Patrick Fritsch from Borussia Dortmund almost became the youngest German player in the Europa League – just three years later, the central defender had to end his hopeful career at the age of only 19. BVB then caught the 22-year-old.
In an interview with SPOX and Goal, Fritsch speaks for the first time in detail about his injury-related odyssey and the physically and mentally difficult battle against the end of his career.
The two-time German U17 champion also talks about his training sessions under Thomas Tuchel, the hope for the Europa League record and his current situation.
Mr. Fritsch, in 2014 and 2015 you became German champion with the Borussia Dortmund U17 and were considered one of the greatest talents at BVB. After tearing cruciate ligaments in both knees, you had to end your career at the age of 19 over two years ago. Have you ever spoken publicly about your odyssey?
Patrick Fritsch: Two years ago, but not yet nationwide. So I’m curious. (laughs)
After the end of your career, BVB offered you a three-year training course, which you are now completing in the field of internationalization. What exactly is meant by this?
Fritsch: After my time as a footballer, it is, so to speak, retraining through the employers’ liability insurance association. If you are unable to work, the employers’ liability insurance association is responsible for reintegrating you into working life. Fortunately, the offer from BVB made it an almost smooth transition for me. Otherwise it would have gone in this marketing direction too, only that I would have had to apply to far less attractive employers.
How did you come to an agreement with the association?
Fritsch: I had talks with the BVB management together with Dario Scuderi, who was also seriously injured. We thought about how we can steer our fate in a positive direction, what we both like and, above all, would help the club. In the advertised apprenticeships, I was most interested in the area of internationalization, marketing is subdivided into this.
You have been working there since August 1, 2018. What exactly do you care about?
Fritsch: Our department prepares and carries out everything relating to international marketing measures such as a trip to Asia or the USA. When sponsors visit us in Dortmund, we prepare the planning of the stay and the implementation of the measures. There is also a daily exchange with the BVB offices in Singapore and Shanghai, who mainly communicate with our partners from Southeast Asia and China, so that I in turn know what makes them tick and what makes sense during a stay with us. I also go through every department at the office, but the main focus remains on marketing. It’s very versatile and not a rigid office job. I also go to vocational school twice a week.
Ex-BVB talent Fritsch: “Being active in sports is unthinkable”
You are also part of the Dortmund U17 coaching team. How did that come about?
Fritsch: When I decided to retrain, Lars Ricken asked if I could also imagine being a coach. At the time, however, I wanted to do something different to simply get away from everything. But I noticed that I miss football and that I am drawn there. That’s why I wrote to U17 coach Sebastian Geppert and asked if I could sit in with him twice a week. I had a good relationship with him because I was part of his first team that he coached at BVB.
So what does a normal Tuesday look like for you, shall we say?
Fritsch: It developed relatively quickly so that I was back at the training ground every day. (laughs) The bond with the team is simply much more intense in order to be able to contribute something positive. Now I start work in the office at 8 a.m., finish at 5 p.m. and training starts at 6 p.m. in Brackel, where I am involved in preparation and follow-up work. I drive home around 8.30 p.m. We only recently talked about my future. Everyone at BVB knows that I am closer to football than to the office job. The full focus will continue to be on training, but in the future I will be given the freedom to work as a trainer so that it is no longer so time-consuming.
How is your health?
Fritsch: I can live normal life without restrictions and walk normally. On the other hand, getting active in sports and anything that stresses the legs is unthinkable. Cycling or doing something for the upper body is possible, but a long walk, for example, is not an option. In the U17s it happens that I kick the ball for a few minutes, but that takes care of itself quickly. My main problem is the cartilage and the insides of both knees. It then feels like hitting a bruise with a rubber mallet. When exerted, both knees swell and fluid forms in the hollow of the knee.
You are also said to have gained a few pounds through weight training.
Fritsch: After retiring, I had seven months before the training began. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It was inconceivable for me that I would not enter this training area from one day to the next. Since I’ve always trained anyway, I just went on to Brackel without straining my legs there. A year later I was 25 pounds more. It’s a nice hobby for me, but I don’t do it as intensely as I did back then.
Fritsch: “Tuchel just said: Just do it like Dani Alves”
Let’s look back: In 2011 you switched from FC Schalke to the youth department of Borussia, where you played in the U19s from the 2015/16 season at the age of 16 and repeatedly trained with the pros under Thomas Tuchel. Shortly afterwards you could have made history when Tuchel appointed you to the professional squad for the Europa League game at PAOK Saloniki in October 2015. If he had used you there, you would have become the youngest German EL player of all time. How do you think back to that?
Fritsch: It all really started with my first test match for the professionals against St. Pauli. Shortly before I left, Thomas Tuchel told me that I would play from the start and as a right-back. He just said: just do it like Dani Alves. Since I’ve never played in this position before, I spent the entire bus ride watching videos about it. Afterwards everyone, including me, was satisfied with my performance, even if there was still a little missing for Alves. (laughs)
How did you find out a little later that you would slip into the EL team?
Fritsch: My trainer Hannes Wolf called me and said I should pick up the phone when it rings soon. You’d have to make a suit for me. At first I didn’t understand anything, but then he told me that I would fly with him to Thessaloniki. I remember how difficult it was to try on the suit because my hands were shaking all the time. Overall, I didn’t have the time to really think about it. One thing was clear to me: If I play, it will be against Dimitar Berbatov.
Dortmund spared a few players for the upcoming game against Bayern Munich. In your position in central defense you only had Neven Subotic and Matthias Ginter in front of you that day. How great was your secret hope that you would break the record?
Fritsch: Very large. Not because of the record, but because this trip was a confirmation and the first real step towards a professional for me. It worried me a bit that I wasn’t used and of course I would have liked to play. Still, it was one of the most beautiful sporting moments of my short career.
Patrick Fritsch: An overview of his BVB career
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