Sebastian Kehl has seen tough times in his 12 years at Borussia Dortmund but next week he will lead the team out at Wembley in the UEFA Champions League final confident that a "sleeping giant" has awoken.
Although Dortmund were German champions in Kehl's first season at the club after a 2001 move from SC Freiburg, financial problems meant that by 2006/07 they were relegation candidates. But after Jürgen Klopp's 2008 appointment things have turned around, and having captained Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles, Kehl – who himself has battled injury problems throughout his BVB stay – could lift the European Cup with victory against FC Bayern München on Saturday week.
"The term sleeping giant fits quite well," the midfielder said. "We have gone through difficult times. I have always believed there is incredible power in this club to show our financial and football strengths. Of course the past three years have been a surprise. There have been remarkable performances within the shortest space of time. BVB have it in them to become the second big beacon in Germany."
The first leading light is, of course, Bayern. The Munich club, having been eclipsed by Dortmund for two successive domestic seasons, are now 22 points clear of them with one Bundesliga game to go. However, as former German international Kehl emphasises, the sides drew 1-1 in both their league encounters this term.
"Myself and the team believe, of course, that we can beat Bayern," the 33-year-old said. "We were not beaten in either game against them in the Bundesliga. That shows that our way of playing can hurt München. Their respect will be very, very big as well.
"We are entering the game with lots of anticipation but also huge belief that we are able to win it. We have a plan and know how we can beat them. They know that as well and it is something which is inside their heads."
Behind Dortmund's rise has been their charismatic coach Klopp, as Kehl is only too happy to point out. "Jürgen is a fantastic coach, who has transformed a lot here. From day one he made it clear how he wants to play football," Kehl said.
"Our game has changed crazily. It is about willingness to run, about passion. He brought this mentality into our game. We now also have a different philosophy, many talented young players who are destined for great things. This combination of coach and players is decisive."
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