Vedad Ibisevic plays for Schalke 04 in his 15th Bundesliga season. In an interview with Chillreport, the 36-year-old Bosnian talks about his rocky road to a professional career and praises German football.
343 games, 127 goals, 15 seasons – Vedad Ibisevic has long earned its place in Bundesliga history. But even at the age of 36, the thoroughbred attacker doesn’t even think about quitting. Before the start of the season, he joined the troubled FC Schalke 04. Because there is this milestone that the Bosnian could still reach: if he scores seven goals this season, he would surpass Bayern legend Giovane Elber and with 134 hits the only one become third best foreign scorer in the German top football division. .
Before that, Ibisevic spoke to Chillreport about his unique career, his decision for Schalke 04 and his new home in Germany.
Chillreport: Mr. Ibisevic, do you recognize this football field?
(Source: FK Proleter Slavinovici)
Vedad Ibisevic (36): Of course I recognize it immediately. This is Luke Stadium in Tuzla, Bosnia.
Home of their first club, FK Proleter Slavinovici. What emotions does the memory of your early days as a footballer release?
This photo only releases positive memories for me. It was there that I took my first footballing steps. There weren’t many good moments during the war years in Bosnia. But we loved every minute we could spend in this square. Every time I am in Tuzla I visit the stadium and bring back these wonderful memories.
What were the circumstances like then?
The place was in dire condition. Every day we dreamed that one day we would play on real grass there. However, our coach at the time always said: “If you learn to play football on such a bad field, you can be sure that you will play even better in a real stadium.”
20 years later you are still active as a professional. How did you tell the boy then?
That the boy back then, who dreamed of playing football in the world’s largest stadiums, is still inside me, is evident from my decision to join Schalke. In the summer I had much more attractive offers financially. But I don’t play football for the money.
You have signed a strong performance contract with Schalke and donate 100% of your base salary. Have you used the past few weeks to decide to which organizations the money will be donated?
I spontaneously made the decision to donate my salary. Jochen Schneider made it clear to me what the financial situation is at Schalke and that I cannot expect a high salary. I didn’t care, because just the chance to play for one of the biggest German clubs again was enough stimulus for me. I wanted to make that clear with an unmistakable sign. So I decided to donate the money Schalke pays me for insurance reasons. I think it is important that this money benefits the people in Gelsenkirchen. There are several great organizations in the city that I will learn more about in the future.
It is therefore important that you know exactly to whom and for what purpose the money is going.
I agree with that. As a privileged player at FC Schalke 04 I want to help the residents of Gelsenkirchen. Even if it is not a fortune, I am sure this money will really come in handy for several organizations at once.
What personal goals do you want to achieve that cost you a lot of money?
I want to enjoy the work that I have been doing for over 15 years. It has always been my dream to become a professional football player and I had to walk a rocky road to reach that goal. That’s why I want to live this dream for as long as possible – especially if it is still at such a top level as the Bundesliga.
Vedad Ibisevic also wants to hunt for targets with a smile at Schalke. (Source: Team2 / image images)
In other words: do you think that with Schalke you can at least win the DFB Cup and thus crown your career with a trophy?
This would certainly make one of my wildest dreams come true. I am convinced that we can come a long way in the DFB Cup. If I end my career one day without winning the trophy, it won’t lead to bad either.
How do you plan to specifically help the team with your years of Bundesliga experience?
I joined the team relatively late and I also needed something to reach my physical top level. But now I am absolutely ready to give it my all. I want that not only on the field, but also off the field. In the current situation, where sports are not going as we would like, there is a lot of pressure on the players. With my experience I especially want to show the young people how they can deal with it.
In Stuttgart you developed into a top player, at Hertha you even wore the captain’s armband. How much did you want to be the leader of young players during your career?
I started seeing football as a real team sport relatively early on. I want to be a team player and make sure we all achieve our goals together. This understanding may be one of my natural strengths, but it’s not something I’ve worked towards specifically.
Vedad Ibisevic (from left) wants to act as a confidant, especially for young players like Timo Becker and Ozan Kabak. (Source: RHR Photo / Image Images)
Why are things going better for Schalke under new coach Manuel Baum?
He brings new ideas to the team – the training is very intensive and very detailed. Each unit is linked to the style of play with which we want to perform at the weekend. Especially our young players will be able to learn a lot from him. That is why I am convinced that Manuel Baum will again deliver positive results.
The fact that you are now a professional footballer is also related to a decision that was made 20 years ago. You went to the United States with your parents and sister in 2000. Her parents have consciously chosen not to apply for asylum, but to apply for a work permit. In retrospect, how did this decision of your parents – to get involved in a new society from the start, to ensure the happiness and well-being of the family, and to live as independent as possible from the authorities – shaped you during your football career?
Farewell to the US was anything but easy for me. It was very difficult for me – also because it contradicted my dream of becoming a professional footballer. But the fact that we got a real chance there and my parents could finally get a permanent job again motivated me so much that I decided to work even harder to make my personal dream come true.
The European football leagues have certainly not lost sight of you during this time. Just as the NBA is the ultimate goal for any professional basketball professional, it is the top five European leagues for soccer players.
It took me time to understand the American football system. Everything is there about school sports, which I didn’t like at all. But I said to myself, “If that’s the only way, I’m going this way.” Fortunately, success came quickly, so I was able to go to St. Louis University, which had one of the best football programs in the country. In my freshman year in college, I made the jump to the Bosnian national junior team.
Vedad Ibisevic played six games for PSG in 2004. (Source: Panoramic / Image Images)
There I had a lot of conversations and decided not to go the American way to the end – go to college for four years, then make the leap to MLS through concept. If you’ve made it through the American education system, you’re actually too old to get a foothold in Europe as a talent. So I broke up my tent in St. Louis and accepted an offer from Paris Saint-Germain.
Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Switzerland, USA, France, Germany – you grew up in six countries in the first 22 years of your life. As an adolescent, how did you deal with constant getting used to and adjusting?
Due to the war and the chaos in Bosnia after the war, we often had to move. Today I consider it lucky to have had these experiences at a young age. During my football career in particular, they have helped me accept changes more easily. I have learned to see something good in every change: that I learn a new language, meet new people, discover new cultures.
You broke through in football in Aachen. After just one Bundesliga season with Alemannia, you moved to then-runner-up TSG Hoffenheim. How convinced the club of the transfer?
Very difficult, to be honest (laughs). I really struggled with myself until I made the decision. Hoffenheim contacted me very late in the transfer window. After all, I was surprised, after all, they had only just been promoted to the 2nd Bundesliga – and hardly anyone knew anything about this club. I still listened to their plans and let me explain the project. Then I picked up the phone and called Sejad Salihovic, who I knew from the national junior team and who already played for Hoffenheim. In the end it was he who convinced me of Hoffenheim by telling me, “Vedo, we’ll do really well here.”
The first half of the 2008/2009 season went extremely well for you and Hoffenheim: TSG were the fall champions in the first Bundesliga season, scoring 18 goals in 17 games. Your cruciate ligament torn during the winter break. They didn’t make a game for TSG in the second half of the season, they were denied the goal gun, which they thought was safe. How do you look back on this season today?
Difficult question. On the one hand, I have grown enormously as a person due to the injury. I was at the very top and from now on I fell very deep. I have learned how people deal with you in such a situation. This experience was important to my character building. Because all this hype about myself had gotten out of hand in the days and weeks before.
In October 2008, Vedad Ibisevic was named Bundesliga Player of the Month. (Source: Volkmann / image images)
On the other hand, the ruptured cruciate ligament was a disaster from a sporting point of view. I was 24 years old and all options were open to me. I think it was this injury that prevented me from playing for bigger clubs in my career.
Still, you seem satisfied with the course of your career.
Absolutely. The ruptured cruciate ligament certainly slowed my career a bit, but I managed to fight back. Looking back, I would say that my best phase was only after the injury. Not every football player can do that.
Your position in the Bosnian national team also came to light. In any case, since your goal against Lithuania, which sent Bosnia to the 2014 World Cup, and the first goal you scored for Bosnia in a major tournament, in the preliminary round of the World Cup against Argentina, you were considered a folk hero. To what extent does this position make returning as an official or part of the coaching team attractive to you?
I would love to return to the national team one day in any capacity. It has always been the sweetest and most important thing in my career. I survived the war with my family and left my homeland to return as a footballer and bring joy to the supporters of Bosnia and Herzegovina with important goals.
Vedad Ibisevic in the jersey of the Bosnian national team (2012): For the “Zmajevi” he scored 28 goals in 83 games. (Source: Geisser / image images)
The fact that I managed to do this with the two goals you mentioned makes me prouder than anything in my career. There is no club and no money in the world for which I would exchange these moments that I have experienced with the national team.
This August you will be celebrating your 37th birthday and 15 years since you arrived in Germany. Has Germany become your home?
Germany has certainly become a kind of home for me. Next year I will live in Germany as long as I have lived in Bosnia since I was born. All my three children were born in Germany, we feel at home as a family in this country.
Is that also the reason why you never left the Bundesliga?
The appreciation for football is almost nowhere as great as in Germany, certainly not in the past 20 years. I am very proud to have played in the Bundesliga for so many years. A competition with so many great stadiums and such passionate fans. For me, the Bundesliga was and is the best competition in the world.