Neven Subotic has won the Bundesliga before, but now he wants to win another season in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin. - © AFP/Getty Images
Neven Subotic has won the Bundesliga before, but now he wants to win another season in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin. - © AFP/Getty Images

Neven Subotic on Union Berlin, Jürgen Klopp and the challenge of the Bundesliga


With two Bundesliga titles and two DFB Cups in the locker, Neven Subotic had clubs lining up when he became a free agent in the summer, yet only Union Berlin ticked all of the boxes for the seasoned Serbian campaigner.

The 30-year-old secured a return to the Bundesliga after 18 months out on loan at Saint-Etienne in France with a decision which may have raised a few eyebrows, but made perfect sense to the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund centre-back.

"They were one of just a handful of clubs where I felt everything was spot on," Subotic told the Kicker meets DAZN podcast. "There's a long list of things that I looked at and I tried to make my mind up from them, like how solid the future looks for a club, and that they are not a club where the coach is changing every few months because the coach is important to me. Money? That's pretty far down the list for me.

"I'm not going to have ten transfers ahead of me so I had to be very careful and consider my decision well. I know the Bundesliga, I know it's very challenging and I think all these factors can make me a better footballer. I've now got two seasons to prove I can not only accept this challenge, but that I can also pass it."

Neven Subotic listened to plenty of offers in the summer, but none were as appealing as that of Union Berlin. - 2019 Getty Images

Union are Subotic's fourth Bundesliga club after originally joining Mainz in 2006, at a time when he was studying at college in the United States of America and was not necessarily optimistic about making it as a pro footballer.

"For me it was clear that if there was even only the smallest of chances, then that is what I wanted to do, although it has to be said that when I was at uni, I didn't really believe I would get a chance," Subotic said. "For footballers in America, Europe's something of a fairy tale: you've read all about it, but it's like a different world.

"The quality of football in Europe is so high and starts so early compared to America, where there's still a lot of work to do. After the U17 World Cup, I was with the USA's national team and an agent came to me and told me that he had contact with German clubs and he could organise a trial for me.

"That was amazing – even just a trial was a highlight for me. Then a few months later, I had a trial with Mainz's first team. It was meant to be a few weeks but then I got an offer of a contract. It was a quantum leap. I was delighted to say I could train with a Bundesliga club, and then I was able to play a game, then in the second season I was a regular."

Jürgen Klopp (r.) gave Neven Subotic his break at Mainz, and he wanted him at Borussia Dortmund – where the pair won back-to-back Bundesliga titles – too. - 2015 Getty Images

Those days, the man calling the shots at Mainz was none other than current Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, who would subsequently give Subotic his next big break in the game at Borussia Dortmund.

"I spent two seasons in Mainz, from 2006 to 2008," said Subotic, who also played for Cologne. "The second year was spent in Bundesliga 2 and it was clear to me that my aim was to seek the next challenge. [Jürgen] Klopp found his next challenge at Dortmund and he called me and said: 'If you'd like it, we're looking for somebody.' For me it was a no-brainer.

"Some of the most beautiful moments of my life were then [with Dortmund]. It was a very special time, above all because it was a successful time. I think 'Kuba' [Blaszczykowski] summed it up best when he said he felt that when we were lined up in the tunnel, we were already 2-0 up because we were united and fought for each other so much that our opponents would need to have so much luck and we would have to have so much bad luck for them to have any chance at all.

Neven Subotic said he and his Borussia Dortmund teammates were already primed for victory within the tunnel of the Signal Iduna Park. - 2010 Getty Images

"We had such a great team spirit and I think this had a major influence on the way my life progressed; to realise that every player can fulfil their potential. I may not be the most naturally talented footballer in terms of technique, but it's something I have always worked on and I've realised how those who work the hardest, and the cleverest, will likely reach their goals in the end.

"I really love this challenge and that was one of the reasons why I returned to the Bundesliga, for a fraction of the salary I was getting in France, because the challenge is greater for me here personally. It's also a big challenge for the club, given the context of it being their first season in the Bundesliga. After my career, I'm sure I'll have a few stories to tell about my footballing days, and I expect this chapter to feature heavily."

Watch: the story of Neven Subotic

Indeed, it is an important chapter not only in Subotic's career, but also that of Union. Just five years after renovating their Stadion an der Alten Försterei home with the invaluable help of their fans, at a tricky time for the club financially, they are now in the top flight of German football for the very first time, rubbing their shoulders with top Bundesliga brass.

"For us, staying up would be like winning the league and we need to fight for that," Subotic said. "We need to find this strength together, and that's something that drew me here."