An incredible journey of two full-backs who were part of the most successful decade at Borussia Dortmund…
The Ruhr region in Germany has been historically important for its bituminous coalfields which were vital to fuel Germany’s ambition to become an industrial superpower. And Dortmund happens to be the most important city in this metropolitan region. Consequently, it was one of the most heavily bombed cities during World War II which completely turned it to dust and rubble. In spite of that, the spirit of the city could not be damaged.
“The Ruhr district mentality – even though the mines have long since closed and steel isn’t really that important anymore – is about working and grafting. You experience that even more as a defensive-minded player. You get just as much praise for a tackle as you do for sending a bicycle kick into the top corner. That’s just the Ruhr District mentality. For us, hard work still has a very, very positive ring to it,” explained Borussia Dortmund CEO, Hans Joachim Watzke to Dazn.
Two of the most trusted lieutenants, who have served the club with that same mentality, happen to be Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer who were part of BVB’s most successful decade in their history.
In the summer of 2010, Piszczek moved to BVB on a free transfer from Hertha Berlin with a head full of uncertainty and a challenge to impress one of the most demanding head coaches in world football, Jurgen Klopp. It was a difficult decision to make as he had been promised his preferred midfield berth at Hertha, whereas Klopp had made it clear that he will be used as a right back. To further complicate matters he also had to prove his worth and displace a club veteran in Patrick Owomoyela before hoping to get any first team action.
“Everyone I spoke to back then told me, ‘Go to Dortmund! They have a coach who can improve you.’ So that’s just what I did,” revealed the Polish international.
Sitting on the bench was not something he was meant for. He quickly learnt the tricks of the trade and soon established himself as one of the starters, relegating Owomoyela to the bench. His partnership with Neven Subotic, Matts Hummels, and Schmelzer began to flourish and the club looked well on course for silverware at the end of the season. By December they had a sizeable lead at the top courtesy of a 15-match unbeaten run which included 14 wins and a single draw, conceding just seven goals.
On April 30, they needed a win against FC Nurnberg to seal their league title and two first half goals from Lucas Barrios and Robert Lewandowski put them in the driver seat.
“That’s actually my favourite moment. If you ask about the league title in 2011, that moment always springs to mind straight away. I looked at Kevin[Großkreutz] and we grinned. I looked at Sven [Bender] next to me and we grinned. We knew we were nearly there. That’s the moment that always springs to mind immediately. You can see joy and relief in their faces, but a little bit of irritation too. ‘Is it really true?’,” recalled Schmelzer who was an integral part of that Bundesliga winning squad appearing in all the 34 matches.
Led by an enigmatic manager like Klopp those bunch of players looked like a family who would give their all for the crest. They did the double over rivals Bayern Munich and in both the matches they won by a comfortable two-goal margin.
“We obviously had a leader in Jürgen Klopp who brought all that together in that period. The team, the coach and the club. None of us were the kind of talented players of whom this was expected, but we were grafters who went onto the pitch and whatever Jürgen told us, we tried to put into practice as well as possible,” said Schmelzer.
In the next season, they won the Bundesliga once again and also bagged the DFB-Pokal Cup thumping Bayern Munich 5-2 in the final, courtesy of a hat-trick by Lewandowski.
“It was an awesome time – you can’t describe it any other way.”
The German began to get offers from other clubs following meteoric success at BVB. But he did not even bother to check the details with his agent. He joined the youth ranks of Borussia in 2005 and has made his way to the top.
“In the old gym or in the old sports hall in Brackel, there were two boys playing football tennis. Yeah, and one of them was you and that was the first impression I had. The further impressions I gained were much, much better,” said Klopp in a video message to Schmelzer.
He is the coach Schmelzer owes his growth to most. It was his guidance that brought out the best in him on the pitch. And Klopp was one of the major factors behind him rejecting all the other offers that came his way after the incredible 2011-12 season.
There’s little doubt that both Piszczek and Schmelzer are legends of the club in their own rights. Their no-holds-barred attitude while going for the ball embodies the German spirit of passion and perseverance which made them fan favourites at the Signal Iduna Park.
“Piszczu and Schmelle are true legends in Dortmund! Most of all because they’re real grafters. They don’t play tippy-tappy football – which we obviously also like to see in football – but here in the Ruhr region, we obviously live on grafters. And that’s what makes Schmelle and Piszczu unique. They always gave their all for the club,” said Manfred Rakowski, Chairman of a BVB fan club.
Tears rolled down Piszczek’s cheeks after he played his last for the club in a dominating 4-1 win over RB Leipzig in the DFB Pokal Cup final on May 13. He won the Bundesliga in his first season and it was fitting that he signed off with silverware. After the match, the right-back dedicated the win to his long-time comrade Schmelzer who has had a forgetful season with an injury.
“Schmelle has been out for a year and has sadly not been able to experience this season with us. And because I’m leaving, I wanted to give him something back, so he can enjoy it too,” Piszczek said with tears in his eyes.
It was unfortunate that the Sudtribune could not be present while the 35-year-old played his last in black and yellow colours. However, Sebastian Kehl, former player and Director at BVB has promised that the club will arrange a proper swansong with the fans in attendance.
After spending more than a decade at BVB, Piszczek is headed towards his hometown-club Goczalkowice where he would take care of the youth academy that he started in 2019. Whereas, Schmelzer feels that he still has the fire burning in his belly to don that hallowed black and yellow shirt and play for the side where he has grown from a boy to a man; well at least for one more season.