Lars ricken is a dortmund legend no doubt. However, on his resumé there reads something, which truly gives him icon status at the club: “His entire professional playing career was spent at ballspielverein Borussia 09 e.v. Dortmund. Unheard of in today’s game, he embodied everything that is, was, and always will be “BVB.”
This is a love story. A love story between a player, and his club. It is as if Lars Ricken was born to play for Die Schwarz-Gelben. Born in the city of Dortmund, the groundwork was laid early for Lars to one day play for his city’s most popular export: Borussia Dortmund.
After initially playing in the BVB youth system, Ricken was called up to the Borussia Dortmund reserve team in 1993. He played less than 15 matches with the Dortmund “B team” before being called up to make his Bundesliga debut with the senior squad in March of 1994, four months ahead of his 18th birthday.
From the 1994-95 season onward Lars was a regular on the Borussia Dortmund roster. There could not have been a better time to be playing in Dortmund as The Black and Yellows were about to embark on perhaps the greatest era in the history of the club.
In the years of 1994-96 Borussia Dortmund were the measuring stick in the Bundesliga. BVB won back-to-back German championships during this time, due in large part to one of the greatest rosters ever assembled in league history, of which Lars Ricken was not only a member of, but in fact, had the role of a major contributor who played a sizable part in the success of the club.
During the 1994/95 and 1995/96 Borussia Dortmund title-winning seasons, Lars Ricken appeared in 47 matches and scored eight goals. What made Ricken so valuable during not only these two seasons, but for the entirety of his career, was his incredible versatility. He quite literally lined up at every position on the pitch at some point over the course of his 14 seasons for The Black and Yellows with the exception of left-back and keeper. Whatever was asked of Lars Ricken, he could always deliver on, regardless of the task at hand.
The match that made Lars ricken a dortmund icon
Despite all of the domestic success Borussia Dortmund enjoyed in the mid 1990s, it was actually one single moment, in one single match, that gave this player “legendary” status at the club. That moment came on the biggest stage there is in all of club football, the UEFA Champions League final. The opponents on that memorable night were Italian giants Juventus, who were led by their home-grown superstar, Alessandro del Piero. Both sides featured rosters filled with football royalty, yet, it was a 20 year old substitute who decide the outcome of this match.
Everything was going the way of Borussia Dortmund as German international and 1990 World champion Karl-Heinz Riedle put Die Schwarz-Gelben safely ahead, scoring two goals in a span of only five minutes. BVB looked to be in control and took a 2:0 lead into the half time intermission. Dortmund Manager Ottmar Hitzfeld surely warned his players during the break that a side with the quality of Juventus would not simply fade away. No, there was going to be a fight, and to think otherwise would have been incredibly naive.
Juventus, who featured players such as Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri, and Didier Deschamps, played determined football to start the second half. Juve took complete control of the match as the second 45 minutes unfolded. The Italian side finally got onto the score sheet with a 65th minute goal from Del Piero. The Bianconeri were riding a massive wave of momentum and it was seemingly only a matter of time until the equalizer would drop.
Despite still holding a 2:1 advantage with 20 minutes to play, Ottmar Hitzeld no doubt, could see the Champions League trophy slipping away. He made a bold substitution in the 70th minute, taking off star centre-forward Stéphane Chapuisat and replacing him with the 20-year-old Lars Ricken. Ricken had split his time almost evenly between right-midfield, centre-forward, and attacking midfield during the 1996-97 season. Ricken was well-versed in playing from an attacking position, though it goes without saying, never before had the stakes been so high nor the pressure so great.
After coming onto the pitch, it would take only 16 seconds for Lars Ricken to have his name forever recorded in the history books of football. Ironically, with an assist from former Juventus player Andreas Möller, Lars Ricken crushed the dreams of the Italians with a beautiful lobbed shot over keeper Angelo Peruzzi after Dortmund regained possession off of a failed Juve attack in the 71st minute. The momentum The Old Lady had enjoyed only moments earlier had been completely erased, their title hopes destroyed. Lars Ricken had just scored the fastest goal in UEFA Champions League final history by a substituted player, a record which still stands to this day.
To get a better glimpse into this historic moment, let us hear it from the player himself:
“I had been sitting on the bench for 70 minutes, studying the game and I noticed that (Juventus keeper) Angelo Peruzzi was always positioned far from his goal. I turned to [team-mate] Heiko Herrlich and said: ‘If I come on, the first thing I am going to do is shoot, no matter where I am.’ That stayed in the back of my mind.”
With so many legends in the Borussia Dortmund side such as the aforementioned Karl-Heinz Riedle, Stéphane Chapuisat and Andreas Möller, team captain and 1996 Ballon d’Or winner Matthias Sammer, Jürgen Kohler, Paulo Sousa, and Stefan Reuter, it is incredible that this game was in fact decided by a 20 year old kid named Lars Ricken who fired a shot heard around the world on May 28th, 1997.
Borussia Dortmund would go on to defeat Juventus 3:1 on that night, lifting the UEFA Champions League trophy for the first time ever. This was the payoff from all of the hard work by this fantastic group of players and without a doubt, the crowning achievement of a three-year period in the club’s history which will likely never be duplicated. This was also the peak of Lars Ricken’s career.
Injuries, setbacks, and retirement
Unfortunately for Lars Ricken, his career did not magically take off after that storybook May evening in 1997. This was not due to his abilities on the pitch, but rather, a plethora of injuries he would sustain over the course of the next ten years. He would miss out on World Cups, European Championships, and even missed an entire year of football after suffering a cruciate ligament tear in his knee in November, 2005.
His finest season post-Champions League victory came in 2002, with former Borussia Dortmund team-mate and captain Matthias Sammer now manning the touch line at the Westfalenstadion. BVB won the German championship and finished as runners-up in the UEFA Cup, losing 2:3 in the final to Feyenoord. This was the only season of his career in which Ricken reached double figures in scoring, netting ten goals across all competitions. Things looked bright for Ricken moving forward, however, more setbacks would follow.
Try as he might, Ricken simply could not stay healthy. This pattern continued all the way through April, 2007, when then-manager Thomas Doll demoted Ricken to the Borussia Dortmund reserve team due to “substandard performance.” After this demotion, Ricken would never again feature for the BVB senior squad. In February of 2009, Ricken officially announced his retirment from professional football after numerous failed attempts to regain his form. His heart, Schwarz-Gelb through and through, was never questioned, but his body had accumulated too many injuries through the years and would simply not allow him to be the player he expected himself to be on the pitch.
Though his playing days were over, his time at his beloved Borussia Dortmund were far from it. Immediately upon hanging up his boots, he was hired to take over the role of BVB Youth Coordinator. He would now oversee the development of Dortmund’s young players, many of whom progressed to become elite players in the world of football. This includes names such as Mario Götze and Marco Reus.
Every love story should have a happy ending
Though Lars Ricken’s playing career may not have been as successful as it could have been, or dare I say, as he may have envisioned it, there were certainly many great moments and noteworthy accomplishments. To witness someone stay with one club throughout their entire professional playing career, which spanned 14 years, is an accomplishment in and of itself. More remarkable though may be that this person now plays an even bigger role with that club as the head of it’s youth development department, responsible for producing the next generation of Borussia Dortmund stars and perhaps the next Lars Ricken.
Regardless of how many future Ballon d’Or winners come up through the Dortmund ranks, it is undeniable that we will most-remember Lars Ricken for a mere 16 seconds in a match where the greatest prize in club football hung in the balance. It was during those 16 seconds in which Lars Ricken made history. He simultaneously scored one of the most unforgettable goals of the decade while also stamping Borussia Dormtund’s ticket to immortality as winners of the UEFA Champions League.
To close, I will again let Lars himself do the honours as he describes once more in detail, his unforgettable moment that had an impact on so many levels, far beyond the pitch:
“One guy told me he was in the stands yelling at me for being stupid enough to take a shot from that distance, and then two seconds later he was buried in a pile of ecstatic people. One couple met because they celebrated the goal together; they didn’t know each other at all before that, but they fell in love, got married, and had a family. It’s a very special kind of validation and recognition to know that your goal triggered that kind of emotion among spectators and fans. Somehow everyone seems to know where they were when that shot went in.”