Neven Subotic is brace for a relegation dogfight with Bundesliga newcomers Union Berlin. - © imago images / Matthias Koch
Neven Subotic is brace for a relegation dogfight with Bundesliga newcomers Union Berlin. - © imago images / Matthias Koch
bundesliga

Union Berlin's Neven Subotic: "Avoiding relegation the toughest task of my career"

Neven Subotic has won two Bundesliga titles, the DFB Cup, reached the final of the UEFA Champions League and qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but the former Borussia Dortmund defender says beating the drop with new club Union Berlin will likely be the toughest assignment of his career.

Subotic spent 10 successful years at Dortmund, where he developed into a  top-class defender under the discerning eye of Jürgen Klopp.

Now, however, the 30-year-old will now be lacing his boots for the Berlin club, who will be playing in the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019/20 and, as such, are among the favourites to be relegated.

"It's a first for me, and will take some getting used to," Subotic, whose two-year deal is also valid in Bundesliga 2, told German daily, Bild.

"Survival will perhaps be the toughest job of my career. If we do it, we'll be absolutely delighted. We're not thinking about playing in Bundesliga 2 next season."

It may be the smallest ground in the Bundesliga, but the Stadion An der Alten Försterei is home to some of the league’s most passionate supporters. - AFP/Getty Images

Subotic finished fourth in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne last term, an achievement he likened to "winning the title".

The former Serbia international says he had offers from elsewhere at the end of the campaign, but was swayed by the charm and allure of Union's humble 22,012 capacity Stadion An der Alten Försterei and their fervent fan base.

"I know all about sold-out stadiums with spine-tingling atmospheres, but 20,000 crazy Union fans can also cause quite the stir," Subotic explained.

"It's not about size. It's the passion levels of the fans that makes the difference."

And Berlin fans have a history of demonstrating their dedication. With the club in financial trouble ahead of the 2004/05 season, supporters started a campaign called “Bleed for Union” where they donated blood and gave the money to the club to allow it to apply for its playing licence.

The stadium has also hosted an annual Christmas carol event for supporters since 2003, often seeing crowds of over 25,000. The fans even played their part in the construction of the Alte Försterei with over 2,000 members contributing a combined 140,000 unpaid hours of work to upgrade the ground across 2008 and 2009.

Subotic (2nd r.) is used to playing in front of some of Europe’s most passionate fans at the Signal Iduna Park. - imago/Thomas Bielefeld

According to stadium announcer and club director of communications Christian Arbeit, “this makes people feel at home and makes people feel it’s actually their stadium”, while fans themselves believe the ground contains their own blood, sweat and tears.

Subotic knows better than most what a spine-tingling football atmosphere is after his years at Dortmund, playing in front of the Yellow Wall at the Signal Iduna Park, which boasts the largest average attendance in Europe at over 81,000.

He also had a loan spell at Cologne and their perpetually sold-out RheinEnergieStadion prior to his year at Saint-Etienne, who are regarded as having the most passionate fanbase in France.

Subotic’s first chance to play a competitive match at his new Berlin home will come on Sunday 18 August when Union make their Bundesliga bow against RB Leipzig.