Norwegians and Borussia Dortmund: it's a good match. After striker Erling Haaland, Julian Ryerson has become an important part of the team since joining on January 23. In this interview, the former Union player talks about the work ethic in his home country, his love of long-distance travel, pink hairstyles and reveals how fast his move to Dortmund fell into place...

We want to talk a bit about your private life today.

There’s nothing I like doing more… (smirks)

Since coming to Dortmund you’ve seemed like a fairly reserved guy.

In the dressing room I am generally calm, I’ll give you that. I don’t tend to stick out too much. I do my job. 

Then one day, all of a sudden, you showed up at the club training ground in Brackel driving an old-time Mercedes 190 SL. You dyed your hair pink on holiday. Could it be that you’re nothing like as shy as everyone seems to think you are?

I’d put it this way: when I’m on holiday, I’m on holiday. So I go about things in a different way (laughs). I grew up around old cars, as my dad always used to have one. And it’s just good fun cruising out into the countryside with the roof down and the sun shining. As for the pink hair, that’s not something I got caught up thinking too much about…

The photo went viral on social media. Even Atlético Madrid picked up on it. The official club account commented that your hairstyle looked a lot like superstar Antoine Griezmann, who also has pink hair. 

Yeah, I also saw that in the comments underneath my post. As I said: that was a spontaneous thing on holiday. Sometimes it just occurs to me to do things like that. Honestly, I didn’t think it looked so bad. Now the hairs are almost back to their normal blonde again. 

Lots of your teammates choose to lie on a beach in Ibiza or Mallorca to get away from it all on their summer holidays. You went to the vast metropolis of New York City. Don’t you need a bit of rest?

I also got some rest there. It wasn’t too busy. I was even able to ride a bike no-hands in the street in Brooklyn. I went to Rio de Janeiro after that, and Miami too, though that was just a brief stopover. 

So you're something of a world traveller?

I’d like to see the world. We have 11 months of the year in which we basically live in a bubble. So when I have time, of course I like to get away from it. And not always to the same places. New York impressed me the most out of all the places I’ve been to.

You moved from Norway to Germany at the age of 21 when you first signed with Union Berlin. How was the transition to a new country for you

I'd previously left home when I was 15 years old. I left Lyngdal when I moved to Viking (top-tier club in Norway, editor's note). So I've been living on my own for almost ten years now. That certainly helped me make this step. I have always been an independent guy. German was a new language for me, although I knew a few words from school. But when you are so focused on football, you learn the most important words quickly. Nevertheless, the early stages in particular were a challenge. I didn't get anything handed on a plate. The direct competition for my position was club captain Christopher Trimmel. Challenges like that help you grow.

You mention your hometown Lyngdal. It is located on a fjord in the south of Norway. According to the internet, Viking culture is still alive there today... 

Interesting. That's not the first thing that comes to my mind. It's actually more football!


It's a bit mad. We are a town with just 8,000 inhabitants. But we have produced a lot of professional footballers. I also play with Stefan Strandberg in the national team. My cousin Mathias Rasmussen recently moved to Saint Gilloise (Belgian club competing in Europe, ed.). There is also another pro player in Sweden. I'm often asked why it's like that. Maybe it's the working-class mentality from there. That fits in with BVB. At home we have a lot of fishermen and a lot of farmers; a lot of scenery and a beautiful lake. But football plays a big role in our family. My parents rode me to a training session on their bikes when I was four years old, and from that moment on, football and I were inseparable. Love at first sight. My friends there were all a few years older. Some of my best ever memories are of time spent with them.

What memories? 

We had a team made up of people from my street. We played on the football pitch outside almost every day. When we were 13 or 14, we made it to the final of the Norwegian championship. That was really cool - and three or four people have now made it as professional footballers.

Your intense style of play has made you a fan favourite in Dortmund. In the Ruhr region, players can become crowd heroes not just through skills or goalscoring exploits, but also through hard graft. Proper workhorses. 

I felt that from day one. Here, people don't just rise to their feet and cheer when you score a goal, they also love celebrating a great tackle. I think it's amazing that the mentality here is like that. It suits me. It's really fun and as a player you want to get everything you can from it.

I’ve heard your nickname is “Little Pitbull”. Is that true?

You can call me what you want. (grins)  

After your move to Union Berlin, you said that you had studied the club's history and that it was a good match for you. Why now Dortmund?

Something special had to come along for me to leave Berlin. And Borussia Dortmund are a very special club, so I didn't have to think about it for too long. I was contacted by the club management, and then everything happened really fast. 

How fast? 

The first time I met with Sebastian Kehl, we signed the contract. The meeting lasted no more than an hour. We quickly said: let's do it! And the next day I was here. So I would say: very fast.

After four-and-a-half years in Berlin, you decided to embark on the next step in your career. You were vice-captain at Union and one of coach Urs Fischer's favourites. The transfer was one which weakened Union, so they say.

I tried to view the decision in a logical way. Of course it was very emotional, especially when the Union fans came here to the stadium and greeted me with applause. When the offer came in the winter, I tried to think about BVB's interest from a logical footballing perspective. I was in Berlin for four-and-a-half years. I fell in love with the city and the club. It was an intense time - and not always easy either. There was a lot of hard work. We worked our way up from the second tier to Europe. Emotions are part and parcel of saying goodbye. But I made a good decision for myself. And that decision was: BVB!

How did the time spent under Urs Fischer mark you?

In a big way. You said before that that I was a "star pupil". Let me put it this way: it was also very hard under him. The coach paid attention to everything, every little detail. The fundamentals, the simple things, are important to Urs Fischer. I carry that in me. And from my point of view, that is totally underestimated in football: what specific tasks are required for your position, how you play your way into a game and don't allow your level to drop. If you're not used to getting anything for free in life, then that also helps on the football pitch. It's incredibly important not to lose sight of these values during your career. That's what you learn from Urs Fischer.

Your first competitive game for BVB was the 4-3 win over Augsburg. In your second game in Mainz you scored your first goal for the club. Why were you able to hit the ground running like this? 

I didn't have time to process and think about everything. It all happened so quickly. After just a few days, I was in the starting line-up alongside the lads for the first time. Fortunately we were able to win the game against Augsburg, but one thing was clear right from the start: we have to tighten up defensively and win games by other scorelines than 3-2, 4-3 or 5-3. We did just that and got ten wins in a row. 

Before the winter break, the team was picking up 1.67 points per game. In the 17 league games you played in, it was 2.35 points. The number of goals conceded dropped from 1.40 per game to 1.29. 

I think that's why I'm here, isn't it? But credit goes to the whole team. It's certainly part of my job to think defensively and offer stability. It always helps when you can come in and play games right away. Then you don't have to talk too much. You can communicate through football. That's the best way to get to know your teammates. And we immediately had a good understanding.

Here at Borussia you sometimes play left-back, sometimes right-back. You've also played as a centre-back and a defensive midfielder at your previous clubs. What is your favourite position?

I even once played upfront for Union in a game away in Bremen. The most important thing for me is to be out there on the pitch. But versatility is certainly a good attribute to offer. Even when I was younger and was playing with the older kids, I moved positions a lot: centre-back, full-back, central midfield, right wing. I got to know football from all areas of the pitch. I think that's where that comes from. It comes easy to me. I used to be an attacking player. I’ll fit in with whatever’s going on. 

A new left-back has arrived in Ramy Bensebaini. How do you view the competition in the squad?

Competition is a good thing. You have to feel pressure coming from your teammates. It’s all about starting places. That helps us improve both as a team and as individuals. 

The team narrowly failed to win the title on the final day of the season. What was your experience of the season finale?

I have processed everything that happened. But I can't and don't want to say that much about it. After the game, I was wrapped up in myself like everyone else. Sometimes things like that happen. Only that was the worst moment that it could have happened. It hurt a lot.

Does it still hurt?

I really can't and don't want to say more about it. I have tried to put the day behind me and process it. It keeps coming up again and again. That's why it's generally very difficult to talk about my first six months in Dortmund.

What do you mean?

Many people say that I made a big stride individually. I played in the Champions League and made a lot of appearances. But it's difficult to look at it positively because we experienced huge disappointment as a team at the end. But I am never satisfied. I always want more, I have the hunger and the will to improve. We will give it our all once more. The lost championship could once again strengthen the hunger in the team. Yes. I hope that this day sticks deep inside everyone and can trigger something. It can do us good. We have goals. I continue to believe in it. We have shown that we can attack. On holiday, everyone was responsible for processing and reflecting on what they had experienced. As a footballer, you have a lot of time to think about things. You should make the most of this time. It's a matter of emerging from this together. So far, things are looking good.

You were vice-captain at Union Berlin. How do you see your role in the dressing room here? 

I had to familiarise myself with everything here first. But I hope that I also bring certain qualities to the dressing room. I want to support my teammates on and off the pitch. It's very important for us to all talk to each other. All the players welcomed me very warmly. That was a good signal right away.

I've heard you're in the BVB golf group.

I started playing golf when I was a little boy, when a new course opened in our neighbourhood. I then rediscovered the sport when I was 23. We have a few good courses here in the Dortmund area, and I've played them with Niklas Süle, Gregor Kobel and Nico Schlotterbeck. But I don't like to talk about the results...

Another famous Norwegian, your international teammate Erling Haaland, is well known around these parts. Did you speak to him about BVB? 

Of course. His story is well-known. Thanks to him, too, Dortmund is known all over Norway. We talk about BVB sometimes. Actually, almost every time we see each other. Erling is laid-back and funny in the dressing room. You probably know him even better here. He's a good lad and yes, also quite a decent footballer...

You are currently third in your group in the EURO qualifiers behind Scotland and Georgia. Spain are also in the same group and have played fewer games. How do you rate your chances of securing a place at the EURO?

It's not over until it's over. We still have another chance via the Nations League. I think with the squad and the quality we have, we should be able to dream of participating in the EURO. But if we don't manage to qualify, then we won't deserve it.

Norway currently have Martin Ödegaard of Arsenal, Erling Haaland and you. Is this a "golden generation"?

I can't say. 20 years ago, the national team was made up almost exclusively of Premier League players. But I think there has perhaps never been so much quality up front as there is now. However, you also have to make that count and deliver that quality on the pitch. 

Union are playing in the Champions League for the first time ever this year. What are your hopes for your former club?

I wish them nothing but success. As long as they stay behind us in the Bundesliga table, it’s all good. Making the Champions League is a brilliant story for the club. I had great times there and always gave it my all. Now the story continues at BVB.

Author: Jonas Ortmann

Photos: Alexandre Simoes 

This text is taken from the members' magazine BORUSSIA. BVB members receive BORUSSIA free of charge every month. Click here to apply for club membership.