While playing for Borussia Dortmund, Sebastian Kehl won the Bundesliga three times and the DFB Cup once. A long-serving captain of Dortmund, he scored 20 goals in 263 league matches for Die Schwarzgelben between 2002 and 2015. He started his top-flight career, however, at Freiburg.
Ahead of the meeting of his two ex-clubs on Saturday, the 37-year-old told bundesliga.com about his fondness for his first team and the lack of consistency at Dortmund.
bundesliga.com: You made your Bundesliga debut with Freiburg in 2000. What has stuck in your memory from that time?
Sebastian Kehl: It was a really nice time and was an incredibly positive experience for me, even though my departure came as a complete surprise at the time and was certainly not planned. My first Bundesliga club, after I moved from second division Hannover 96 to Freiburg, will always remain in my memory. Freiburg were simply the right club for me at the right time. It's very much a family-run club with a great structure, a good atmosphere and ideal conditions for young players. They can develop themselves quietly there and draw attention to themselves. I would immediately recommend this step to every player.
Watch: Highlights of Freiburg's 2-2 draw with Hamburg on Matchday 21:
bundesliga.com: Do you believe that the attributes you mentioned still apply today?
Kehl: Absolutely. I believe that Freiburg still carry them in their DNA and also know exactly what they can offer to players. They don’t do crazy things there but rather they have their USP (unique selling point). That's how they get players and in [coach] Christian Streich and [club president] Fritz Keller, who I know very well from my time there, they have great personalities and very valuable people. They have their own way of looking at football and developing players and they've never lost it even in difficult times. The down-to-earth nature, which still characterises this club, makes it special in the Bundesliga. As you can certainly notice, I have a great fondness and appreciation for the club, the people and also for the city itself.
"in this stadium, with the fans behind them and when they play boldly and courageously, Freiburg will always have the chance to cause a surprise." - Sebastian Kehl
bundesliga.com: In games against Borussia Dortmund, Streich has not yet taken a single point...
Kehl: From my time at Dortmund, I can hardly remember a slip-up against Freiburg. Right now Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and, at the moment, RB Leipzig have such high quality and when these teams play to their potential, then it's very hard for Freiburg to beat them. But in this stadium, with the fans behind them and when they play boldly and courageously, then Freiburg will always have the chance to cause a surprise – especially since Dortmund have often found it difficult away from home this season.
Watch: Dortmund beat Freiburg 3-1 in this season's reverse fixture:
bundesliga.com: Dortmund are third in the table and are therefore moving towards their objective. Do you understand why there is nonetheless a lot of unrest?
Kehl: In the Champions League they're playing brilliantly – the defeat in Lisbon was unnecessary. Getting through to the next round at home is totally possible for Dortmund. In the Bundesliga, it's true that it's been a bit bumpy. They're not currently consistent enough to distance themselves from fourth and to take advantage of the slip-ups of other teams. Everyone's still very tightly packed together. Looking at it realistically, the gap ahead of them is too great. Dortmund will have to stretch themselves in three competitions over the next few weeks so I personally believe they'll finish in third place and will be back in the cup final in Berlin.
bundesliga.com: Why are Dortmund having problems in your opinion?
Kehl: There are various reasons for me. Not everything that worked so well last season is clicking this year. Some injury problems, a lot of new arrivals and a new structure in the team are certainly responsible for this. And there were also some off-field issues that caused some unrest. But everyone will work with high intensity to produce the often outstanding performances more consistently and then things will be quieter in Dortmund.
bundesliga.com: Of the newcomers, players like Ousmane Dembele and Raphael Guerreiro have come on very well. In contrast Andre Schürrle or the returning Mario Götze are behind expectations. Why have they found it so hard?
Kehl: Dembele and Guerreiro are real reinforcements for the team and have a quality that does a lot of good for the squad. For Mario, you shouldn't forget how the last few years have gone for him. It was a difficult and unsettled time for him with crazy highs but also lows. At the moment he's suffering from not being able to train or play regularly and he needs rhythm that he didn't necessarily get at Bayern either. But I know Mario and how ambitiously and meticulously he works. I'm still a strong supporter of him and I'm convinced he will still show it to everyone who's doubting him at the moment. And in the end it was clear to everyone involved that both he and Andre would need a certain amount of time to be able to show their potential.
bundesliga.com: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang has also come under fire. He scored at will in the first half of the season but is now going through a lull.
Kehl: But with him there's no discussion and he enjoys confidence everywhere. He has a brilliant goalscoring ratio and he's been so important for Dortmund in the last months and years that you can take it with a pinch of salt if he doesn't score for a couple of games.
Kehl was talking to Tobias Gonscherowski / Translation by Mark Rodden