Ivan Perisic: "Klopp will return to Borussia Dortmund one day."
When Ivan Perisic came to Borussia Dortmund who had just won the championship in 2011 the title story of the German football magazine Kicker said “Perisic is someone like Ballack”. Expectations placed on the Croatian midfielder were pushed by this. He was meant to be an option for several positions and meant to revive the battle for the spots in the starting XI. And Perisic did indeed signal how big his talent is right from the start but the real breakthrough did not really happen. After one and a half years, 42 league caps (most of them as a sub), 9 goals and 4 assists the right-footed Croatian was transferred to VfL Wolfsburg in January 2013. VfL Wolfsburg – not only the upcoming opponent in the league but the team we are facing in the DFB Cup final on May 30th. Right before those two matches schwatzgelb.com spoke to Perisic not only about the upcoming matches but also about his time in Wolfsburg, his affinity for Borussia and the sleepless night after scoring that amazing goal against Arsenal. Furthermore, the Croatian will talk about Klopp leaving and how he is staying in contact with his former teammates.
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Ivan, you moved to VfL Wolfsburg at the beginning of 2013 because you didn’t get as many caps for the BVB as you wished. At Wolfsburg you’re playing –given you are not injured- more often and in contrast to our BVB you qualified for the Champions League this season. Was the transfer the right decision?
Yes, I think so. I had everything in Dortmund: We were Champions, Cup winners and we performed well in the Champions League, too. But I wasn’t really glad about the minutes on the pitch. I had to sit down on the bench regularly, that’s why I moved to Wolfsburg. I’m happy here, although I had some problems with injuries recently. Before the transfer to Wolfsburg I was never injured for a longer period. But in the last two and a half years I was four times out for a couple of weeks. I had to deal with this situation but now I am match fit again and we qualified for the Champions League. Everything’s fine!
Are you happy with your time at Wolfsburg so far?
The first six months were a bit harder. I was injured, had problems with my adductors and had a medial collateral ligament tear. I was out for two months back then. But the last year was good for me and I played regularly for the national team as well. This year has been harder again so far. I had to get a shoulder operation two months ago and again the adductors were causing problems – but okay: Now everything is running smoothly again. I think the last one and a half years were totally fine the way they were.
Do you miss the Westfalenstadion, the Südtribüne and the passionate BVB supporters?
I certainly do. Whenever I see Dortmund playing, I’m still emotionally attached. I like the club and the great fans and I will always stay a Dortmund fan myself. But now I’m playing for a new team. I am 100% focused on Wolfsburg but my second team is BVB.
After the semi-final in the Cup there was a short discussion between Jürgen Klopp and Dieter Hecking because the BVB coach was doubting that many Wolfsburg fans would come to Berlin. Was that unfair?
The fans in Wolfsburg are good. You have to take into consideration that Wolfsburg is not a big city like Dortmund. There are approximately 100,000 people living in Wolfsburg. Dortmund is five or even six times bigger. Additionally, the BVB has a huge stadium for 80,000. But the fans of Wolfsburg are really nice. They are different from those in Dortmund, but still nice. When we’re playing well, they are well, too. We need create a great atmosphere together.
VfL Wolfsburg has armed themselves again in the recent past. They bought world champions André Schürrle for example. Do you fear because of the many high quality options you could be thrown back to a spot on the bench?
A club like Wolfsburg needs a big squad with many top level players. We have to play 34 matches in the league and compete in Europe and the Cup as well – everyone will get his chances. I’m not afraid of any other player. When I’m match fit and at 100%, I will be playing.
The situation of being the joker is familiar to you from your time at the BVB. How would you characterize the time in Dortmund? Was it a step backward from a sporting point of view or important for your future development?
My time in Dortmund? There is no doubt about it, you know that: If a player comes from the Belgian league it cannot be a step backward. It can only be a step forward. Nonetheless: If a player is not getting enough caps it might be better to move on for him. I’m not somebody who like to sit on the bench and wait for his chance. My transfer to Wolfsburg might have a been a small risk but it was worth it. That’s what I can say in retrospect.
What was the main cause for your transfer to Borussia in 2011?
It was a totally different football compared to the one in Belgium or France. In Dortmund I needed two or three months to adapt. I guess it is normal when a player comes to Germany. But then it was a brilliant season. In my first year we won the championship and the cup. I will never forget that. I will always remember my first match at the Westfalenstadion. That is something very positive.
What role did Jürgen Klopp play?
I think, Borussia Dortmund has scouted me quite a long time. For around two years scouts have been watching nearly every one of my matches in Belgium. I had several options but decided to play for Borussia Dortmund. It was the best option back then. Jürgen Klopp played a part in that, of course. I learned a lot from him and say again: Thanks for the time in Dortmund! But now I am in Wolfsburg and concentrate on the upcoming matches and my job here.
Klopp stated a couple of weeks ago that he will resign at the end of the season. What do you think about his decision?
It is okay. It is a good decision for Borussia Dortmund because it brings new momentum in the team. He’s been there a long time and everything went fine. In his first season he was close to the international qualification and from there it got better and better. Klopp won the Championship twice, the Cup once and he led his team to the Champions League final. After such a long time it is quite normal that at some point there is a season with a little crisis. Resigning was also a personal decision. Maybe he wants to make a step forward, coaching an even bigger club or coaching in another country. I think, Klopp will return to Dortmund at some point in the future.
In your first Champions League appearance against Arsenal London you scored close to the end of the match an amazing goal – right in front of the Südtribüne. How did that feel?
I was so energized I couldn’t sleep the night after that. Without a minute of sleep I went to the training the following day. It was just brilliant. My first match in the Champions League and after ten minutes such a goal against such a team. These are the moments I playing football for.
The start of the season went quite well, too: you scored a couple of goals and showed your potential early. Why didn’t you make it to starting XI though?
In my first season I was the third best goal scorer, right behind Lewandowski and Kagawa. My stats were not bad. The main reason why I didn’t start often was that all the players had an amazing form. Klopp had a first team in his mind and I wasn’t around long enough. I was the twelfth or thirteenth player in the squad. I thought it would get better in the following season, but it didn’t. That is okay for me, it’s over now. I have to look forward.
In 2012 Borussia Dortmund set a new record pointwise in the league and in an amazing Cup final you won 5-2 against FC Bayern. What was the recipe for success back then?
We had a good atmosphere in the dressing room, good players, a good coach and a bit of luck. It all fit together. Every player was in perfect form which was most important. Additionally, it was the fourth season of Klopp at the BVB.
You were speaking of the good atmosphere: Was the team spirit a main factor?
The atmosphere was awesome and that could only be positive. We spent time together apart from football, for example had dinner together after every match.
Are you still in touch with players from the current BVB squad?
Absolutely! Not as much as I used have right after I left but I’m sending SMS with some players from time to time. There have been a few changes in Dortmund, players coming and leaving but there are still ten with whom I played together. I’m in touch with many of them and don’t want to single anyone of them out.
Do you speak about the upcoming matches against each other?
Of course. Last week I went to Dortmund after a match and met five or six BVB players. We spoke a bit and had a good laugh. I like that. I really enjoy meeting them in the league on Saturday and the Cup final – the most important match this season.
You secured the Champions League spot last match day. How important is the match against Dortmund next Saturday?
It surely is important, but you should rather talk to Dieter Hecking about this. Some players still have injuries or bruises and might get a rest on Saturday to be fully regenerate for the final. Surely, we are safely qualified but we would like to stay on the second place. It would be a pity to lose this place after having been there such a long period.
Not only is there a league match next weekend but on the 30th of May there is a special match between Wolfsburg and Dortmund: Have already spoken with your former teammates and told them who’s gonna win?
Of course, we talked about it. And I told them that I want to be on the winning side. I am a player of Wolfsburg now and hope that Klopp is not going to say goodbye with another win in Berlin.
How are the chances for Wolfsburg? Do you think you are the favorite for a win because of your great season so far?
No, Borussia is the favorite. They played loads of great matches in the past years, for example in the Champions League. They gained a lot more experience than we did, but our style of playing football can cause problems for BVB. I think that the odds are 60-40 in favor of Borussia.
You’ve won the Cup already in 2012 with Borussia Dortmund. You know what atmosphere to expect in Berlin.
Yes, it something really special. I’ve won the Cup in France with Sochaux as well, at Stade de France, but Berlin is a bigger thing. Every player wishes to play such a final in his career. It is a dream come true. Half the stadium is black and yellow, the other half green and white. I’m really looking forward to that.
What is necessary to crash Jürgen Klopp’s farewell party? How do you have to play against Borussia Dortmund?
We are a good team and need to play our football. But we’ll need a good day and Borussia must have a bad day. If we want to win the Cup, everything has to fit together smoothly.
What’s your guess for the two upcoming matches against BVB?
I’m a professional player and want to win every match. Of course, I say we’re going to win both!
Interview by Daniel R., 15.05.2015
Translated by Seb