Although footballers generally remember their title successes, exceptional goals are often more likely to live long in the fans’ memories than a particular win or trophy triumph.
One prime example is that of South Africa’s Siphiwe Tshabalala, whose name will be forever linked with his stunning strike in the Opening Match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, while Germany’s Andreas Brehme and Mario Gotze will always be remembered for the goals that sealed international glory for their team against Argentina in 1990 and 2014 respectively.
Former German international Lars Ricken was capped 16 times for his country, scoring once, but fired his way into the history books and footballing immortality while playing for his club. He scored a long-range lobbed goal for Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 UEFA Champions League final against Juventus just seconds after being brought on as a substitute, guiding the Schwarz-Gelben to the greatest triumph in the club’s history.
The Dortmund stalwart made 301 appearances for this club, scored 49 goals, won three German championships and the Intercontinental Cup (now the FIFA Club World Cup) and was part of the German 2002 World Cup squad that finished the tournament as runners-up. He was also the Bundesliga’s youngest goalscorer for many years, but frequent injuries arguably prevented him from achieving even greater success.
FIFA.com spoke exclusively with the 38-year-old about his new role as a youth coordinator at Dortmund, the future of German football and his memories of 1997.
FIFA.com: You have just returned from a trip to England where you attended an event in honour of the world’s first derby – Sheffield FC vs. Hallam FC – a match first played in 1857. While you were there, you played with a Dortmund fan side against a Sheffield all-star side including former England international Chris Waddle. Were you familiar with his name before the game?
Lars Ricken: Of course! He missed that crucial penalty against us at the 1990 World Cup in Italy [Editor’s note: in the semi-final penalty shoot-out]. I was 14 then, so that shows that negative events can linger in the memory just as long as positive ones. But he wasn’t the only player in the history of English football to have missed a decisive spot-kick – David Beckham is another who immediately springs to mind.
You played in plenty of clashes with your Ruhr Valley rivals Schalke 04 – one of the world’s biggest and best-known derbies. What is it about those matches that makes them so special?
Derby matches are incredibly intense and emotional. It’s very interesting to watch them from inside the stadium. Both sets of fans are so vocal with their chants and singing, but there are times during those games – even when the score is still 0-0 – when you could hear a pin drop because the supporters are so intensely focused on what’s happening on the pitch. You can feel the crackling tension.
Let’s talk about your international career. You went to the World Cup in 2002 and only narrowly missed out on winning the Trophy after losing 2-0 to Brazil in the Final. Do you feel wistful when looking at pictures of Germany’s celebrations this summer?
No, not really. I had a fantastic time in club football. For me, it was important to accomplish something that would endure after my career ended, and that goal in 1997 definitely did it for me. But it has to be said that I was no [Lionel] Messi, [Mario] Gotze or any of those players with almost 100 international caps to their name.
Back then we also had a completely different team when it came to footballing quality – they’re worlds apart – so in that respect I’m pleased with the performances I put in. It’s all good; at the end of the day I played as many internationals as I deserved.
After the 1990 triumph, national team coach Franz Beckenbauer said that his German team would be unbeatable for years to come, but things turned out differently. How do you view the future after the 2014 title?
I’m sure we’ll continue to play a major role in international football over the next few years. Miroslav Klose will probably call it a day and unfortunately Philipp Lahm already has, but otherwise there shouldn’t be any great disruption. Some fantastic players are coming through, but that’s no guarantee of success – other factors play their part too. You can always end up losing and exiting competitions in the knockout stages due to bad luck or injuries.
A few days ago, Germany’s young players triumphed at the U-19 European Championship. It appears a new generation is emerging…
The U-19s are a good age group; they previously finished as European U-17 runners-up, so that shows they’re on the right track. There are some highly talented players in the age groups below them too. There’s no doubt that we’re set up well for the future. In Germany we have a youth system that many other countries envy, and that’s why I don’t fear for the future of German football. But we mustn’t become complacent; we’ve got to make sure this development continues. Our ambitions are growing ever greater.
You have already mentioned your goal against Juventus in the 1997 Champions League final. Can you still bear answering questions about it?
(laughs) There are worse things than being associated with that goal; others have probably experienced much worse. It doesn’t bother me, but I generally never get asked what it was like to score the goal. Most of the time fans or neutrals tell me where they were when I scored it – everything from being on the toilet to standing at a bar in the stadium. One guy told me that he was in the stands yelling at me for being stupid enough to take a shot from that distance, and then two seconds later he was buried under a pile of ecstatic people. One couple met because they celebrated the goal together; they didn’t know each other at all before that, but then they fell in love, got married and had a family. It’s a very special kind of validation and recognition to know that your goal triggered that kind of emotion among spectators and fans. Somehow everyone seems to know where they were when that shot went in.
Having been a talented young player yourself, you have since turned talent scout and have now been appointed as BVB’s youth coordinator having played for them for almost 16 years. How are you finding your new role?
I love my job, especially because I get to work at my club. I think it generally makes sense to get former players involved with youth development. I know about and have experienced the different stages of development young players go through, what qualities you need to become a professional and what is demanded of you as a player at the top level.
You’ve got your coaching badges – aren’t you interested in life in the dugout?
I’m happy with where I am right now. You’ve got a problem if you retire in your mid-thirties and train to be a coach, because there’s simply no substitute for coaching experience. Of course you’ve got plenty of experience as a player, but that’s different. I’m 38 years old now and every coach my age already has 15 years of experience in the job; that’s extremely important. How would I react in certain situations? How do I lead a team properly? You can’t learn that at the touch of a button; you need experience, and it takes time to accumulate that unless you’ve got natural coaching talent.
Finally, could you tell us about the best match and goal of your career?
The best match of my career was in 1995 against Hamburg. We had to win the game 2-0 to be crowned German champions, and I scored to give us a 2-0 lead and finally seal the Bundesliga title after a 30-year wait. The atmosphere inside the stadium that day was so incredible that I even shed a few tears during the game.
The best goal was definitely that one from 1997. While sitting on the bench I’d noticed that the Italian goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi always stood a long way off his line. The great thing was that I’d been practising that shot endlessly in training, so it was amazing to be able to use it and score with it in such an important match.