Former Borussia Dortmund forward, Victor Ikpeba, in this exclusive interview with ’ SULAIMAN ALAO, speaks glowingly about the 2020/2021 Bundesliga season which gets underway today, Friday September 20 .
The ex-Nigeria international and 1997 African Footballer of the Year, believes that current Champions League kings, Bayern Munich’s high profile will set the tone for more excitement that the new Bundesliga season will give its global fans.
Ikpeba also expects that FC Cologne’s Nigerian eight-back, Kingsley Ehizibue, will shine, not only for the Bundesliga side, but also for the Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles.
: The new German Bundesliga is set to kick-off this weekend. What are your expectations?
Ikpeba: I think the German Bundesliga is going to get more attention this season, you know, following their recent treble win – Bayern Munich clinching the Champions League, alongside domestic titles.
Last season, Bayern totally dominated the football scene all through the normal season as well as during the project restart caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. They benefited greatly from the early restart – Bayern were fitter than other teams in Europe which was evident in the way they outclassed Barcelona and PSG to win the Champions League.
I am a big fan of the Bundesliga too because I spent two season playing there. I think Bundesliga is back on top of European football because of what Bayern achieved last season. Now people will be looking to see if they can maintain that feat in the new season.
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On the domestic scene, it will be interesting for the fans to see how the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Monchengladbach and others step up their games to try and end Bayern’s dominance.
Lots of people tend to view the Bundesliga as a one-team league with Bayern dominating all other teams. Does this takes the shine off the Bundesliga?
Not really. The Bundesliga remains an exciting league in a different dimension – not in terms of what you have in the English Premier League where you can’t predict who wins the title. In the Bundesliga, you have Bayern dominating, but every other team still give everything to beat the champions – so it’s a kind of final for Bayern against every other teams they play during the season which means they have the difficult task of playing at their peak all through the season. And definitely, that is never easy, you know.
What will you say has made Bayern dominate the Bundesliga for so long?
I think Bayern have benefited greatly from the continuity of developing most of their players while spending minimally to bring in few stars. And that’s the trend with other teams in the Bundesliga.
The Germans are very shrewd, you know, and they don’t splash big money to buy players like what obtains in other top European leagues in England, Spain, France and Italy. However, football remain a big business in Germany and they put in a lot of hard work to build their players from the grassroots and club academies.
Bayern have dominated for so long because of their structure and continuity. And because they are the biggest club in Germany, they can easily attract the best players within the Bundesliga.
What do you make of Nigerian players in the German Bundesliga in recent years?
I think we had a number of Nigerian players in the Bundesliga last season. [Jamilu] Collins was very consistent in the past two seasons, but it’s sad he will not be playing in the Bundesliga this season after he got relegated with Paderborn.
We also saw glimpses of goalkeeper (Okoye) Maduka with Dusseldorf last season but he has moved to the Netherlands. I’m not sure where Taiwo Awoniyi will be playing his club football this season because he is back with Liverpool after his loan spell with Mainz last season. So that leaves us with [Anthony] Ujah who is well known at Union Berlin and new boys [Kingsley] Ehizibue at FC Cologne and [Noah] Bazee at Augsburg to fly Nigeria’s flag in the Bundesliga in the new season.
Will you say Nigerian players have fared well enough in the Bundesliga in recent times?
It’s unfortunate that Nigerian players hardly feature for top teams in Germany anymore. Back in our days, we had Jay Jay Okocha starring for Eintrach Frankfurt, Jonathan Akpoborie did so well with Stuttgart and others while myself and Sunday Oliseh played for Borussia Dortmund – all top teams in the Bundesliga.
And that’s why we have to develop our football from the grassroots as it was back in the days. I am a product of grassroots football like many others in the 80s and 90s. As it is, we have to ensure we put greater spotlights on our few players currently in the Bundesliga this season because of the Super Eagles connection.
Who among these players are you tipping to be the standout Nigerian star in the Bundesliga this season?
I will tip Ehizibue and if his performance for Cologne last season is anything to go by, he can well go on to be Nigeria’s standout player in the Bundesliga this season if he maintain his consistency.
I’m also excited that he has been noticed and invited to the Super Eagles by coach Gernot Rohr because he can be a good addition to the national team. I think if he goes on to have a good season, he can go on to play for the big clubs in Germany. At his age (25), he is getting into his prime when he is expected to play his best football.
How will you describe your time in the Bundesliga?
I can’t say I enjoyed a successful time with Dortmund in the Bundesliga because a lot of things came to play, you know. I lost my dear wife, had issues with racism and some other issues. Things just did not work out well.
However, one thing I do cherish was the fact that I was privileged to wear the black and yellow jersey of a great club like Dortmund. The fans were very sympathetic to my plight which I really appreciated.
Looking back 21 years ago, I don’t have any regrets moving to the Bundesliga because by the time I left Monaco, I didn’t have anything more to prove. I still had about three years on my contract with Monaco but I decided to move to Dortmund because I needed a new challenge. It was not completely bad though, but the numbers were not too great.
Your final word ahead 2020/2021 Bundesliga kickoff…
It’s good that the Bundesliga is back again. I’ll say best of luck to all Nigerian players in Germany in the new season and I’m sure that Nigerians fans will be rooting for them to succeed too.
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