Thomas, most of the pundits expected Dimitar Berbatov to play as a lone striker in the game in La Coruna. Were you surprised when Klaus Toppmöller told you were playing after the final pre-match training session?
Brdaric: No, not necessarily. As a coach, I know about it better now than back then in that you always have several ideas in your head. And then you opt for the strategy that appears most suitable for the next game. Dimitar was a different type of player from me. He was more the target man who could hold on to the ball up front. I had other qualities that Toppi opted for in the game in La Coruna. Berbo and I also played very well together.
As in the weekend before with the 2-0 win at Stuttgart were you both scored…
Brdaric: I'd forgotten about that. But it's right, we worked well together and benefited from each other.
The media like to talk about a B attack which had two meanings as it wasn't just related to your initials. Did that annoy you at the time?
Brdaric: No, I took it more as inspiration according to the motto: We'll show you we can also be the A attack. And, of course, it wasn't easy to make your way ahead of rivals like Ulf Kirsten and Olli Neuville. But I learned an incredible amount from them, for example how to concentrate, how to prepare professionally for a game.
You produced an impressive performance in the 3-1 win against Juventus and scored a header against Gianluigi Buffon. Was that a special goal for you?
Brdaric: Yes, of course. But I'd first like to go back to the day before the match: Before the game against Juventus, I was struck by the huge media interest in the game. When we went to the final training session it felt like there were 50 journalists there. I think that attention gave me a boost. And if you score a goal in an important game like that then it's an incredibly great feeling. You work for moments like that as a professional footballer.
Back to the game at Deportivo: Did you feel under a lot of pressure back then?
Brdaric: No, not at all. We were so focused, we were on a run in the league and were working on several moves before the game against the Spaniards. The situation in the table presented opportunities for everybody. But we knew it would take a perfect day to be able to get through to the quarter-finals against this strong team. Toppi set us up very well.
What was his match plan for you?
Brdaric: If I remember correctly, my job was to get up front with our fast-paced counter-attacks and shoot at goal. But I was also supposed to move out the wings now and then.
As with the opening goal from Michael Ballack…
Brdaric: Yes, that was a great attack by us and Michael converted my cross from the left in his typical way. I'd already set up Yildiray Bastürk before that but the Deportivo keeper unfortunate made the save. We should have been further ahead at half-time.
You were unlucky with your shot against the bar from 27 yards out. A couple of inches lower and you might have scored the Goal of the Month.
Brdaric: (He laughs) Yes, probably. It was a bit of a pity. But the important thing in that game was we showed again how focused and courageous we were. We played great football and earned more and more respect in Europe.
You were able to go to the showers on 64 minutes because you'd put in an incredible amount of running. Your batteries were empty, weren't they?
Brdaric: You can put it like that. I remember well that I could hardly move in my hotel bed that night (he laughs). And I'd like to know how many kilometres I ran in that game.
There was the traditional banquet after the 3-1 win. Can you still remember the atmosphere there?
Brdaric: The excitement you feel as a player before the game gradually diminishes after the final whistle. I wasn't hungry at the banquet, I was just knackered. The whole thing was like a brilliant dream and I felt really happy, almost blissful. The speech from Calli (Reiner Calmund, ed.) went like a dream because he was able to rate it highly in terms of the club's history.
You carried on up to the final where Toppmöller preferred you to Berbo and Ulf Kirsten. But you had to play in the unusual position of left wing and the coach took you off after 39 minutes with the score at 1-1.
Brdaric: To be honest, I still don't understand that up to this day. There was no logical reason. Of course, I missed a big chance. But that can’t actually be the reason for the substitution. Let's forget it. At the end of the day, it's always about the team. And we really produced something special as a team in that season.
You've got around a lot as a player and as a coach. Most recently you were head coach for almost two years in Albania with the top-flight side KF Vllaznia where you won the cup and finished as runners-up in the league. You were voted coach of the year in Albania in 2021. Although the club are currently fourth in the table this season they parted company with you a few days ago.
Brdaric: I really didn't expect it but, of course, I have to accept the decision of the vice president. Nevertheless, I take a lot of positives from those almost two years. I made a lot of friends in Albania. And the fans always made me feel that they knew how to appreciate our work. We started with almost nothing and made the club competitive again. The team was still intact. But the president wanted to take a different path.
What are your plans now?
Brdaric: I'm still in Albania and I'm thinking about whether to take time out or carry on immediately. I'm definitely full of energy.
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