This time around four years ago, Roman Weidenfeller and his Germany team-mates were lifting the World Cup in Brazil after overcoming Argentina in the finals through an extra-time goal from Mario Gotze.
Having made almost 350 appearances for the Bundesliga giants while claiming two league titles with the club, few goalkeepers have had the career that Weidenfeller has enjoyed over the years.
It has been 16 years now since Weidenfeller moved to Dortmund as a possible replacement for Jens Lehmann who subsequently moved to Arsenal in 2003. Since then, there has been no looking back for the Diez-born Weidenfeller who has spent all 20 years of his professional football career in the Bundesliga.
Goal had the chance to have a chat with the veteran shot-stopper during his recent visit to Singapore as part of a programme to promote the German league’s reach in new Asian markets.
When asked what sets the league apart from other European leagues, Weidenfeller stated, “Bundesliga is very popular across the world. It has big clubs like Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Schalke. They do really well in the Champions League. The stadiums and especially supporters are fantastic. It is a great feeling to play and enjoy.”
Weidenfeller’s own club Dortmund had recently announced a tie-up with Singapore club Warriors FC and the custodian expects that partnership to bear plenty of fruit in the future.
“Dortmund is proud to be a partner of Warriors FC. It is good to have such partnerships as it will help both the clubs learn from each other. It is a good opportunity to have a look at young players and if he is really good, he can be picked up to play for Dortmund,” he explained.
On his own personal front, with his career winding down, Weidenfeller hopes to pursue a behind the scenes role with Dortmund post his retirement.
“I prefer a role that is behind the scenes. I am eager to learn a little bit about marketing and support the guys here and push Dortmund as a brand,” he said.
Expectedly, the conversation steers towards Mario Gotze, Weidenfeller’s team-mate over the years with club and country. The attacking midfielder was not included in Germany’s World Cup squad after a difficult couple of seasons where he has had to battle medical issues.
Weidenfeller is absolutely confident about Gotze bouncing back from his disappointments and described the 26-year-old as a model professional.
“We played together in the last season and it was really great. But right now it is a bad situation. He scored the winning goal in Brazil and now he has to watch the game on television. I miss him. I am very close to him. And I hope it will be better next time. He can perform well and push the team,” he explained.
“He is a very professional player. He always thinks about his body and practice. He is very focused. The season was not easy for everybody and for him too. It is a problem for Mario Gotze so he doesn't go for the World Cup,” Weidenfeller went on to add.
When it comes to the subject of fellow goalkeepers, the Dortmund veteran has the utmost respect for Germany No.1 Manuel Neuer. The Dortmund shot-stopper spent bulk of his international career as an understudy to the Bayern Munich star and has seen first-hand Neuer's incredible determination. Recently, there were some eyebrows raised after Neuer was elected at the Germany No.1 for the World Cup in Russia despite missing nine months of the season due to an injury.
Weidenfeller completely disagrees with that point of view and has no doubts that head coach Joachim Low has made the correct call.
“Fair is a complicated thing. He (Neuer) is the best goalkeeper in Germany and in the world. He is so focused when he is on the pitch that he takes only 10 days or two weeks to put up a good performance. He was important in winning the World Cup in Brazil,” Weidenfeller said.
This year, the defending world champions have started their campaign on a losing note after going down 1-0 to Mexico in their opening match. Weidenfeller still believes that the side will go a long way despite the initial setback while pegging Brazil, France and Spain as its main contenders for the coveted trophy.
“Brazil, France, Spain are the three primary contenders. The big teams always have a chance to win the cup."
The German national believes that the Brazilian team is much stronger than the 2014 one which will have learnt their lesson after the 7-1 thrashing they received at the hands of the eventual champions in the semi-finals last time around.
“Everybody learns when they make mistakes and especially when you lose a big game. Brazil now is stronger than they were in 2014. The emotion is more quiet and relaxed. A lot of players were crying after that match. They are brought up to represent the national team. They need to be relaxed and focused,” he explained.
His eyes lit up as he described his own feelings of lifting the World Cup in 2014.
“Great, great. It was fantastic to push the World Cup in the air. The emotions and memories were crazy. You never think of the World Cup when you start as a young player. You just think of playing in the Bundesliga. It was a big pleasure to go with the team and in Brazil, I felt a special spirit around the team. We were a close unit. It was a fantastic team,” Weidenfeller stated.
While the custodian remains confident of Germany repeating its 2014 heroics in Russia, his own club are going through a bit of a transition with Lucian Favre taking the reins of the team. Star names such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ousmane Dembele and lately Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all departed the club in recent times but Weidenfeller is convinced the side will make some exciting player recruitments over the summer but wants the club’s mantra of playing eye-pleasing football to continue.
“Just now, we have a chance to change our team a little bit. We have got a new coach who has brought a new philosophy. Right now it is important to relax and after the World Cup, we can see. It is important to play great soccer. One week we win, one week we lose, but it is important to play well as a team,” he said before signing off.