Nuri Sahin revelling in his role as Dortmund's elder statesman
Everything is in place for Nuri Sahin at Borussia Dortmund.
He’s revered by the Yellow Wall and treated as one of their own. After being rescued from a disappointing spell with Liverpool, Sahin has since returned to the first-team. But not him, nor his 200 appearances in Dortmund colours or even a close relationship with coach Jurgen Klopp is enough for the Turkish international to rest on his laurels.
“For me it was hugely important after two difficult pre-seasons, in which I were injured, to get to full fitness.” Sahin begins honestly … “I didn’t miss any training or practice, so this has helped me.
“Our fitness team gave me a plan in which I can get stronger and get my fitness on a very high level. I have to make so many miles in the game, so this is important.”
That application in pre-season was immediately visible in Dortmund’s first competitive match this season: a 4-2 trouncing of Bayern Munich in the DFL Super Cup.
The term ‘competitive’ can be used loosely, given the almost glamour friendly status of the prelude to the season; but BDortmund left nothing to chance. It was their opportunity to lay down a marker.
Sahin’s like-for-like replacement, Ilkay Gundogan, played in an advanced role, while the former Liverpool and Real Madrid man linked up with Sven Bender in the double-pivot defensive role.
The 24-year-old appeared in great shape, looking bulky in his upper-body physique, but equally as sprightly on the floor in his use of the ball and defensive-pressing.
Sahin’s intense closing down in midfield, forming a second-line of defence with the tenacious Gundogan, was key to Dortmund gaining a foothold in the match.
“It was a great atmosphere and performance.” Sahin tells Sport360° in an exclusive interview. “Our fans are special. For them, it’s not important we are playing Bayern Munich, but it’s because Borussia Dortmund are playing.
“We are also a strong team, we know we can win the title. Of course, Bayern Munich is the favourite, but our goal is to play better than last season. If we can win trophies, then we will go for it.
“It’s been a really good start to the season. Our goal this year is to concede as less goals as possible against us. We start with nine points and only one goal conceded, so everything is going well.”
Sahin has rediscovered his love for football, speaking with a candid enthusiasm, from a club which has become the percepted utopian model across Europe.
Even at the age of 24, the cosmopolitan Sahin has played in Germany, Spain, and England and, of course, as an international for Turkey.
His departure in 2011 feels like yesterday, but Dortmund’s growth in that period is still impressive. Another league championship followed; plus a stunning run to the first all-German Champions League final; and the club posting a turnover of €305m, in which, Dortmund’s status as a modern-day “Super Club” seems forthcoming.
Sahin adds: “We have a club which is on a very good way. If we think back to 2005, when we were almost bankrupt, our development is very good.
“Today, we’re a very healthy club, with a great stadium, great fans, great coach and great players, so hopefully everything is good for the future.
“I call myself a “former-fan” of the club. I had bad times and good times. We are definitely proud of what Borussia Dortmund have done in the last few years. We hope it continues. The most important thing doesn’t go back to what happened in 2005.”
Sahin is proving to be a responsible head for Dortmund’s younger players to look towards in their early first-team years. Before the start of the league season, Dortmund took an important decision in promoting Marvin Ducksh and Jonas Hofmann to the first-team fold, although, the option for regular football in 3.Liga was on the table.
Ducksh’s cameo appearance in the DFB Pokal was effective, while Hofmann has shone in the early weeks of the campaign with four assists in three matches.
Sahin has been in those shoes before, amid a turbulent spell for the club back in 2005. Instead of settling for a full season of Regional League football, notwithstanding the importance of that in Dortmund’s development plan, Sahin teamed up with former coach Bert van Maarwijk who was head coach at Dutch giants Feyenoord.
That spell, in the midfielder’s estimations, was a massive stage in his development, opening the door to 29 league games in the Eredivisie and adulthood for the then 18-year-old.
He says: “I wasn’t training much under the former coach of Dortmund and it was for me the best way to develop and to get better. That’s why we chose Feyenoord because I knew the coach there and it was an excellent loan spell. I got lots of matches and when I came back, I went right into the team. I went as a kid and came back as an adult.
“I think we are a club where all the young players get the chance if they try to get it and work for that. Jonas [Hofmann] is an excellent example of that. If you look in the first 11, you will see four or five players who came from the younger sides and when we start in 2008 we were all 18-year-olds; now we’re 24/25.
“The next generation is coming with Hofmann, Ducksh, Durm, Koray Gunter and Marian Sarr and they all are focused because they know they will get a chance.
“It feels like I’m at the end of my career [he laughs] because I’ve played across Europe. I’m still only 24 – 25 next week – and I hope I have at least 10 more years to go.
“I’ve got some experience in my age but I’m not that type of the person who goes to the young players and tell them way to do. If someone needs my help, I’m there, but I wouldn’t say to someone ‘you need to do this’ or this.”
The infectious relationship among the players and between Klopp and his “pupils” has been a key reason for their recent success. When faced with challenges, the young players, Sahin included, have continuously fought for the club and the boss.
The life of a professional footballer can be demanding, but Sahin is an avid follower of another sport: “I’m a huge Basketball fan and I watch the NBA as often as I can. We have great some Turkish players there and I know them well, they’re friends of mine. I’m proud of what they do on the highest level. We have a Basketball court in the gym and we play every morning before training.”
Asked if he was the best Basketball player in the camp, he refuted: “No. Piszczek definitely” he says with a smile.
Sahin's path to stardom at Signal Iduna Park personifies the so-called rags-to-riches revival of Dortmund; with Sahin coming through the ranks and leading die Borussen back to the higher echelons of German football.