Sebastian Kehl: When you play for Dortmund there are not many other clubs that tempt you
schwatzgelb.com: Your BVB career started with arguments between Dortmund and Bayern. What do you think: How would your career have turned out if you hadn’t joined BVB?
Sebastian Kehl: I made the right decision with my transfer to Borussia Dortmund. To spend the last 13 years with this club gave me so much in my career. We experienced the highs and lows together. For a player it is unique to actively shape the course like that, from winning the Championship to coming close to bankruptcy and then to win the double and reach the Champions League final. I think no other club or player managed that. It’s an experience I relished to go through with BVB.
What kind of expectations did you have when you came to Dortmund? Many people always have coal, beer and steel in the back of their minds when they think about the city. How did you get to know it in the last 13 years?
The transfer pretty much happened all of a sudden so I couldn’t really explore the city before, however that wasn’t important for me in that moment. It was rather the football perspective that counted. From day one I had the feeling that Borussia Dortmund really wanted to sign me and that they saw a person in me that could grow into a responsible position. Borussia Dortmund was always a big club in football. I knew that because of the games I played against BVB with my old clubs and Borussia’s European Cup games I watched on TV. You don’t really bother thinking about the city as a 21 year old. Back then I already had a girlfriend but no children yet. As a young guy you don’t really need an awful lot, that’s why I simply took it all in but of course I had prejudices. You expect grey mist in the air when you arrive in the Ruhr region. However that’s not the case at all. The city really transformed itself in the last years and I think Dortmund is one of the nicest cities in the Ruhr area. My family and me got used to the people and also came to love Dortmund with all its advantages and disadvantages. Of course there are things you get in other cities that you can’t get here but that’s not crucial for me. For me it’s vital to have people around you that you like to spend time with and who you are comfortable with and that’s what I always had in this city and this club.
Were you aware of the close connection between the club and the city before the transfer? That was probably a little different in Hannover and Freiburg.
Other clubs also have the same commitment. The people in Freiburg are attached to their club too, same as in Hannover. Hannover is also a traditional club. When things were going well the stadium was also packed. There have been a lot of arguments with the fans in the last weeks of the season but there’s also a huge enthusiasm. Even in the 2nd Bundesliga we used to have 40,000 people at the games back then in Hannover. They are big clubs too but Borussia Dortmund was always a league above. That’s how I expected it and that also proved to be true. It’s something very special with the 25,000 on the Südtribüne behind you. There used to be as many people in the stadium in Freiburg overall as we have on the Süd. The atmosphere in Freiburg was still good in a different kind of way but of course it’s another thing to play for Borussia Dortmund. That’s also because the club is strongly attached to the city. There’s not much more than football here after beer and coal fell away. Even though the mayor won’t like to hear this now (laughs) but that’s why for me Dortmund is Borussia Dortmund. The club comes first for the majority of the people. When someone abroad hears the word Dortmund everyone thinks of Borussia Dortmund.
What are the differences between today’s Borussia and the club you joined back then?
Of course the club extremely grew. We were already a huge club after the Champions League triumph in the 90s but since then there’s been a lot of development, for example when you look at the amount of employees from now to then, the structures of the club or how the stadium has changed. The club handled all those changes very well and also made the right conclusions after the negative years. BVB is a lot more stable now.
The training ground also changed a lot. You trained under different conditions when you started here.
I also liked the atmosphere at the old training ground because it was close to the stadium but of course the demands increased. We needed better training conditions and the youth department and the school were also added. When you compare the old training ground at Rabenlohn with the area in Brackel you notice how the club developed. We also live from the youths and have to keep working on bringing one or the other young player closer to the first team squad. BVB created the perfect conditions for that.
You won the Bundesliga right after your transfer to BVB, then it slowly started to go down hill, in football and financially. Did you think about a transfer during this time?
There always used to be enquiries but nothing tempted me in the Bundesliga. When you play for Borussia Dortmund there are not many other clubs that tempt you.
Why not? What is the difference between Borussia and other clubs, In your opinion?
It is just the scope and the pulling power of the club. It is the tradition, it's the fans and it's the stadium. To which Club do I want to switch to after Borussia Dortmund? Okay, objectively you could say: of course Bayern Munich is a top address. They have a incredible successful past and therefore have worked themselves into a lead. But apart from that? Okay, if you stay objectively you could also say: The blue ones have somewhat of a fan culture as well - different than ours, but there is a lot of emotionality in it. They have not got the Bundesliga trophy in ages, but they also live for the football.
You mentioned the Blue ones: In the past you have always had a great relationship with Christoph Metzelder, who switched, after his detour to Real Madrid, to our district neighbor. How did you experience that? His popularity in Dortmund totally vanished because of that.
It wasn't easy for Christoph after Madrid. He was still really attached to Dortmund, even though he had a blue history as well. He did play there as a youth and Haltern (editor's note: the city in which Metzelder grew up) is more of a region for blue fans. Christoph had his doubts when he got the offer from Gelsenkirchen and he thought a lot about taking it or not. For himself it was the best possible solution in terms of sport perspective.
My friendship with him did not suffer because of that. We've been through a lot together and formed a close friendship. Then you also stand together in bad times. We still have a good connection with each other. Even though you don't have much friends as a BVB-Player with the blue ones. Christoph and I can differ very good between friendship and rivalry in sports.
He also once helped us in a derby as a blue one with an almost own-goal
But he also destroyed the Schalker championship with a ball into the box when he played for us.
The century-derby will of course never be forgotten
A lot of people managed to forget it somehow after he started dressing in blue.
With Metzelder you also share the bad fortune of tedious injuries. It all started with the foul of Salihamidzic right after the World Cup of 2006. In retrospect, was that the most bitter moment of your career?
Of course that foul was a situation that burdened me a lot. It was a big cut. I even needed some time to cope with it, because some things changed for me physically as well as mental after the World Cup, which was a great tourney for me. It really threw me back a long time and it was the start of a lot of injuries that were based on that first one.
Today I can speak about it much more calmly, because I learned to accept it as part of my career. Injuries are part of our job and you have to learn to deal with it. You also have to fathom injuries as what they are: A chance to learn in other areas and to work on yourself and the weaknesses that you have. That's why I am also thankful for what I have experienced because of that injury. Your surroundings, the team and the club are thing you get to know better that way. You learn how fast paced this business is. If you don't play two times in a row, or are gone for 5 weeks, then you are no longer present and two more weeks later nobody even know that you are still there. That was a real educational experience which let me mature.
But I am happy that I managed to turn it around once more and that's what I can be proud of. I managed to come back after every injury and also managed to reinforce my appreciation inside the team and the club. And I also could be so successful once more. That's why I am thankful and humble.
Do you think that maybe because of all those lows you can appreciate these big achievements, in this late phase of your career, even more?
Definitely. These negative experiences let you cope with some situations in a much more humble way. Then you simply learn to savor the success much more. And the success we had once more, especially in 2011 and 2012, were brilliant. Not only for me, but for everyone.
Did you speak with Salihamidizic again after what happened?
I saw him once sometime. Today I would assume for him that he didn't do it on purpose. Of course there always are other voices, but that is over now.
Marco Reus prolonged his contract with the Borussia, even though he did not win a single title yet and would have a great chance for that elsewhere. Several other players switch to other clubs like Bayern Munich because of that. In your opinion, what really does count in professional football: titles, money or something completely different?
Every player has to answer that question for himself. I think a lot of players have the wish to play in a foreign country once, maybe even in a special club. Other players are satisfied by playing in the Bundesliga. They don't need the international business, maybe they are also not that financial oriented, that they say, they have to turn every dollar around. Or they say: What I earn now is enough for me. I don't think you can answer that question in general. Everyone has his own perspective on that matter. The older you get the more important other things get, it's not the extra coin or a compelling club anymore. You learn to cherish other things.
And still I say: Everyone that has the wish to change the club, or recognizes the business as what it is - namely to play ten years or more football, to absorb emotions and at the end of course also financial success -, I am really not angry about them. Because it is part of our business. Players are getting bought, players are getting sold, the fans are sometimes happy and sometimes they are mad.
But isn’t it normal? Of course supporters are mad if a good player leaves the club.
Yes but what should Gladbach have said after Reus went to Borussia Dortmund? It is the business. I have learnt to accept that some players have special wishes, maybe also because of their origin. There is a difference: A Brazilian player may handle these kinds of situations different than someone from Germany who has his roots in the region. To generalize this fact would not be fair and everyone should have this fairness towards this players. Therefore I like that people nowadays say: If Ilkay wants to go, he can do it! That’s a part of the system. I can understand that he wants to join another club. But then he has to go now so that the club has enough money to buy a new player.
Did your perspective change as time passed? Did you look at different things today then ten years ago?
Of course all players would like to be successful. If he does not want to be, he would miss his occupation. Someone who running alongside will never make it in a big club. The air up there simply becomes thinner. And therefore a step to Borussia Dortmund – even in this situation of pressure, this stadium and due to the importance – it is something you have to accept. You have to be conscious of the fact that you play for championships as well. You cannot simply say in the end: well, 12th place is also fine.
The desire for titles is always present. There is only the question if you completely want to make yourself dependent of these titles. I do not know if someone who won 15 titles somewhere else is happier than someone who won 3 titles with Borussia Dortmund. Because these three titles have been won in another situation, in a surrounding with completely different emotions. I do not want to exchange my titles and the rounds around the Borsigplatz with 15 others.
Which of the three championships was the most beautiful for you?
The first one was sensational because we did not really believe in it anymore. 2002 was a tumultuous year. When we overtook Leverkusen right before the finish line. The last match against Bremen was incredible. I will never forget it. We were 0:1 behind! My second championship was dominated by injuries. I did not play a lot, that’s why this one is not that important like the others. But with the Double the next year, I went all in und I was captain. It could not be any better. Thus each title has his own history.
Jürgen Klopp did really influence the last seven years and gave the club a new philosophy. How did you feel that the most as a player?
We have recognised this from the first moment: With the words he welcomed us, with the passion and fervour with which he made us clear, what the squad and the club would bring ahead once more. He did realise this together with Aki Watzke and Michael Zorc and completed the squad. With players no one really knew at this point of time. And everything did happen with the appropriate method. This brought the success back to Borussia Dortmund. That’s why Jürgen Klopp does have a really, really big impact on the way the club presented itself to the outside. However, this time is over now – but it will go on!
Which other coaches of Borussia Dortmund did influence yourself during your time here?
Each coach does influence a player. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some things are also negative, you simply accept them and say to yourself: “Ok, you don’t want to do it this way anymore.“ But it all has something to do with characters and we had a lot of different coaches. With Matthias Sammer I had a really, really ambitious coach who was really eager. Nevertheless, his character and his passion did really thrill me when we talked together. And Matthias Sammer was a big player at Borussia. Then there came coaches with more experience who were longer in the business. Bert van Marwijk for example, who became national coach afterwards. Everyone had his own philosophy, an own style of training, and an own style of talking. It would not fair to compare these coaches with each other.
You mentioned Matthias Sammer. We somehow regret that he does not behave like he had a big history with our club. How do you judge this from the distance? Do you still have contact to him?
I did have contact with him from time to time. And the contact was always characterised by respect. But he does now represent the colours of a different club and he does it in the same passionate way as he did it in the past.
Coming to the end, lets talk about your future. A new chapter of your life is right in front of you. How do you rate the decision to quit? Do you thing it is the right time?
When I made the decision to extend my contract and end my career afterwards in April last year, I did maybe not exactly know what I was up to. But after time passed by I was more and more confident that this decision was the right one. To quit on this high level where I am now will be a lot more satisfying than quitting next year with the feeling that I am no longer really needed or even being behind physically. That was something I would like to spare myself. This is something very valuable for me.
Did you get any second thoughts to extent your contract again?
Many people said: “Come on, just one more year, you’re in a great shape at the moment.” But as I said: It was important to me to end my career on a high level and to open a new chapter with all the positive memories. Who could’ve written a better script than one which ends with cup final in Berlin? That is amazing! A perfect script for me and I hope we can end it as perfectly. That would be a great end for my career as well.
Do you feel melancholy or are you pleasantly anticipating what’s about to come?
I am more anticipating what’s to come. That feeling has grown over the last few weeks. I will travel a bit after the final, try to leave things behind and get some distance between what has been and what will come. I will be still connected to football in general and Borussia Dortmund in particular, of course. We’re in good talks and maybe something will emerge from them.
With the end of your career your rhythm of life will change as well. Which change are you most delighted in?
There will be changes in my physical shape… (laughing) …which I’m not looking forward to! I’ll meet with Arne [press officer Arne Niehörster, ed.] twice a week. And not just for motorbike tours, but rather for running.
Arne Niehörster (shocked): “WHAT?”
Seriously: Of course, I’m glad to have more time with my family, especially with the kids who were able to follow the BVB and my career very positively in the last few years. My son is eight years old, he was attending the match against Hoffenheim where I scored and he was in Berlin as well. I’m very thankful that he can experience all this. And my daughter, too, who doesn’t have much interest in football though. But it is great that the kids and the family is able to accompany this time and still be glad about what’s to come: more time together, more time for travelling and a daily routine where we have loads of options. All the sacrifices due to my life as a professional football player are not necessary anymore. I worked for this indecency and I am looking forward to it.
What will you miss the most?
There are many things I’ll miss. Entering the stadium every other week (smiles). Adrenaline boosts, emotions, especially after the matches, after wins, I won’t get that to this extent anymore. I’m sure about that.
Come and watch a match on the Süd with us!
I’ve been tot he Süd before. But having this weekly confirmation will be something I’m surely gonna miss. At the moment the whole week is focused on the Saturday and suddenly this is not a goal anymore.
Of course, I will be missing all the great moments with the team. Working on a goal together, for example. I’m on my own now which will be a challenge as I’ve always been a teamplayer. But that will be just a small timespan. In the future there will be a perspective for me where I can work in a team, in another function, in another area. And then I can set new goals and work ambitiously on those. But right now, I’m glad to slow down my life and let it just drift.
You probably don’t want to talk about your job plans in detail. But maybe you can tell whether you’re future will be in football business or a totally different area?
I see myself in the sports business. I gathered so many experiences there, it would be stupid to waste them. It is a good skill I can offer so I can imagine myself in the sport area quite well. In what kind of function, where and how, I don’t know about that because nothing is fixed, yet. But there are certainly interesting job offers and staying in the football business would be great.
To wrap up, a look backward: We did an interview with you twelve years ago and you said that you’re not sure about your standing among the fans. That was right after the match in the league cup where you got sent off for pushing referee Jürgen Aust. What do you think about your standing now? Are there less doubts?
Back then I was new to Dortmund and I think that these red cards which happened shortly after each other were not making too many people happy. Of course, this worries a player. You give your best but you don’t know what people think about you. Most certainly, not everyone is wearing a Kehl-jersey on the Süd or even the whole stadium and there will always be people who say: “It’s time he ends his career”. But I’m sure, I was able to convince many people with my football playing style and my behavior. I’ve always tried to embody this club and identified myself with it. And even if people just feel respect for what I did and how I always came back, then everything is fine. You will never be loved by everyone. But if you try – like I did – to be authentic and do it your way, I hope that the people here in Dortmund and especially the fans, got to know me and what I’m standing for.
And maybe there is some more to come …
That would be great. Thank you for taking the time so close to the end of your career!
Translated by: San, Christ, Eike, Seb, 05.06.2015