A Scotsman in Germany; Paul Lambert’s dream season at Dortmund

A Scotsman in Germany; Paul Lambert’s dream season at Dortmund

Growing up in the cotton rich town of Linwood, where historically many grow up and become involved in the cotton production business, the likelihood of going on to become a professional footballer is somewhat against the grain. After being born in the hustle and bustle of Glasgow, Paul Lambert and his family moved 14 miles west of the city to Linwood, Renfrewshire. Now – as of this week – 48 years young, Paul continues to find himself as a football manager, having spells in Scotland and in the Premier League, Paul is still looking to prove himself like he did when he laced up his boots every time he stepped onto the field.

Lambert wanted to prove the town wrong and show that he was capable of making it in an industry that young boys dream of, but very few actually do. He got his opportunity at the age of 17 when St Mirren gave him the chance. Within a year at St Mirren, Lambert was tasting success as his side beat Dundee United in the Scotish Cup final. That was against the UEFA Cup finalists Dundee United, managed by Jim McLean, so it was not an easy feat. Lambert played for St Mirren for 8 years and making 228 appearances for them before taking a move to Motherwell for £250,000.

Lambert spent 3 years at Fir Park and during which he helped his side qualify for the UEFA Cup. This was an important moment in his career as Motherwell took on Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Borussia Dortmund in said competition. BVB were too tough for Motherwell over the course of two legs and consequently were eliminated from the competition. For Paul Lambert though, things were about to change and change quite drastically. Ottmar Hitzfeld liked what he saw when the sides faced off. That’s when they decided to make a statement and bring a Scotsman to the yellow wall.

Hitzfeld was always an intuitive coach and saw that with Lambert’s determination and tenacity, he would be more effective is based a little deeper in the midfield, the security option if you will. Not many Brits move away to learn about different footballing cultures and at a time where footballing transfers across different nations were slowly becoming more of a common thing, Lambert once again wanted to prove himself not only to the locals but to Scottish football fans in general.

What happened at Dortmund during this time was something that no one expected, let alone Lambert. He became a pivotal part of Hitzfeld’s side, making 44 appearances over the year he was there. His hard working, ‘work horse’ like module suited the Bundesliga down to the ground. His tough tackling, physicality and overall ability to thrive in every game he played in made his partnership with German football a match made in heaven. He would wear his heart on his sleeve but have the nuance to keep his composure and not lose his head, even in important games, he would develop into a born leader.

That season saw more than just a 3rd place finish in the Bundesliga, Lambert, due to his style of play, was really taken by the Dortmund fans. The ability for the fans to accept a Scotsman so quickly is a credit to him as a player and a character.

That bond only grew as Lambert’s greatest moment in Germany was on that famous night against Juventus in the Champions League Final. Imagine going from playing in the Scottish Premier League one year to be playing against Juventus for Europe’s biggest prize for the mighty Borussia Dortmund.

The final itself will be treasured by Dortmund fans forever and the likes of Lars Ricken and Karl-Heinz Riedle will be remembered for their goals in the magical 3-1 win to lift the famous trophy. However, the fans know that it wasn’t just the goalscorers that done the work, not only on that night but in the build up to the final. They knew the team as a whole, under the strict regime of Hitzfeld, worked incredibly hard as a unit. Individually the side wasn’t blessed with stars, but collectively as a team were capable of fighting to the bone to beat the opposition.

Lambert’s individual performance in the final will go down as an under the radar piece of genius. Lambert’s sole purpose was to man mark the brilliant Zinedine Zidane. Not an easy task, especially when he was approaching his prime. However, Lambert kept Zidane quiet for most of the game and quite frankly stuck to him like glue. Zidane couldn’t get into his usual rhythm and Lambert kept him exactly where he wanted him. To nullify the threat of Zidane is something that not many can say they have ever achieved.

But it wasn’t just defensively that made this performance so memorable for the BVB fans, it was his attacking influence that also made a statement. It was Lambert’s cross that set up Karl-Heinz Riedle to score the opening goal in the final. With his sole purpose to keep Zidane quiet, when given the opportunity he could still show he was a threat in the final third when needed. Getting an assist in a game where you are expected to be on the defence for most of it was a true credit to Lambert as a player.

Lambert announced early into his second season that he would be returning back to Scotland to join giants Celtic. This was upsetting to the Dortmund fans but on his final game was given a huge send off for the hard work and dedication he put in for their side. Lambert returned the touching gesture by making a banner thanking the Dortmund fans for welcoming him into their special club. The banner simply said, “Thank you fans of Borussia!”

Lambert won title after title with Celtic before eventually retiring from playing in 2006, but nothing will ever live up to that epic year at Dortmund. Winning the Champions League is the pinnacle of club football and for Lambert coming from a small town in Scotland to go on and win it in a different country is something to be really proud of. To be the first ever Scotsman to win the competition in a non-British team is something that will remain in history, much like his performance against the great Zidane.