Schruns - Heading back to the changing rooms at the FC Schruns stadium in Austria involves going up one small step, but following another gruelling pre-season training session, even that can pose a challenge for the SC Freiburg players.
“Phew, made it,” were the first words from the mouth of veteran Sascha Riether, who returned to the Black Forest - his footballing home - for the first time in seven years this summer and is keen to put his experience to good use with Christian Streich’s young side.
Talking to bundesliga.com, the right-back, part of VfL Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga winning side in 2009 and formerly of Premier League side Fulham FC, discussed his return to his Freiburg roots, the club's youthful transformation in recent years and some unorthodox pre-season training exercises.
bundesliga.com: Sascha Riether, how much of a physical toll has pre-season taken on you so far?
Sascha Riether: You always just have to survive a training camp. You’ve got to try and get involved in every exercise and stay injury free. It’s really important to work on laying the foundations for the upcoming campaign.
bundesliga.com: Are events such as the wild-water rafting you took part in on Wednesday welcome alternatives?
Riether: Without a doubt. That was something completely different. It was a lot of fun, we had super weather and the scenery with the mountains and the waterfalls was like a dream. But it was incredibly hard work, especially considering that we’re not used to those type of movements. The waves made life really difficult at times. After the two-and-a-half hour adventure we were all dead on our feet and most of us ended up sleeping on the bus ride back.
bundesliga.com: You’ve now returned to Germany after two years at Fulham FC. How closely did you follow the Bundesliga during your time in England?
Riether: I always kept track of the Bundesliga - midweek matches, Cup games, the lot! Firstly because I’ve spent much of my career playing in the Bundesliga and secondly because I still know a lot of the lads here. It’s only natural that your heart still beats for a former club.
bundesliga.com: And for SC Freiburg most of all...
Riether: Yes, of course. I’ve never lost contact with the club and always have my fingers crossed for SC - last season especially, as it was a campaign with a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately Freiburg managed to turn things around in the end and stay in the division. That made me really happy.
bundesliga.com: Now you’re back in Freiburg and once again wearing the No. 22 shirt, so at first sight nothing has really changed…
Riether: I’m from Freiburg, grew up here, had some fantastic years here and have learned a lot during that time. I was away for seven years and am now a few years older. I’m not the young Sascha anymore, but I will always try to give my best and hope to pass on some of my experience to the younger members in the squad. Perhaps that way I’ll be able to help those who still have a long way to go in their careers.
bundesliga.com: Do you see yourself as a leader at SC Freiburg?
Riether: In the teams I’ve played in up until now, I’ve always been a player willing to assume a leadership role. That's all part of my mentality, but I don’t necessarily believe that I’ve been brought in just because of my leadership qualities.
bundesliga.com: In Matthias Ginter, SC Freiburg have lost not only an incredible talent, but also a home-grown lad who identifies so strongly with the team. What’s your opinion on his move to Borussia Dortmund?
Riether: It’s obviously disappointing for Freiburg. He was a very important player and on top of that a really good one as well. He’s now become a World Cup winner and everyone here was delighted for him, but he’s got to take the next step and we wish him all the best.
bundesliga.com: You joined Freiburg from Offenburg FV in 1998 before making your way through the youth ranks, starting with the Under-17s and going on to celebrate your professional debut in 2002 as a 19-year-old. SC have brought ten of their current youth team to the training camp - did they have a similar policy when you were a youngster?
Riether: Generally speaking there’s a lot of importance placed on promoting youth in Germany. That’s not the case in places like England for example. As a result players have to get a few years under their belts in order to establish themselves as a regular. Nowadays, there are many good young players in the Bundesliga. Here at Freiburg so many of the players have come from our own academy, which is fantastic.
bundesliga.com: It also leads to a scramble for first-team positions. How do you see your chances of featuring regularly this season?
Riether: We’ve got a lot of competition in our squad, which is completely normal. The important thing isn’t who’s on the pitch, but that there’s a team collective out there. The World Champions taught us that most recently.
bundesliga.com: Now back in your footballing home, are you already thinking about life after football?
Riether: It’s one step closer to home. I feel fit enough right now to play for a few more seasons. I just want to soak it all up. I want to play for as long as it’s still fun and my body is willing to keep pushing through. We’ll see what happens after that. Staying on board with SC Freiburg is definitely one possibility.
Interview by Maximilian Lotz