Dortmund hero Riedle wants Asian talent to emulate Kagawa and Son
Former Borussia Dortmund and Germany striker Karl-Heinz Riedle has urged promising Asian youngsters to learn from Japan's Shinji Kagawa and South Korea's Son Heung-min and redefine their European ambitions with his country as the focus.
In conversation with ESPN FC in downtown Singapore, the 49-year-old former World Cup and UEFA Champions league winner, who's a Dortmund ambassador, described Germany as the best European destination for elite AFC talent.
"Up and coming Asian youngsters should look at the examples of Kagawa and Son Heung-min in the Bundesliga," said Riedle, who also had two seasons with Liverpool in the 1990s.
"As playmaker, Kagawa was central to Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp's plans during the Bundesliga title win of 2010-11. Son Heung-min is excelling this season in his forward role for Bayer Leverkusen. Both of them are supremely technically gifted players and became world stars because of the Bundesliga.
"The strength of young Asian footballers is the ease with which they hold the ball and move it around the park. The best European destination for them to upgrade their skills is Germany, which has produced homegrown players of such high technical quality over the last few years that we won the World Cup last year 'out-Braziling' Brazil in the process."
Riedle, who scored Dortmund's first two goals of the 3-1 win in the 1997 UEFA Champions League final in Munich against a powerful Juventus side that included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, added that his former club exemplies the German foregrounding of technical skills more than any other Bundesliga rival.
"Under Klopp, Dortmund have adopted a high-tempo playing style which needs players who are good at holding and moving the ball around on the pitch and pressing high up to recover possession," he said.
"Marco Reus and Mario Goetze are from the Dortmund academy. The club also developed players such as Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic from a very young age. Upcoming Asian footballers who graduate from youth academies can be integrated into the first team set-up more smoothly through Dortmund than other clubs."
Riedle will be as much involved as former teammate Lars Ricken -- who scored his club's third goal during that historic 1997 Munich evening -- in Dortmund's project of unearthing Asian talent which underpinned the club's decision to set up a regional office in Singapore last year.
"I run a small football academy in Bavaria where I live, which has been integrated into the Dortmund youth development structure, in which Lars plays a major role," he said. Riedle was nicknamed 'Air' during his playing days on account of his incredible heading prowess which was best displayed when he rose above a strong Juventus defence that included Italian defender Ciro Ferrara to nod home Dortmund's second goal in the 1997 Champions League final.
Interestingly, Riedle prefers the opener he scored that evening over the header. "The first goal was more technical," he reminisced. "Paul [Lambert] crossed from the right, I brought it down in a crowded penalty box and came up with a left-foot finish. I am still thankful to Paul for that wonderful ball. We continue to be in touch and it was sad that Aston Villa removed him recently. I cannot relate to this firing culture in England -- if Klopp had been in the Premier League he would have long lost his job by now. Good he is in Bundesliga with Dortmund -- he is getting a fair chance to turn the season around."
Riedle, who is also the ambassador for the 2015 UEFA Champions League final in Berlin in June, is optimistic of the Black and Yellows' chances in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 clash against Juventus later this month. "We have a crucial away goal though we lost 2-1 in Turin," said Riedle. "If we play as well at home as we played in the derby game against Schalke, we will beat Juventus. It will be a tough game as the Italians are a lot better defensively."
Riedle, a member of Franz Beckenbauer's 1990 World Cup winning West Germany side, recalled his emotions as he picked the Serie A champions as Dortmund's opponents as the host of the UEFA Champions League draw for the round 16 stage.
"It had to happen with my hands," laughs Riedle. "That moment, when I picked Juventus as Dortmund's opponent, my two goals of the 1997 final and our victory celebrations flashed through my mind. It was just like Germany's World Cup win last year. I was working in Germany as an expert on German TV and at the final whistle against Argentina I remembered the 1990 winning moment when I was on the substitute bench. It was as if time had stopped -- an incredible experience. Even our opponents were the same -- and on both occasions Argentina had the best player in the world in their teams but Germany emerged the better side."
Was trumping an Argentina side led by Maradona in the 1990 final the most memorable moment of his life? "Not really, because Maradona played with an injury in 1990 and was not at his 1986 best," said Riedle, who narrowly missed out annexing a European Championship title to his World Cup and Champions League titles when Germany lost to Denmark in the 1992 final. "Argentina also had a few players suspended from the final after their semifinal win against hosts Italy.
"My most memorable moment from 1990 was the semifinal win in penalties against England. I came on as a first half substitute when Rudi Voller went off with an injury and partnered Jurgen Klinsmann in attack. The coach wanted me to take the penalty though I had never taken a penalty kick in my life till then. I was the third penalty taker after Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthaus had converted the first two and luckily for me the great Peter Shilton, who was a decent keeper even then though he was nearing the end of his career, went the wrong way. It all happened so long ago and would have been a distant blur had it not been for the World Cup win last summer."
Riedle must be hoping for one more déjà vu moment in Berlin on June 6 should Klopp's side make it that far.