In 1997, Borussia Dortmund won the European Cup for the first and only time in club history. From his perch in a box with the other players, 20-year-old Jovan Kirovski watched his team beat Juventus, 3-1, in the final.
Now 37, Kirovski thinks he will watch Dortmund win the trophy for a second time when he turns on the game between BVB and Bayern Munich on May 25 from his home in Southern California.
“It'll be some game,” Kirovski told reporters. “I'll say Dortmund, 1-0. I think they can win. They're young, they're hungry -- the energy they put into games. They have some very good players. I believe they're good enough to win.”
With a new, young team built by Michael Zorc and corralled by Jürgen Klopp, Dortmund has once again reached the pinnacle match in European soccer.
Back in 1997, Kirovski was in his first year with the club after coming through the Manchester United youth ranks, learning from a German tutor and coming off the bench.
“I was young. It happened so quick,” Kirovski said. “I was in such a great team with experienced players. Looking back now, it was an amazing experience. To be part of that experience was amazing, with the big players, the big crowd. I didn't realize until now how big a deal that is.”
He lists his former teammates: Matthias Sammer (now the sporting director for Bayern Munich), Stefan Reuter, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Paulo Sousa, Julio Cesar. Zorc came on in the 89th minute as a substitute. Ottmar Hitzfeld was the coach.
“He's totally different from, let's say, a [Sir Alex] Ferguson or even Bruce [Arena],” the former U.S. international said of Hitzfeld. “All these guys, these great managers, they have their own ways. He was very calm. He wasn't a guy that came in and shouted or screamed on put fear in anybody. It was very calm, very tactical. Totally different than let's say a Ferguson who would go nuts once in a while.”
The next year, Hitzfeld joined Bayern Munich. Dortmund tried to join Bayern in an arms race of players, but only ended up in a financial collapse that nearly led to insolvency.
“That's why they were in a financial crisis, because of that team,” Kirovski said. “And that's the truth. They spent all that money, and then [poof].”
Between the two finals, BVB flirted with bankruptcy, and only returned to prominence under Klopp, winning the 2011 and 2012 Bundesliga titles.
Kirovski, now the technical director at the LA Galaxy, says he's planning a trip to Dortmund to watch how his former team operates, especially how it develops players.
“Economically they're really healthy now,” Kirovski said. “It's been a good recovery for them.”
Following the '97 triumph, Kirovski spent a year on loan in Germany before moving on. His resume includes clubs in Portugal, England and MLS. He remains the only American to ever win the Champions League. (He keeps his medal in a safe at home. “Maybe my kids will enjoy it some day,” he said.)
Dortmund center back Neven Subotic, a former U.S. youth international, could join him on a technicality. “That doesn't count,” Kirovski joked. Subotic is a Serbian international.
For the debate to matter, Dortmund will need to beat Bayern, which won the 2013 Bundesliga title by 25 clear points.
The match will have a touch of extra spice because Bayern has already announced that it will purchase Mario Götze, who has been with Dortmund since he was 9, this summer. Robert Lewandowski could make the same move as well.
“You've got basically the working class club in Dortmund against the big spenders in Bayern,” Kirovski said. “It's a great story. And I hope Dortmund wins.”
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