the title).
Question: As a player, how you how you are able to focus on the task at hand with all the noise around you?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: It’s really a big question, because normally you should just do your normal routine and don’t get too affected by all the stuff around you. But for sure — every player will be looking at Instagram or in the newspaper, but honestly, when the first whistle is blown, it’s usually all gone. You can of course be a bit nervous because you know what you can achieve, but also what you can lose. Every good player should be able to handle this kind of pressure, but maybe the best solution is being both relaxed and focused (as you normally would).
Question: Dortmund have been criticized over the last couple of years for lacking mentality. Maybe it’s because we have a lot of young players who aren’t as hungry, or maybe they don’t understand what it means to player for Dortmund, as they’re already thinking about their next step. What do you think has changed this season in regards to that?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: It’s a mix of a lot of different things. I think Terzic has made a huge impact on all the young players, because he was a fan before, so he knows what it means for the city. Players like Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham are different from players we’ve had before. They are both very hungry, and maybe that has been projected onto some of the current players. I think a player like Julian Brandt has also really benefitted form this, as he is now playing some of the best football in his career. A good mix of young and older players and the right coach is maybe the recipe for success.
Question: How do you think a potential Bundesliga title for Dortmund will impact the outside view of the league in terms of it being competitive?
Karl-Heinz Riedle: If Dortmund win the title, I hope it can lift some of the international markets the Bundesliga and Dortmund are trying to hit. Kids who have grown up in the last ten years have only experienced Bayern Munich as champions, and I’m sure it will be beneficial for Dortmund if they win the title.
Question (from me!): Do you think Dortmund have done the right thing by shifting their focus a bit by also leaning more into acquiring more established players like Axel Witsel or Sebastien Haller? Do you think Dortmund maybe have to compromise a bit more on their model, which is heavily reliant on bringing in younger players? (In terms of being able to compete domestically and internationally for years to come).
Karl-Heinz Riedle: Yeah, I think so. You need to have a spine in the team. You need a top goalkeeper, two top-level defenders, top midfielders and a good striker. From there, you can adjust the team with younger players and squad players. I think Zorc and Kehl have done a fantastic job. They always look for players who fit our system, as for example Haller, who I think was just the right player for our current system.
Interviewing Karl-Heinz Riedle was an absolute joy for me, and I think this roundtable came at just the right time! Speaking to a Dortmund legend from the highest shelf is great in itself, but it’s even better when you get to share it with an audience!
Thanks to Sean (for not being able to attend) and the people from SB Nation and APCO Worldwide! Now let’s get that title on Saturday!