Best player in the cup final: Nico Schlotterbeck's master class

Heading backwards, rescuing the defeated goalkeeper, a fantastic tackle: Nico Schlotterbeck delivered an outstanding performance in the DFB Cup final.

Best player in the cup final: Nico Schlotterbeck's master class

Heading backwards, rescuing the defeated goalkeeper, a fantastic tackle: Nico Schlotterbeck delivered an outstanding performance in the DFB Cup final. However, SC Freiburg fails to reward them.

After 120 exhausting minutes and a penalty shoot-out that ended tragically for his SC Freiburg, Nico Schlotterbeck is alone in front of the east curve of the Berlin Olympic Stadium. While 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 stays a little longer. "Schlot-ter-beck, Schlot-ter-beck, Schlot-ter-beck," the fans chant over and over again, celebrating the man whose outstanding performance in this final brought Sport Club so close to his first major title ever led like never before.

As night slowly falls over the capital, Schlotterbeck is standing there. It's a bit like he doesn't know exactly what to feel at this moment. There's the exhaustion after that exhausting finale. The sadness, the disappointment and the anger at leaving the pitch as a loser, despite being in the lead and being outnumbered for more than 60 minutes. But also the pride of having played a great season in which even the defeat on this summery, windy Saturday evening doesn't change anything.

"I'm emotionally empty," Schlotterbeck then told Südwestrundfunk, which is not surprising when you take a closer look at his extraordinary workload. Because in the almost three hours between the kick-off at 8 p.m. and the decisive missed penalty at 10:47 p.m., 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 watch a modern defender, you should watch a recording of this final.

Schlotterbeck delivers the most formative, albeit difficult to reproduce scene early in the game, a few minutes after Freiburg's opening goal by Maximilian Eggestein. It's the 24th minute when the sports club gets into trouble in their own penalty area. At the end of this emergency, Leipzig's exceptional striker Christopher Nkunku comes to the end from close range, goalkeeper Mark Flekken has already been overcome. Schlotterbeck, however, reacted at lightning speed, cleared the ball in front of the line and then cheered so emotionally in his own goal that the positive energy spread to the fan curve 30 meters away.

In this final, the 1.91 meter tall defender is without a doubt what is often referred to as the "emotional leader" in football jargon. Schlotterbeck drives himself, drives the Freiburg attachment, 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 role model. He wins his duels on the ground, as in the 72nd minute when he separated Konrad Laimer from the ball with a picture-perfect tackle near the penalty area. Likewise 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 somewhat prematurely, under pressure.

In the build-up game, Schlotterbeck repeatedly demands the ball, plays the most of all Freiburg players with 86 passes, but keeps looking for dribbling as the game progresses - without taking too many risks. Shortly before the end of the first half of the extra time, the central defender moves up and pushes through to Janik Haberer in the opposing penalty area, but he misses the shot. His positional play is beyond doubt for 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 equalization from a second ball after a standard situation and falls outside of Schlotterbeck's sphere of activity.

The national player, who was called back into 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, is moving to Borussia Dortmund for 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 there is talk of 20 million euros plus the usual bonus payments, which depend on the development of the change.

"A bit wistful," says Schlotterbeck, after his 56th and last competitive game 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 for Leipzig's Marcel Halstenberg shortly after the break, almost everything seemed to be going well for the sports club. It was "difficult to accept," Schlotterbeck said on Sky, "that we lost." Those responsible in Freiburg should feel the same way, especially with the impression of not having converted such an extraordinary achievement into something suitable for letterhead.

In the end, and that might make the SC the not-so-secret winner of the evening, the result doesn't seem to play a huge role in the long run. The 30,000 people in the Olympic Stadium, who support the Freiburg team, are louder with their applause for the unfortunate final loser than the applause of the final winner, who unrolls the surprisingly meaningless large banner "Rasenballsport Leipzig" before kick-off. In the Freiburg block it says much more expressively: "Unique club - the way football should be". At the same time an obvious dig at the opponent, who was founded as a marketing vehicle for the drinks company of an Austrian right-wing populist and has more players in the squad than club members with voting rights.

By the way, Schlotterbeck still receives an honor that evening, which he doesn't really care about. The 22-year-old is voted "Man of the Match", as the DFB calls the player of the game, and any other choice would have been simply cheeky. Schlotterbeck, however, doesn't really care. In view of his departure from the sports club, he prefers to emphasize that "the club has grown so dear to him". And if you then look at the pictures again, how Schlotterbeck is celebrated by the fans, how he then returns from the curve to his team and holds his hands in front of his face, maybe to shed a few tears, he suspects: it's worth it it's worth sticking with.


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