Top-flight football is back on Saturday and Dimitar Berbatov reminisces about his time with Bayer Leverkusen, as well as players to look out for as the Bundesliga returns.
"In that final in Glasgow, I came on as a substitute in the first half and six minutes later Zinedine Zidane scored his wonder goal. I felt like s*** in that moment."
My top three players to look out for in the Bundesliga
Obviously, I have my favourite players that I like to watch, most of the time I watch Bayer Leverkusen for obvious reasons, I had some great years there with them, they built me as a player and as a man, so I am watching them most of the time.
One of their players who I like is Kai Havertz, he is one of the most talented players in the Bundesliga, he's a very young player and I think a lot of big clubs around Europe will be watching him to see how he is developing, for me he has the speed, he's really quick, he has the vision, he knows how to position himself on the pitch looking for the spaces, he is scanning the pitch all the time, he can score goals and he can make assists.
Of course, he is far away from the complete player, but this will happen when he makes the next step in his career. I like watching him a lot and hopefully he can continue developing the way he has been so far.
Another one to look out for has to be a player from RB Leipzig, who are doing really well, it has to be Christopher Nkunku. I actually don't know where he plays, because he plays on the left, on the right, he can play as a striker as well which is a great thing. He's got 12 assists in the Bundesliga and he has that quickness, sharpness and that eye for the final pass or assist.
Probably half of Timo Werner's goals are assisted by Nkunku, they have a good partnership going on. It's really exciting to watch him play, even when he comes on as a substitute his attitude is right, he is running, chasing, sprinting and doing what he can do. Again, another one going in the right direction and hopefully he can stay focused and develop the way every player should.
My other player to look out for is Bayern Munich's Alphonso Davies, the left-back. I'm watching strikers but the left-back, Davies at Bayern is unbelievable. If we did a race, me and him, I would probably still be in the starting position when he gets to the finishing line, that guy is unbelievably quick. The way he has taken to the Bundesliga is crazy, it is like he has been playing there for 20 years, he's made the left-back position his own. He's confident on the ball, in the way he plays the game, he runs forward and isn't afraid to attack and cross, and he know's that he is really quick so he has no problem coming back even if he is out of position.
Watch out for the young upcoming players
There are a lot of obvious names to watch out for, but sometimes people need to pay attention and be open to the bigger picture. Of course, Robert Lewandowski, Haaland, Jadon Sancho, Werner and Thomas Muller are names that speak, what more can you say about these players.
They will be there, they will play, they will score goals, they will probably get the man of the match award every time, they will steal the spotlight from the young players, that's why I've not mentioned them, of course they are the big names and you need to pay them respect, but when we're all watching the Bundesliga let's try to pay more attention to the young players as well because there is a lot of talent in the league.
Sancho is unbelievable, he has 14 goals and 15 assists, it is unbelievable and it speaks volume about the way he is developing, the speed, the goals, the passing and his eye for the pass. He isn't selfish, if you have 15 assists it must be because you play the ball whenever you have the chance and someone is in a better position.
Then you have Haaland, that boy took the Bundesliga by storm with 8 games and 9 goals. He is also tall, maybe taller than me, but he has speed, I watched that clip when he sprinted from one goal to the next one, they were showing how he was sprinting and it a Usain Bolt style sprint. He has that eye for the goal and can find that space in the box, his scoring is unbelievable.
In the end, I must mention Lewandowski, one of the all time greats, he can score goals from nothing and Werner, who is second in the goalscoring charts, scoring for fun. Overall, these are the big players, but pay attention to the young talent.
Dortmund's wanted man will go where he will play every week
Sancho moved to Germany at a very young age and it looks to be paying off massively in the way that he is developing. That was maybe the best decision he has made so far, to go there and play because I think he, his agent and family knew he was good enough to play, so when someone isn't giving you a chance at one place of course you go and find somewhere to play and it was a great decision on his part, he is developing and now big teams are coming after him.
I don't know if now is the right time for him to go to Manchester United, I have mentioned it before, I have my doubts here because at United there's Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Daniel James.
It's good to have competition for the team but I would imagine if he moves to a new place he would want to play every game, but rotation is a common thing now in football. From that point of view, you can't guarantee a player will play, but I think we need to go with that assumption, big money and he would like to play. For me, he is going to choose the team that he knows he is going to play. Not to move and do nothing because that is going to stop his development and that why I think it maybe better for him to stay at Dortmund for one more year, why not?
When I was a young player in Germany, at the same age as Sancho, my mind was only on me developing. I wasn't thinking about transfers, I was happy at Leverkusen, I was playing every game and if you really love football that is what you want to do, you want to play every game and you want to know that you are going to play every game, it gives you confidence.
It cannot make you think that somebody owes you something, even if you play every game you need to prove yourself each and every training session, you can't relax and think 'I'm the number one goalscorer, they can't do without me.' In that sense, I didn't think about transfers, so I stay there for almost five years, Sancho has been there since 2017 and it's crucial to know him and his surroundings to know when is the right time to stay or go because this can sometimes can make or break a career.
Positives from the horror treble with Leverkusen
The end of the 2001/02 season with Bayer Leverkusen was labelled as the 'horror treble'; we lost the league, the German Cup final and the Champions League final.
I look back on it as a great journey, we surprised everybody by reaching the Champions League final, the German Cup final and fighting for the title. In the end, it didn't finished the way we wanted it to and we missed out on everything, but the journey was great. All the young players mixed with the experienced players, we had a great squad. While we were going on that journey, to be honest, I don't think we realised that we would reach the finals, but when you start playing and winning, winning and winning, the self belief goes up, the confidence goes up and you start to think maybe we can do something here and maybe we are good enough.
Honestly, we did play with respect to every opposition we faced, but with no fear because we were the underdogs and we didn't have anything to lose. It is the easiest way to play football, nobody pays attention to you and everybody is like 'nah, they have come so far but that will be it,' and then the next time is like 'Okay that was luck, now they will go out,' and every time we would win again.
It was unbelievable for us and it was unfortunate the way it ended but sometimes this happens in football. The worst thing for me was that it happened to Leverkusen because we deserved to win something that year because of the effort we put in, the way we trained, the way we stuck together as a team and because we were a small team and nobody paid attention to us.
Since that day, Bayer haven't come close to doing anything like that again, so when you're a small club the chances to do something many times are very slim, whereas if you're a big team you can afford to lose a final because next year you will be there again and you might win it. We were a small team and we deserved at least one trophy, we didn't get it, we felt disappointed and cheated by destiny, everybody was crying inside.
Although we didn't believe it that we were playing Real Madrid in the Champions League final, it was surreal to see Zidane, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Raul, we still wanted to take something from that game and in the end sitting in the dressing room after that was painful but it was almost heroic and we felt like heroes because we beat giants on the way to that final.
You have to admire Zidane's goal, but it made me feel like...
In that final in Glasgow, I came on as a substitute in the first half and six minutes later Zinedine Zidane scored his wonder goal. I felt like s*** in that moment, I was there behind Zidane and I can remember seeing Roberto Carlos sprinting for the ball and then putting it into the box, the ball was a very difficult one, it wasn't a cross, and the fortunate thing for them was that Zidane was in the right place at the right time.
The way he connected with the ball and put it into the net, let me tell you, not many players can do that. When you watch it, close up on the pitch, like I was, you admire it but you feel like s*** because you can't believe they have just scored like that, you don't feel good. That was the goal they beat us with but I continue to believe that we deserved to get something from that game and we played as evens and we tried everything but it didn't happen in the end.
A young Iker Casillas came on in the second half, and I think it was fate. That was the moment where the career of one of the greatest goalkeepers started. I remember the last minutes of the game, we were attacking, our goalkeeper was in the box, we were jumping and I put a header in which was cleared on the goal line. Another time, I slid in to put the ball towards goal and he cleared it with his leg. He did everything possible for us not to score, so he did his job.
I can't say if he didn't come onto the pitch we would have scored, but in that game it was meant to be for him to come on and save every single shot that we took, it was a great performance for him. In the end we didn't have anything to be ashamed of because we tried everything, it just wasn't our night. You can say in a way we made his career, I'm just waiting for him to thank us!
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