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23.10.2021Bayer 04

‘Sometimes it turns into a goal of the month'

Bernd Schneider and Jens Nowotny counted amongst the key players in Istanbul. In an interview the duo look back at the match at Fenerbahce.
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Bernd, almost anything was possible in your group ahead of the match in Istanbul. Even with a win and twelve points you could have been knocked out on the last matchday in a worst-case scenario.

Schneider: I don't remember the situation back then being so difficult. Even with a point in Istanbul we would have had everything in our own hands in the last match against Lyon. But, of course, we wanted to win at Fenerbahce and were hoping for a victory for Barcelona in Lyon.

You had to manage without suspended defenders Lucio and Diego Placente. How important was it to have Jens Nowotny playing in spite of his knee problems?

Schneider: It's normal for somebody to have a knock or somebody be missing through suspension. Obviously, it would have been impossible to replace Jenne like for like but we did have strength in depth in the squad.

The captain suffered at times in the season but made a huge effort.

Schneider: Yes, and that just says a lot about the character of Jens with him putting himself at the service of the team back then. He was a professional through and through and he gritted his teeth more than once. And he was not just a key player on the pitch but also an incredibly important contact for everybody off it.

Jens, what do you remember of your personal situation ahead of the game at Fenerbahce?

Nowotny: The knee problems built up back then. The week before against Barcelona I had massive problems but played nevertheless. The fact was you always tried to get the point where you couldn't really do any more. Nobody can play with a torn cruciate or a broken ankle. But otherwise? If the coach believed I could help the team when I wasn't completely fit then I went and tried it.

And Toppi was often of that opinion.

Nowotny: Exactly.

Looking back, do you sometimes regret playing when a break for health reasons would perhaps have been better?

Nowotny: No, never. I definitely ended up on the treatment table more than any other player at the time. I managed to make my way through but nobody forced me to. I wanted to do it myself because I felt I really could help the team. And everything went right for me in that season up to the torn cruciate in the game against Manchester United. There were phases again and again back then when important players were injured or suspended. And, nevertheless, it worked out as we played great football in spite of that. Nobody said to me afterwards: You were lucky there with a couple of refereeing decisions or the like.

It also worked at the Sükrü Saracoglu, the Fenerbahce stadium. Everybody expected it to be like a lion's den but only about 13,000 spectators turned up and there were lots of empty seats. Were you surprised?

Schneider: Yes, a bit. Nevertheless, the Fenerbahce fans created a good atmosphere as if there were 30,000 spectators there.

But it was your fans who celebrated first after 23 minutes. About a strike that was later voted goal of the month. Tell me, Bernd, how did you see that incident?

Schneider: Zé Roberto put in a cross from the left in the direction the edge of the box. The ball bounced off in front of me once or twice and I took my chance and hit it so well as I could only probably do in one out of a hundred times. You have to have courage and conviction to hit it. But it also includes a lot of luck. A shot like that can sometimes land up in the car park. But sometimes it turns into a goal of the month.

It was your second in 2001 with the first against Dortmund in March.

Schneider: (He laughs) I didn't score that many goals in my career but it was definitely one of the very best. The lob against Dortmund and Jens Lehman was also the opener and very important back then. We ended up winning 3-1.

Jens, from your position on the pitch, could you see what a wonder goal Bernd had hit in Istanbul?

Nowotny: No, I could only see that he was standing on the right edge of the penalty area. Suddenly the ball was in the net and you're happy and celebrate with the rest. I only saw how good the goal was later on television. Schnix often did things like that in training. Technically it wasn't a problem for him at all. But you have to take a risk doing that in a match. It worked for him. With me it would probably have ended up much higher with me skying something like that.

You were clearly on top at Fenerbahce but, particularly in the second half, careless with the many chances. It ended up in a tight finish in the end…

Schneider: Yes, we made life difficult for ourselves, Fenerbahce had a great chance just before the end. Ultimately our win was highly deserved, we did what was expected and went through to the next round ahead of time.

Nowotny: Those are the unwritten laws: If you don't do it up front then you can let them in at the back. There were always games like that and there always will be. Games where you end up stopping yourselves winning. Fortunately that didn't happen in this match.

Reiner Calmund really rated progressing to the next round in an emotional speech at the banquet after the game and he put it even higher than winning the UEFA Cup and the DFB Cup. "There is no replacement for titles but going through in this group with Lyon and Barcelona in it was the greatest thing," he said back then.

Schneider: And you can't forget Red Star Belgrade in the qualifiers as that was also a tricky task. That we were already through from the group after the fourth win in the fifth game says a lot about the quality, which nobody expected of us. Fenerbahce was a sort of a starting point for the rest of the season because we had really achieved something. Because we noticed ourselves that we could come out on top against the best teams in Europe.

Nowotny: Calli always had a feeling for situations. And, of course, it also does something for the team when he makes comparisons like that. But I didn't think it was so important back then. And today, the distance of 20 years, you obviously see that differently from back then. Because all the players, coaches, teams and members of the club who were active with Bayer 04 before 2001 were the first to make it possible. If the lads had not been promoted to the Bundesliga or the team hadn't avoided relegation in 1996, then we wouldn't have played in the Champions League. I always find it difficult with comparisons, which win is now more important than the other, above all when it's about comparing titles. But, I believe we all understood what Calli meant in Istanbul.

Did you go straight on holiday after the banquet?

Schneider: We had a great team hotel, the Kempinski on the Bosphorus. I nearly always shared a room with Olli Neuville. We used to sit outside on our terrace for a long time and Jens and Calli Ramelow joined us later. We had one or two little beers and talked. We knew back then that we could achieve something with this team and the confidence was simply there. And in the week before in our 2-1 defeat at Barcelona, we had a really good game, above all in the second half. We can compete with anyone that much was clear.

Nowotny: Schnix, Olli, Calle and I weren't the ones in the team to paint the town blue and enjoy parties. There were others who did that and everybody had reason to do it. But we four enjoyed this success in our own way on the terrace with a view of the Bosphorus – and me without beer as I don't drink alcohol. We had really fantastic accommodation. When we arrived at the Kempinski Hotel and I opened the door to room I was absolutely taken aback. I met Reiner Calmund on the corridor and said: 'Calli, that's not a room it's a suite.' Calli just said, 'and deservedly so.'

 

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