Too much too young: the Lars Ricken story

Craig McCracken
Contributor

If your football career is to be ultimately remembered for just one particular swing of your boot, then might as well make it an important one.

Undoubtedly scoring a spectacular and decisive goal in a Champions League Final just 16 seconds after coming on as a substitute would rank highly here, and this was how Lars Ricken announced himself to the world in 1997 as he broke from midfield and cleverly lobbed stranded Juventus keeper Angelo Peruzzi to put Dortmund into an unassailable 3-1 lead.

A wonderful moment for the youngster, though in retrospect one tinged with poignancy as the rest of the 21-year-old’s career was a disappointing anti-climax by comparison.

The career of Lars Ricken was highly front-loaded one. He was Dortmund’s then youngest-ever debutant when he made his first-team bow towards the end of the 1993-94 season as a 17-year-old. By the following season he was a regular and playing an important part in the back-to-back Bundesliga titles the club won in 1995 and 1996, this while juggling his football commitments with homework as he endeavoured to complete his high-school studies.

Source: Twitter

His coach Ottmar Hitzfeld purred over his professionalism and his adaptability. Considered most potent when playing as an attacking-midfielder, Ricken was also able to deputise as a striker when called upon as he was in his second season when Karl-Heinz Riedle and Stephane Chapuisat both suffered knee-injuries.

His first big match-winning performance came in a UEFA Cup tie in December 1994 against Deportivo La Coruna. With four minutes remaining in extra-time and needing two goals to qualify, Dortmund looked dead and buried. Riedle scored one of the goals and in the dying seconds the never-say-die spirit of Ricken paid off as he thumped home the decider to earn early cult-hero status.

Although still an unknown commodity to many before delivering his famous coup de grace in the 1997 Final, Ricken had been influential throughout the tournament and had scored Dortmund’s second-leg winner in the semi-final at Old Trafford that took the Bundesliga side to their Munich showdown with Italian giants Juventus in the first place.

Source: Alchetron

Already a regular at U21 level, Ricken stepped up to the full German national side early the following season and looked set for a lengthy career at this level. But this was where the Ricken fairytale turned sour. Injuries started to take a toll and became so frequent and recurring that they diminished much of the player’s exuberant physicality.

His form and morale crashed as he dropped out of the Dortmund first-team, firstly onto the bench and then into the stands. There was a one chink of light when he stayed injury-free for the 2001/02 season and was back in first-team action helping Dortmund to another title.

This brave, if brief, recovery earned him a place in Germany’s 2002 World Cup squad where he was a non-playing member. The next five years of his career drifted by with little to show and eventually Ricken had had enough. Towards the end of 2007 he announced his retirement from the game, a decade on from his magic moment in Munich – a lost decade, sadly.

Source: Twitter

Always to be remembered as a Dortmund hero and a loyal one-club man, Lars Ricken made a total of 456 appearances for Dortmund and while few will remember 80 of the 81 career goals he scored, everyone will remember the remaining one.