Munich - Over the course of his 15-year professional career, Steffen Freund had spells with both Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04, offering him a rare double-sided insight into the passions invoked by the mother of all Germany derbies.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com, Freund discusses just how much this classic Ruhr district match-up means to the players, fans and cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen as a whole - as well as how grateful he is to both clubs for giving him the opportunity to experience it all first-hand.
bundesliga.com: On Saturday, 20 October, Dortmund play against another of your former clubs FC Schalke 04 in the Ruhr district derby. How close are Schalke right now to competing on the same level as Dortmund?
Steffen Freund: Both teams have made a similar start to the season. I think this game will tell us a lot about the direction each of them is heading in. If you consider the excellent form that Bayern Munich are in, this is a massive game for Schalke and Dortmund. The winner will stay within touching distance of Bayern, while the loser will fall further behind in the table. The stakes are very high this time around. Derby games are always special. They're important for the fans and for the players as well. This one's too difficult to call.
bundesliga.com: You played for both Dortmund and Schalke: what was it like to play for each of them in this derby?
Freund: It's comparable with the Manchester derby or Tottenham against Arsenal, and arguably the biggest game of its sort in Germany given how close the two teams are to one another. In terms of tradition and geographical proximity, this is the game the fans look forward to most. These games probably mean more to the fans than to the players, but the players are well aware of their extra significance. For the fans, the build-up begins weeks in advance of the occasion.
bundesliga.com: Did you ever prefer playing for one club over the other?
Freund: (laughs) I'd answer that in a different way. Schalke 04 signed a young Steffen Freund from Stahl Brandenburg, which was a very brave decision for the club to make. I'm happy that they did and gave me the chance to succeed in the Bundesliga, because Schalke had just got promoted that season. Later on in my career I played for Borussia Dortmund, a side who were challenging for the Bundesliga title. Obviously you have to consider the degree of success you have and my time at Dortmund was extremely successful - we won the Champions League, the Bundesliga twice and the DFB Cup twice as well. I was playing for Germany as well at the time, so I would have to say that, in a sporting sense, my time at Dortmund was wonderful. I can't really say which club it was better to play for. I'm just grateful to both.
bundesliga.com: Do you miss playing in those games?
Freund: Of course. Being a professional footballer is a dream come true. It takes a while to realise just how special your life is as a footballer and you don't have much time to enjoy it, since at the top level you're always preparing for the next game. I got to represent my country and then I moved to the English Premier League and had to adapt to the Saturday-Wednesday playing rhythm. On the one hand it's tough, but on the other it's an absolute dream. And everything that comes after is a lot tougher, that I can tell you.
Interview by Bernard Reeves