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4 Oct 2023 Sport

Wilo Champions Talk: Lars Ricken, Part 1

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“The fans’ deepest appreciation”

Champions League winner in 1997, German champion in 1995, 1996 and 2002, Intercontinental Cup winner in 1997 – Lars Ricken is one of the most successful BVB-players of all time. Throughout all these years, he’s remained loyal to the club. Today, he’s the director of the youth development centre and responsible for nurturing talented young players. In this interview, he looks back on his greatest success as a player and explains to us why changing clubs was never an option for him.

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Wilo: Lars, you’ll probably forever be associated with the 1997 Champions League final. Your lob from 25 metres for the 3:1 winning goal against Juventus Turin, only seconds after your substitution, is legendary and was even voted Borussia Dortmund’s goal of the century. How often have you talked about it in the more than 25 years that have passed since that triumph?

Ricken: Very often. Especially last year, 25 years after the final, I gave a lot of interviews and felt a bit like Rocky Balboa, who always talks about his old fights in the fourth part of the film series. But it’s not like I always just tell my story. More often, I get to talk to fans who then tell me about their personal memories. How they perceived the goal or where they were at the time. Because every Borussia Dortmund fan still knows exactly what they were doing at that moment. There are certainly some people who didn’t see the goal live because they thought: Okay, it’s the 74th minute, there’s a substitution … nothing much is happening now. I can get a drink or go to the toilet. That’s probably how many missed the goal.

'Every Borussia Dortmund fan still knows exactly what they were doing at that moment.'

Lars Ricken on his BVB goal of the century

Wilo: Nevertheless, the game remains unforgotten and provides plenty of anecdotes …

Ricken: For me, it’s the deepest form of appreciation when fans tell me their story. For example, a young woman who had bought two budgies and hadn’t decided on their names yet. After the game she knew: Kalle and Lars. It’s really special for me to experience the emotions that are still associated with this game and my goal today.

Wilo: At that time, you played against an absolute top team that was considered unbeatable. They had stars like Zinédine Zidane. What was it like for you at that time to play against these kinds of teams as a young player?

Ricken: That’s exactly where I wanted to go. That was my goal. I don’t want to say that was the norm. The Champions League final was the pinnacle, of course, but we were always represented internationally at that time. In 1998, a year later, we made it to the semi-finals. It was the legendary game in which the goal fell in Madrid. But the 1997 Champions League season was a special challenge in that we hadn’t played well in the league. We had to win the title to be back the following year. Juve were the measure of European football at the time, just like Real Madrid have been in recent years. They had won the Italian championship just before and probably thought they could take the Champions League title on the side. They had fantastic players, as mentioned Zidane as well as Deschamps, Bokšić, Del Piero … But we were confident, we had a great team and we were sure we could win.

Wilo: And that’s how it turned out. Despite the hype surrounding you, especially after the 1997 final, you always stayed loyal to Borussia Dortmund. What were the reasons?

Ricken: There were offers but not from the big international top teams. I had too few games in the national team. I think I had a total of 16 appearances, and offers from these clubs usually only come when you regularly play for the national team. That wasn’t the case for me at the time. And I didn’t want to move to a foreign club that wasn’t top class.

'As a Dortmund native, who himself was part of the yellow wall and whose father played here in his youth, that was out of question for me.'

Lars Ricken on a move to FC Bayern Munich

Wilo: And nationally?

Ricken: Bayern asked me once when I’d already extended my contract with Borussia Dortmund. But as a Dortmund native, who himself was part of the yellow wall and whose father played here in his youth, that was out of question for me.