- Subotic has joined Köln on a six-month loan.
- Defensive mainstay in Dortmund's title-winning sides of 2011 and 2012.
- Yet to feature in the Bundesliga this season.
Neven Subotic has swapped Borussia Dortmund for 1. FC Köln, joining the Billy Goats on a six-month loan deal. It is a move that would have seemed barely fathomable a few seasons ago.
Subotic was a bedrock of the Dortmund side that won back-to-back Bundesliga titles under Jürgen Klopp in 2011 and 2012. The hulking centre-back might even have added a UEFA Champions League trophy to his already-glittering cabinet had Arjen Robben not grabbed a last-minute winner for FC Bayern München in the all-German final in 2013.
Since then, though, the Serbian international has fallen down the pecking order at the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK, especially after Thomas Tuchel took over from Klopp in the summer of 2015. A combination of injuries and a dip in form saw him feature in just six Bundesliga games in 2015/16, and he has not played at all this term, barring two outings with the reserves in the Regionalliga West.
Yet at 28 he is by no means past his prime, and his upcoming stint with Köln could be a golden opportunity to jump-start his career. With 193 Bundesliga games under his belt, the highly experienced Subotic looks like the perfect replacement for defender Mergim Mavraj, who left Köln for Hamburger SV at the start of January.
"We are all happy to have Neven here, and excited for his time with FC Köln," enthused coach Peter Stöger. "His years in Dortmund can be defined by incredible success. He is coming off a difficult spell, but this allowed us the opportunity to work with him. We are convinced that Neven can become an important player for us in the next six months."
The Billy Goats already boast one of the best defensive records in the league this season, having conceded just 15 goals in 17 games (Bayern have done better, letting in 10). Subotic is likely to be thrown in at the deep end alongside Dominique Heintz, but Köln's new No.2 is relishing the prospect.
"I am here with a smile on my face and excited to take on this challenge with a new club," Subotic declared. "I am very grateful for the fantastic years at BVB. As an ambitious professional, my focus starting today is 100 per cent on 1. FC Köln. I want to play in the Bundesliga again. That is what spurs me."
Subotic is certainly no stranger to adversity, and not just when it comes to injuries. As a young boy, his family left war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina for Germany, before moving to the United States in 1999 to avoid deportation.
He stumbled into the world of professional football almost by accident. The family were living in Florida so that Subotic's sister, Natalija, could pursue a tennis career. Neven himself would train on his own in a local park, and it was there that he was spotted by Keith Fulk, an assistant coach for the American Under-17 national team.
"I saw a tall, lanky, thin kid with a bag of balls," Fulk recalls. "He was just ripping them into the goal, over and over. But the thing that impressed and always stuck with me, was that when he finished shooting, he started running. He would shoot the balls, then would run two laps around the soccer field at a very good pace. Then he'd go get the balls and shoot 12 with his left foot. Then he'd run two more, then he'd go and do volleys. And he could strike a ball!"
Subotic was invited along to a tryout, and ended up representing the USA at the 2005 U-17 World Cup. Due to his American citizenship, he might have gone on to be a full USMNT international, but after a public fall-out with one of his coaches, he eventually opted to represent Serbia, making his debut in 2009.
By this time he was back in Europe, having joined 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 2006. It was there that he met Klopp, who recognised Subotic's talent and took him to Dortmund in the summer of 2008. His composure on the ball and expert positioning helped him to become a defensive mainstay for the Black-and-Yellows, and he played a pivotal role in their Bundesliga title successes of 2011 and 2012.
"My attitude has always been the key factor for everything I do," he admits. "Even when I had some bad days, I gave everything and the coaches took notice of that, plus my quality, and let me play."
The next chapter in Subotic's fascinating and unusual story is unwritten. While there were rumours that Klopp was interesting in bringing him to Liverpool FC, he chose to stay in Germany, the country he describes as "home", in an attempt to breathe new life into an already impressive career.
Köln could be the big winners. Currently sitting in seventh place, just three points off the European places, the Billy Goats have chosen to put their faith in a man who has guaranteed Champions League pedigree. If Subotic can stay fit, and conjure some of the magic of old, his new side might even find themselves playing in the competition in 2017/2018.