Best player in the cup final: Nico Schlotterbeck’s champion class

On the way back, save the defeated goalkeeper, a fantastic tackle: Nico Schlotterbeck delivered an excellent performance in the DFB Cup final. However, SC Freiburg fails to reward them.

After 120 exhausting minutes and a penalty shootout that ended tragically for his SC Freiburg, Nico Schlotterbeck is alone in front of the eastern curve at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. As the team trudges back towards the pitch after the bitter defeat in the first DFB Cup final in the club’s history, the central defender gets a little longer. “Schlot-ter-beck, Schlot-ter-beck, Schlot-ter-beck,” the fans sing over and over again, celebrating the man whose unparalleled performance in this final brought Sport Club so close to his first major title ever led like never before .

While the night slowly falls on over the capital, Schlotterbeck stands there. It’s a bit like he does not quite know how to feel in this moment. There is the exhaustion after the exhausting finale. The grief, disappointment and anger of leaving the pitch as a loser, despite having been in the lead and been outnumbered for more than 60 minutes. But also the pride of having played a fantastic season, which even the 5-3 defeat on penalties (1-1, 1-1, 1-0) this summery, windy Saturday night does not change anything.

“I’m emotionally empty,” Schlotterbeck then told Südwestrundfunk, which is not surprising given his extraordinary workload. For in the almost three hours between the kick-off at 20 and the decisive missed penalty at 22.47, the 22-year-old delivers what can simply be summed up as a “master class” in English-speaking countries. Freely translated, this is a masterpiece that also serves as a teaching example. So if you want to see a modern defender, you should see a recording of this finale.

So close and eventually just frustrated on the bench.

(Photo: IMAGO / Sven Simon)

A border as out of a picture book

Schlotterbeck delivers the most formative, albeit difficult to reproduce scene early in the match, minutes after Freiburg’s opening goal by Maximilian Eggestein. It’s the 24th minute where the sports club gets into trouble in its own penalty area. At the end of this emergency, Leipzig’s exceptional striker Christopher Nkunku comes to the finish from close range, goalkeeper Mark Flekken has already been overcome. However, Schlotterbeck reacts quickly, clears the ball in front of the line and then celebrates so emotionally in his own goal that the positive energy spreads to the fan basket, which is 30 meters away.

In this final, the 1.91-meter-tall defender is without a doubt what is often referred to as an “emotional leader” in football jargon. Schlotterbeck drives himself, drives the Freiburg affiliation, drives his teammates. Lots of gestures, on the big stage of the cup final, certainly also effective in public, but above all as a performance model. He’s got a crack at the rebound all alone in front of Konrad Laimer … how did he miss that ?! Unbelievable. Also in the air, for example in the 100th minute, when he ran backwards to prevent Nordi Mukiele from being able to put Mark Flekken, who had come out of his goal a little too early, under pressure.

In the build-up game, Schlotterbeck repeatedly demands the ball, playing most of all Freiburg players with 86 passes, but continuing to look for dribbles as the game progresses – without taking too many risks. Shortly before the end of the first half of extra time, the center-back moves up and pushes through to Janik Haberer in the opposite penalty area, but he misses the shot. His positional play is without a doubt long stretches of the game, the high quality Leipzig offensive has to work hard for every goal opportunity. So it sounds almost logical that the equalizer from another ball after a standard situation and falls outside Schlotterbeck’s sphere of activity.

An honor that Schlotterbeck does not care about

The national team player, who was called back to the squad for the four dates in June, describes his last day at SC Freiburg as “brutally intense”. Schlotterbeck, whose career has only just begun, moves to Borussia Dortmund in the new season. Both clubs, who praised each other for the pleasant atmosphere in the negotiations, have agreed not to disclose the transfer fee – but in unanimous reports it is 20 million euros plus the usual bonus payments, which depend on the development of the change.

“A little melancholy,” Schlotterbeck says after his 56th and final competitive match in the Breisgau jersey. The temptation to win the DFB Cup as a farewell gift was great, and with the lead in the back and the majority from the red card to Leipzig’s Marcel Halstenberg shortly after the break, almost everything seemed to be going well for the sports club. It was “hard to accept,” Schlotterbeck said on Sky, “that we lost.” Those in charge in Freiburg can feel the same way, especially with the impression of not having converted such an extraordinary holding into something suitable for stationery.

In the end, and that might make SC tonight’s not-so-secret winner, the result does not seem to play the big role in the long run. The 30,000 people at the Olympic Stadium who support the Freiburg team are taller with their applause for the unfortunate final loser than the applause from the final winner, who rolls out the surprisingly meaningless big banner “Rasenballsport Leipzig” before kick-off. In the Freiburg block it says much more expressively: “Unique club – that’s how you should be football. “At the same time, an obvious digging work for the opponent, which was founded as a marketing tool for an Austrian right-wing populist’s drinking company and has more players in the squad than club members.

Incidentally, Schlotterbeck still gets an honor that night that he really does not care about. The 22-year-old is being named “Man of the Match” as the DFB calls the game’s player, and any other choice would simply have been rude. However, Schlotterbeck does not care. In light of his departure from the sports club, he prefers to emphasize that “the club has become so dear to him”. And if you look at the pictures again, how Schlotterbeck is celebrated by the fans, how he then returns from the basket to his team and holds his hands in front of his face, perhaps to shed a few tears, he assumes: it’s worth it it is worth sticking to.

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