By Manfred Christoph
Finishing third in the Bundesliga and missing out on an automatic place in the UEFA Champions League group stage marked a disappointing end to the season for BV Borussia Dortmund, but the form of defender Ahmed Reda Madouni has given coach Matthias Sammer something to smile about.
The 22-year-old is fulfilling the promise he showed when Dortmund beat off competition from Southampton FC, Aston Villa FC and Internazionale FC to sign him from French club Montpellier Hérault SC's celebrated youth academy in 2001.
The 1.90m-tall defender caused a few raised eyebrows when he elected to move to Germany, but his instincts have proved to be right. "Of course the ambitious name, the huge stadium and the prospect of playing in the Champions League tempted me," he said. "But I also got the impression that Dortmund is a rather nice city."
Having emerged from the footballing school that gave the world FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship-winning defender Laurent Blanc, the Morrocan-born French youth international now looks like he may be capable of emulating his famous predecessor.
A frustrating first season at the Westfalenstadion saw Madouni overshadowed by German international Christoph Metzelder in the race to succeed legendary defender Jürgen Kohler. He made just seven appearances in 2001/02, but a more impressive 28 appearances this season has seen him emerge as a big name in the Bundesliga.
'A good year'
"For me it was a good year," said the defender. "In the beginning I had some problems. But all in all it turned out a lot better than last season." Indeed, in the spring, he was able to confirm his arrival at the top level, scoring his first Bundesliga goal in a home win against FC Hansa Rostock.
However, Madouni's good year ended on a sour note. Despite carrying a shoulder injury, Madouni started Dortmund's final game of the season alongside Christian Wörns in the centre of defence. With his side needing a win to ensure a place in the Champions League group stages, they were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by relegated FC Energie Cottbus.
Dortmund's hunt for Champions League glory will now start on 12 August, when they play the first leg of their third qualifying round game. As a consquence, the defender may not get much of a summer holiday, but there is some consolation in knowing that he has earned the respect of his coach.
Playing through the pain against Cottbus endeared him to Sammer who has already been singing his praises. "For us it was important that he can play in a flat back four and that he doesn't need a sweeper to play behind him," said Sammer. With the club having given Madouni a four-year contract in 2002, all the signs point to a long relationship between the player and his coach.
Dortmund sports director Michael Zorc certainly hopes that will be the case. He rates Madouni as an excellent player and is confident that there is still more to come. "
He has a good eye for his team-mates, is good in the air and he can play football," he said. "And above all he can still develop."
Having made nine appearances in the 2002/03 Champions League, as Dortmund narrowly failed to reach the quarter-finals, Madouni has already got his bearings at the highest level in club football. Next season could be the one where he finally puts the 'promising youngster' tag behind him and emerges as a genuine, world-class contender.
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