Having shone only sporadically since making his name as a 21-year-old, Lars Ricken is desperate to end his career on a high note at BV Borussia Dortmund.
Ricken etched his name into Dortmund history on 28 May 1997. Within 16 seconds of coming on as a substitute in the UEFA Champions League final in Munich he lobbed Juventus's Angelo Peruzzi to put the seal on a 3-1 win for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side. Just 21, the world seemed to be his oyster, with Johan Cruyff saying the attacking midfielder could "play a big role in the Italian or Spanish league in the years to come". However, it never quite happened, nor did Ricken become a cornerstone of the German national team, with just 16 caps to date.
Now 30, Ricken finds himself struggling to regain his form in an average Dortmund team, having faced numerous disappointments in recent seasons - not least being relegated to the amateur side for a couple of games. For some, he is running out of chances to show what he can do. Having taken over as coach from the luckless Bert van Marwijk, Jürgen Röber is keen for Dortmund to fight for a European place, and the 52-year-old is eager to exploit Ricken's undoubted ability, giving him the attacking midfield role in a 4-4-2 formation. Röber said: "I have always thought a lot of Lars Ricken and I can see him taking an important role in our midfield, if he is up to the challenge."
'I am fully fit'
After a long absence with a cruciate injury sustained in November 2005, Ricken has continued to be beset with problems, not least a shoulder injury that has sidelined him since October last year. However, he recently said: "I am fully fit and don't have any problems anymore. I want to play in a position where goals are scored and created," he said, and there is no doubt that with his natural instinct, creativity and vast experience, he has the potential to move mountains.
Nonetheless, the fear remains that - with a UEFA Champions League title, three Bundesliga crowns and a 2002 FIFA World Cup runners-up medal in the trophy cabinet - Ricken may already have peaked. Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has faith in his former team-mate from the the 1996/97 UEFA Champions League final. "Lars is a very good player who is dangerous in front of the goal," he said. "But that's nothing new." Ricken is also not willing to give up easily. "BVB is an affair of the heart to me," he has claimed. Dortmund fans will hope there is a happy ending to this particular love story.
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