# cult hero
Lars and the real goal: whatever happened to Dortmund hero Ricken?
20 years old when he scored that glorious goal in the 1997 Champions League final, what came next?

IT’S ONE OF those iconic Champions League moments.

The 1997 final was delicately poised. In the space of five first-half minutes, Karl-Heinz Riedle had put Borussia Dortmund 2-0 in front but Juventus sprung Alessandro del Piero from the bench at the break and he popped up to nonchalantly flick home at the near post midway through the second period.

With the Italian giants on top and riding a wave of momentum, the Germans made a change of their own. Off came Swiss striker Stephane Chapuisat and 20 year-old Lars Ricken replaced him.

The youngster had already done some damage in the tournament – scoring in the quarter-final second leg against Auxerre and at Old Trafford in the semis as Dortmund frustrated Manchester United.

But despite making such an impact in such a big game, Ricken was named on the bench for the final. Disappointed, he later praised his coach Ottmar Hitzfeld for keeping him focused.

“I wasn’t happy when Ottmar Hitzfeld told me I wouldn’t be starting,” he told FourFourTwo, “but man-management was his great strength and he told me the evening before the match that I would play an important role regardless. He said my chances of seeing action were great. So I was fired up for the final, even though I was on the bench.”

Because of his manager’s pre-match words, Ricken followed the game intensely from the touchline. He knew he’d get his chance and was monitoring the patterns closely. And there was one element of Juve’s game that he identified as something he could possibly capitalise on.

I’d been sitting on the bench for 70 minutes, studying the game and I noticed that (Juventus goalkeeper) 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’m going to do is shoot, no matter where I am.’ That stayed in the back of my mind.”

Ricken was on the pitch for about ten seconds when a Juve attack broke down on the Dortmund left side. Paolo Sousa broke clear in midfield and flicked a pass inside for Andy Moller. Ricken had already began his run into the right channel and his team-mate picked him out effortlessly, sweeping a perfect pass right into his path.

As Paolo Montero tried desperately to close him down, Ricken was 30 yards from goal. Most players would try to use their fresh legs to race towards the area and better the chances of hitting the target. But Ricken thought differently. He slowed up as he came into contact with the ball and with his first touch of the game, he curled a spectacular first-time lob over the stranded Peruzzi and inside the near post.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League  Final - Borussia Dortmund v Juventus Witters / Witters/Press Association Images Witters / Witters/Press Association Images / Witters/Press Association Images

Ricken’s goal was the peak moment of his career. In the years that followed, he struggled with injuries and consistency. He made his debut for the German national team later in 1997 but failed to make the squad for the 1998 World Cup or Euro 2000 and despite regularly clocking up between 20 and 30 league appearances a season, Ricken never scored more than six times in the Bundesliga.

However, his career began to take off again in the build-up to the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. With his former team-mate and captain Matthias Sammer taking the managerial reins at the club, Ricken managed 10 goals in the 01/02 campaign – hitting double figures for the only time in his career. Dortmund finished the season as league champions and lost 3-2 to Feyenoord in the Uefa Cup final with Ricken on the right of midfield.

The upturn in his performances led to a call-up to the German World Cup squad but he didn’t see any game-time as Rudi Voller’s side got all the way to the decider before suffering a 2-0 defeat to Brazil.

Within two years though, Ricken’s injury problems returned and Dortmund’s financial issues began to derail the club’s hopes of success. In November 2005, he sustained a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for the entire campaign and as his hopes of regaining full fitness dwindled by the season, he announced his retirement from the game in February 2009 at the age of 32.

GERMANY SOCCER SCHALKE MARTIN MEISSNER / AP/Press Association Images Ricken endured numerous injury problems after scoring in the 1997 Champions League final and retired in 2009 at the age of 32. MARTIN MEISSNER / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

Immediately, the club hired him as a Youth Coordinator, overseeing the development of Dortmund’s young players. Since taking on the role, the likes of Mario Goetze and Marco Reus have come through the ranks.

Still, it’s that goal eighteen years ago that he’ll always be fondly remembered for.

Speaking to Fifa last year, he revealed he’s proud for the effect it had on so many people.

“There are worse things than being associated with that goal; others have probably experienced much worse. It doesn’t bother me, but I generally never get asked what it was like to score the goal. Most of the time fans or neutrals tell me where they were when I scored it – everything from being on the toilet to standing at a bar in the stadium.”

One guy told me that 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 under 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 then 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.”

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