Lars Ricken is back in a showpiece final five years after taking European football by storm.
BV Borussia Dortmund midfield player Lars Ricken will have mixed feelings as he readies himself for Wednesday's UEFA Cup final.
At the age of 20 Ricken was transformed from being a highly touted Dortmund prospect to one of Europe's star names with a spectacular goal in the 1997 UEFA Champions League final. His team had gone into the match in Munich as underdogs to holders Juventus FC. But with Dortmund having seen an early two-goal lead pegged back to 2-1, Ricken's strike with 19 minutes left - his first touch after coming on as a substitute - won his club the game and himself a reputation that proved as much of a burden as a blessing.
Criticism for lifestyle
After that strike, the German was catapulted into a whole new world, being tipped as a future star for club and country, then both European champions. But just as Dortmund and Germany saw their fortunes dip in the years to come, so Ricken failed to establish himself as the world-class talent he was predicted to become. Indeed, he quickly became the target of criticism for his activities both off and on the field.
Unconventional heavy metal fan Ricken says: "When I play badly people immediately begin to talk about me leading the wrong lifestyle - allegedly that is the reason why things aren't going well. That is simply not objective and I have to say it does rather annoy me."
But just as Dortmund have turned round their fortunes this season to reach the UEFA Cup final and win the 1. Bundesliga title, so the 25-year-old Ricken has returned to the form the Westfalenstadion faithful knew he was capable of, creating goals and even scoring more regularly, the highlight being the clincher in the San Siro stadium that put his team through to the Rotterdam showpiece at the expense of Milan AC. And in January the club rewarded him by extending his contract until 2006, which would be his 16th year at Dortmund.
Warning for Feyenoord
Yet making his critics swallow their words is not Ricken's only motivation for capping his season by again starring in a European final: after years as a resident in the German squad, Ricken has been excluded from Rudi Völler's party for the World Cup finals. "Shock is not the right word, but of course it was very disappointing," admits Ricken. "I cannot understand Völler's decision, but I have enough inner strength and class to forget that and to concentrate on the match on Wednesday." An ominous warning for Feyenoord.