Thursday, July 5, 2012
Home is where the heart is
Dortmund defender Neven Subotic has never stayed in one place for long. Born in Bosnia & Herzegovina, his parents escaped the country (then part of Yugoslavia) two years before it erupted into bloody civil war. A childhood spent in Germany's Black Forest was followed by formative years in Utah and Florida in the United States before a return to Europe for the start of his professional football career at the age of 17.
Bosnia, Germany and USA could all have been international options for Subotic, and he seemed long destined to play for the latter having represented them at Under-17 level and even received a call-up to the senior team in October 2007. But the centre-back, now established as one of the Bundesliga's best in his position, opted not for a country of birth or habitation - but the otadzbina (fatherland) of his mum and dad, Serbia.
Now settled with both club and country - he has been at Dortmund since 2008 and has won 31 caps for Serbia since making his debut in 2009 - Subotic feels lessons learned from parents Zeljko and Svjetlana still heavily influence him on and off the pitch.
"Growing up, my parents were hard workers who had two jobs to keep us alive,"Subotic tells ESPN. "I always saw that my mom and my dad were constantly working hard and I think this quality of never giving up even though things are difficult is something I've taken into life and into football. It is something very important to me and helps me still now.
"I've moved around a lot throughout my life, with my parents only doing so for our benefit. However, it is nice to feel settled and I definitely feel at home now in Dortmund. I've been here for four years, which is probably the longest I've been anywhere in my life. Though I go and see my family around the world, when I'm going home I'm coming to Dortmund."
Dortmund has now been Subotic's home for four years, with Borussia his employers and the Westfalenstadion his place of work. Success has certainly been forthcoming for the 6ft 4in defender; for the past two years he has been a Bundesliga champion, and a DFB Pokal triumph was added in May as Dortmund claimed their first ever league and cup double and handed Subotic a career zenith.
"Last season was the pinnacle of the pinnacle. I can still remember the feeling I had when we won our first championship in 2011, I had goosebumps on my arms. It was the same this time, with the only difference being that we were more experienced and knew what was coming. However, we really sparked an explosion of emotion among the fans when we won the Cup too.
"It helped the players and supporters that we were playing against Bayern in the Cup because they had been our biggest rivals all season and everything we won they had wanted to win. It's always good being the underdog and showing the people who think that they're better than you that they are really not. The fans were happy and it was just such a special year; the Double hadn't ever been done before by Dortmund and it was a great moment in my life, which will now be in the history books."
An opportunity to write another new chapter presents itself in 2012-13, as Dortmund aim to become only the third club to win the Bundesliga three seasons in a row - a feat Bayern Munich have achieved three times, and Borussia Monchengladbach once. But Subotic feels it is better to aim low and then exceed expectations; it is a view he also takes when considering the Champions League, a tournament which Dortmund failed to set alight last season as they finished bottom of a group containing Arsenal, Marseille and Olympiakos.
"Our official goal is just to qualify for the Champions League again and we will work towards that first and see what happens. Anything above that will be another big bonus. It's a long season and it's difficult to predict. We obviously want to progress from the Champions League group stage, too, but it's not been set as a minimum requirement.
"In every competition we want to do our best and hope for the best and we know there is room for improvement in Europe. We learnt a couple of lessons from last year. One is that we need to score more goals and we also paid for a lack of patience; we rushed forward and it was often make or break, we'd score or we'd be opened up on the counter-attack. This time we know not to go up with such risk and that we can be a bit calmer."
While some of his team-mates are still on holiday after involvement in Euro 2012, Subotic's pre-season began on Wednesday with fitness training. He is keen to build on another impressive season in 2011-12, which saw him named by kicker as the Bundesliga's third best centre-back behind Dortmund partner Mats Hummels and Nurnberg's Philipp Wollscheid. The towering Serbian will have a couple of new attackers to deal with in training this season, and he is convinced that the arrivals of Marco Reus and Julian Schieber will soften the blow of Shinji Kagawa's departure to Manchester United.
"I can't wait for the new season - I've really missed football and was seriously desperate to return to training despite spending about two-and-a-half weeks of my vacation with the national team. Even though our first training session was just running, I woke up at 7 o'clock, two hours too early, because I was so excited. I wanted to see my friends who I have not seen for a while and I wanted to do something for my body and get back into the daily routine.
"We'll have some new faces in the squad for the coming season and I think Reus and Schieber can bring a lot to Dortmund. Schieber has played in recent years in teams that have not done so well but has still managed to show his potential and quality. With us he will have even more chances to score and he's got a great shot on him so more goals will come.
"Reus is no different. He made his team what they were last season, helping them become title challengers, which was a huge surprise to everyone. He was a major influence for them and again I think that he can step into a better team and become even better and contribute to future success. I can't wait to get going with them both.
"I wasn't disappointed that Shinji moved on. I am happy for him because he has taken the next step in his career and it's definitely one forward, not backward. I wish him well and I hope he gets quickly accustomed to the league so we can watch him play on TV. He can be a really special player for Manchester United. He came to our league from the second division in Japan, but had an immediate impact. He has played such a big role in our success and he's still so young - I definitely think he can have a similar influence at United if he is given the chance."
Subotic himself has long been linked with a move to English football, with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all previously tipped as potential suitors. But while he admits that he spent many a boyhood day dreaming of the Premier League, it is Dortmund, and with a manager in Jurgen Klopp who has supported him through the major steps in his career, that is where his heart belongs for now.
"I've always said that it's been a childhood dream of mine to play in England and I have always watched the Premier League," Subotic says. "But I don't have to do everything I wanted to do as a kid - I also wanted to be an astronaut but I can't see that happening!
"I'm not sure if it's a child's dream or still my dream but it's the hardest league in Europe and the most aggressive and I like that. However, I wouldn't be where I am now without Jurgen Klopp. First of all, he brought me to Germany from America and I signed my first deal with him at Mainz, and then he gave me the opportunity to join him at Dortmund, which was another big step. I have a lot to thank him for and Dortmund remains my home."
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"PUMA kicked off its partnership with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, unveiling the new 2012-13 home and away kit of the Bundesliga champions. Visit www.puma.com/football for details.