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It was matchday 25 in the 1999/00 league campaign – the game in front of a 23,500 sell-out crowd at the Donaustadion in Ulm kicked off at 15.30 CET. Bayer 04, in second place level on points with Bayern Munich, were unbeaten in six games; but the 'Sparrows', undefeated on their own turf since the start of November in the previous year, went into the game in confident mood after two wins on the bounce.
Ulm missed two chances at the start of the game – the Werkself, in contrast, made a much better job of it: Emerson and Paulo Rink started the goal fest. Ulf Kirsten added a third and Emerson doubled his tally before the break to make it 4-0 at half-time.
The Werkself were in full flow in the first half and the team under coach Christoph Daum carried on in the same vein in the second 45 minutes: Oliver Neuville, Michael Ballack, Zé Roberto with a double and Bernd Schneider scored to make it 9-04 Bayer 04. Ulm's Leandro netted a consolation goal late on the final score of 9-1.
A certain Sascha Rösler, back then at the start of his 20s in an Ulm shirt was only really recognised by football aficionados, had been promoted to the Bundesliga with SSV a few months earlier. Born and grown up in Tettnang on Lake Constance, the versatile forward played his first season in the top-flight in 1999/2000.
In the home game against the Werkself, Rösler came on for the second half. In an interview with bayer04.de, today's team liaison manager of second division Fortuna Düsseldorf talks about the Leverkusen team at the time as well as table tennis matches with his then Bayer 04 opponent Oliver Neuville, with the historic game at the Donaustadion – to the regret of Rösler – proving to be a recurring subject...
Sascha, you came through the ranks at SSV Ulm to make it into the senior squad in the middle of the 90s and got into the third tier Regional League. He then had two years full of positive experiences and numerous wins that you crowned with two promotions in succession. What was the secret of the team's success back then?
Rösler: We always thrived on our team spirit at Ulm. One of the triggers for the sporting upturn for the club at the time was undoubtedly bringing in Ralf Rangnick as the coach. With him in charge, we had a tactical advantage over other teams. We were one of the first teams to focus on the ball and mark zonally. That caused problems for a lot of opponents. It helped us to go right through to the Bundesliga.
You finally reached the top-flight in German football in the 1999/2000 season. Now you weren't facing – as did two years before – Weismain or Ditzingen but instead FC Bayern and Bayer 04. At that point, you were at the start of your 20s when you took your first steps in the Bundesliga. What was that time like for you?
Rösler: I'd always dreamt of playing professional football. At some point I got to the age where it became clear whether you'd make it or not. The problem for me as a young player was that there was a completely different culture at the clubs compared with today. The focus was primarily on older, more experienced players. Fortunately, I was one of few lads to get the chance to play for the first team. At that moment, of course, it was a dream come true.
From matchdays 15 to 24, you picked up six wins and two draws in ten games. You had a cushion of five points to the first relegation spot. Then the Werkself came to Ulm in second place level on points with FC Bayern. A capacity crowd at the Donaustadion, a confident mood from winning previous games. What are your memories of that game?
Rösler: Leverkusen were the clear favourites and we were all aware of that. I watched the first half from the bench and I have to say: They didn't look as brutally superior as the 4-0 scoreline at half-time suggested. We only conceded a few shots on goal. Unfortunately they all went in.
You came on for the second half. What was your attitude going into the game given you were so clearly trailing?
Rösler: Our assistant coach said to my teammate, who also came on, and me that we could get back into it with a quick goal. Of course, we had to smile at that. Prospects of getting a result were not that great given we were 4-0 down. Nevertheless, we were determined to improve the scoreline. Unfortunately, as everybody knows, we conceded more goals. We made some horrendous mistakes.
Zé Roberto, Michael Ballack and Co. knew how to exploit that…
Rösler: They completely outplayed us with their quality. We were on the verge of losing by double figures. At least our Brazilian Leandro scored a consolation goal at the end of the game. The whole stadium reacted sensationally to that. We had great fans at the time. Everybody was really grateful that we were playing top-flight football in the city.
9-1: That result is the heaviest Bundesliga defeat for Ulm to date and for Leverkusen the biggest win in the top-flight. How long do you need as a player to get over a defeat like that?
Rösler: When you don't have a chance, you don't get annoyed after the game about certain events such as a misplaced pass. We had to accept the result. It was just a day where everything went right for Leverkusen and almost nothing went right for us. For me, I quickly got over the game. Unfortunately, it caught up with me a few years later.
We're all ears…
Rösler: At Mönchengladbach I played alongside Oli (Oliver Neuville, ed.). He played in the 9-1 win for Leverkusen and he scored a goal. We had a battle with each other on the table tennis table in the gym almost every day during our time at Mönchengladbach. And whenever I won, he talked about that game. "That's why we beat you 9-1 back then," he always said with a broad smile. So it stuck with me for quite a while. (He laughs) But, of course, our friendship has lasted right up to now.
After the home game against the Werkself you are only able to win one more game and went straight back down after 34 matches. Was the result against the Werkself the crucial moment in the mission to stay up?
Rösler: I wouldn't say that. To a certain extent, the defeat against Leverkusen was factored in. In my opinion, it was the following game at Unterhaching that did for us in the battle to stay up. We suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat with a late own goal. Unterhaching got it right in the end and we were unable to get back to winning ways.
Unterhaching is a good key word. Although 'good' is actually the wrong adjective in this case. The Werkself let the title slip through their fingers with a 2-0 defeat to the south of Munich on the final matchday. What was your experience of the title finale?
Rösler: We were only able to watch the game afterwards. We had our own battle at the time and were in a position to stay up on the final matchday under our own steam but we ended up throwing it away(2-1 at rivals Eintracht, ed.). Therefore, I only realised what had happened in the race for the title a couple of days later. The Leverkusen team back then is one of the best the club has ever had. I thought they were even better than Bayern Munich. In Christoph Daum, they had a coach who worked an incredibly innovative way and set them up brilliantly from a tactical viewpoint.
You stayed at Ulm for another season before moving on to Fürth, Aachen, Mönchengladbach and Düsseldorf. By the end of your career you'd played 308 games in the second division. Are you happy with your career?
Rösler: I have to look at that two ways. On the one hand, I grew up at Lake Constance. And without scouts, as we know them today, it was difficult to get into the focus of the top teams. My mother did a lot for me at that time and had lots of telephone conversations with club representatives. It was a rocky road to get to SSV Ulm and thereby later into the professional game. The other point of view, of course, is I would have liked played a few more games in the top division (60, ed.). But then I had a torn cruciate among other things and at some point I noticed that I perhaps didn't have the pace for the Bundesliga. So I went my way in the second division – and I'm very happy about that looking back.
You've been the team liaison manager at Fortuna Düsseldorf for more than four years. What does that role involve?
Rösler: The second division has got me back. (He laughs) But joking aside. I am responsible for all organisational matters for the first team. Of course, I can also use my experience as a former professional to give players advice in certain situations beyond those duties.
What are your targets and when can we expect Fortuna to return to the BayArena for the Rhineland clash?
Rösler: Relegation last year was a bitter blow for us as a club. We all hope to get promotion with Fortuna and our fans as soon as possible and then we can pay you a visit. It won't be a stroll in the park of course and a lot of things have to be right. We'll see how far we can get this season.
Match stats for the game on 18 March 2000:
Ulm: Laux – Bódog (Unsöld 46’), Rui Marques, Stadler, Kinkel – Otto (Rösler 46’), Maier, Scharinger (Pleuler 75’), Gora – Leandro, van de Haar
Bayer 04: Juric – Nowotny, Ramelow, R. Kovac – Emerson, Ballack, Zé Roberto (Schneider 82’), Beinlich (Gresko 78’) – Neuville, Rink, Kirsten (Zivkovic 52’)
Goals: 0-1 Emerson (10’), 0-2 Rink (14’), 0-3 Kirsten (19’), 0-4 Emerson (39’), 0-5 Neuville (68’), 0-6 Zé Roberto (74’), 0-7 Ballack (75’), 0-8 Zé Roberto (81’), 0-9 Schneider (85’), 1-9 Leandro (90’)
Booked: Rösler, Unsöld, Scharinger – Zé Roberto, Kirsten, R. Kovac
Referee: Hellmut Krug (Gelsenkirchen)
Attendance: 23,500 (sold out) at the Donaustadion
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