Munich - Steffen Freund played 13 times in the famous Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke 04. He wore the famous yellow and black on nine occasions, and appeared four times for the Royal-Blues.
'We all celebrated together'
This time, the European Champion from 1996, and a man who knows a thing or two about 'the mother of all derbies', expects a close match. “The performance on the day and those little things will decide it.” Dortmund however, just shade it as his favourites, particularly because their motivation will be “enormous” after the two derby losses last season.
Freund is worth listening to: the Revierderby shaped his career. His fifth Bundesliga game was for Schalke against Dortmund, and the Royal-Blues ran out 5-2 winners at home over Ottmar Hitzfeld’s star-studded Schwarz-Gelbe ensemble. “The whole stadium was shaking,” he remembers. “In stadia with running tracks the atmosphere usually isn’t so good, but it was sold out that day […] I’ll never forget it”. The then 21-year-old was “simply overwhelmed. After the game we did a lap of honour. Suddenly the fans were even louder, they were on the pitch, we all celebrated together”.
This time out, a 5-2 win for Schalke is a slightly more inconceivable. “Dortmund are a bit ahead of Schalke currently,” said the 43-year-old Freund. On Tuesday night both sides were in action in the UEFA Champions League, and lent some weight to Freund’s assessment. While Dortmund played like the European aristocrats they are in beating Arsenal FC 2-1, Schalke were far too naïve in being beaten 3-0 at home to Chelsea FC. Eight points also separate the sides in their bread and butter: the Bundesliga. “Dortmund have settled much better,” Freund noted. The main reason for this, Freund believes, is the recent coaching changes at the Royal-Blues.
'Klopp is the counter-example'
“I’m in no way trying to be judgmental, but when you change coaches, as has happened often in recent years, it means changes for the players and the general environment around the club. Then, you also need time to implement said changes.” Schalke’s recent coaching roll is a long one, since the summer of 2008, Fred Rutten, Mike Büskens, Felix Magath, Ralf Rangnick, Seppo Eichkorn, Huub Stevens and Jens Keller have all held the reins. Seven coaches in five years. In that time, Dortmund have had one: Jürgen Klopp.
“Klopp is the counter-example,” opined Freund. “He’s taken Dortmund from near-relegation candidates to where they are now. He had the courage to throw young players in, gave them confidence, and is now reaping the rewards. They’ve won the Bundesliga twice and reached the Champions League final.”
Freund experienced similar with Dortmund - along with the two league titles he won, he also triumphed at Europe’s top table, lifting the European Cup in 1997. He remembers just as prominently, however, his derby experiences with the Schwarz-Gelbe: “In my second season with Dortmund I played fantastically in a 3-2 win against Schalke. We ended the season as champions, but that game was my breakthrough for Dortmund. After that, I made my Germany debut, but I’ll always remember the phenomenal atmosphere that day.”
A Dortmund victory is perhaps more likely on current form, but that’s not to say Freund is worrying about his other former club. “If they maintain the recent continuity provided by their coach, they’ll be grow together,” said the current Tottenham Hotspur assistant manager. “With the potential they possess, Schalke should be exerting serious pressure on Dortmund and FC Bayern München. They’ve got to ensure that they’re at least number three in Germany.”
'Chatting about it for days'
Regardless, Freund is looking forward to Saturday’s game, “I’d love to see it”. He and ex-Schalke star Lewis Holtby will, “be chatting about it for days”.
And what about a prediction from a man steeped in Ruhr history? Diplomatically, a draw. “1-1, although for the fans I hope it’s 4-4!”
Christoph Gschoßmann/Translation by Daniel Thacker
Watch FIFA 14's prediction for FC Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund on the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: