Sven "Manni" Bender is the one that starts the conversation. "Why's that there?" asks the Borussia Dortmund defender, gesturing towards a copy of ECHT from the Bundesliga match with Hoffenheim that is lying open in front of him.
On display on a double-page spread is a picture of his legendary defensive block that denied Bayern's Arjen Robben a certain goal in the DFB Cup semi-final. His smile makes it abundantly clear that he is well aware that Borussia Dortmund may not have reached the DFB Cup final in Berlin's Olympiastadion this Saturday if he hadn't dived sideways on the goal-line in such agile fashion. Nonethless, "Manni" asks, why does everyone need to make such a big fuss about his last-ditch defending?
Sven, describe to us how you were feeling on the day after the semi-final in Munich?
Good, very good. We had won and reached the final. And it was my birthday too. Two good things at once, it rarely gets much better than that. But then I got wind of the reporting from the match…
Everyone was talking and writing about that incident, it almost made me feel a tad uncomfortable.
By the way, the opening question was also a reference to your physical condition – was everything alright? Look at the picture for a minute: anyone without such a decent level of training might well have torn something in the adductor region making such a movement.
Thanks for asking, but if I'm fit then I can manage a movement like that without damaging anything in the process. (laughs)
With a few weeks' hindsight, can you describe what you were thinking in those decisive moments and why you took the action that you did?
I wanted to cover the goal as well as I could and I knew that I would need to be as flexible as possible if I somehow wanted to steer the shot away from the goal. It was really well-hit and powerful! I felt the ball make contact with the tips of my toes and the next thing I heard was the sound of the post. The next thing I remember is wondering why no-one in the stadium was celebrating. For the life of me, I could not imagine how the ball had not ended up in the net.
Arjen Robben couldn't either... How does that moment, which is photographed here, make you feel in hindsight?
Of course, I'm pretty happy that I was able to get such a decisive touch on the ball and that it proved to be a turning point that ultimately contributed to us turning the game around and reaching the final. And I have to admit, the picture does look rather spectacular!
A defender who becomes a fan favourite for stopping an almost certain goal might be a rather rare occurrence, but it's not a novelty in Dortmund…
I know what's coming next!
The comparison is inevitable: Jürgen Kohler's rather similar and equally legendary last-ditch defending at Old Trafford, which transformed him into a "footballing god" in the eyes of those watching. The fans are now mentioning you in the same breath.
What can I say? I just see it as a way of the fans expressing their happiness that we reached the final. By the way, I have been delighted by the recognition the fans have shown me for many years. And whether I'm now seen as a "football god" or not, I am, and will continue to be, Sven Bender. Or Manni. (laughs)
To what extent is that situation a synonym for BVB's entire season and for all the obstacles which the team has had to overcome but which we don't need to discuss again at this point?
I also think that this incident does, to a certain extent, symbolise how we have battled and, at times, how we have suffered in order to progress as far as we have done this season. We have always believed in ourselves, haven't let ourselves be destabilised by anything and have overcome difficult situations as a group. In that game in Munich, there were definitely one or two points where we rode our luck a little bit. But I believe you make your own luck.
BVB are now in their fourth successive DFB Cup final – a feat which no other team has managed before. On top of that, it is the sixth season since 2012 that has culminated in a major final for Borussia Dortmund. What does that say about the Dortmund teams in this era, which had a core of key players that we will talk about in more detail later.
I believe that the fact that in all those years, we have repeatedly managed to do well enough over the course the season to reach highlights such as these when the rest of the league are already on their summer holidays, shows that regardless of the individual components in the team, we have always possessed the characteristic of working hard and displaying determination. That is what has ultimately made it possible for us to get to so many major finals.
How crucial is this core set of players, which you have been a part of together with Roman Weidenfeller, Marcel Schmelzer, Nuri Sahin and Lukasz Piszczek, in consistently getting so far and making it into these finals – which, as you say, is to be seen as a success in itself?
It's definitely crucial; we have players who have been in all these finals and learned a lot. You mature in such all-or-nothing games, and you learn to find ways to reach such games again.
Just look at Munich...
Yes, true. I think you could see from every single one us out there that we believed that more chances would come our way going forward, as long as we dealt with everything that came at us first – no matter how we looked in the process.
Look at your slide tackle. Coming back to the topic of synonyms, there are very few footballers in this country that are as synoynmous with the concept of pain as you. To what extent is it actually possible to ignore pain and when do you have to draw the line?
I have no idea where the limit is there. I believe that it's possible to put up with a lot of pain. But at some stage you reach a point where you have to protect yourself. In the past I have managed to block out a lot of things, but I've probably caused myself damage doing so. Pain is always a signal from your body that something's not quite right.
Which brings us to our next question: they are on two very different levels, but what is ultimately more painful – an injury or a defeat in an important match?
That's difficult to answer, but as the team always takes priority for me, I would accept getting an injury at any time if it means that we get the win.
The record in finals since 2012 obviously makes for unpleasant reading for BVB fans – but to what extent has it helped you players to be able to deal with the pain of defeats in Berlin and Wembley together as a group?
Of course, that helps, but personally I hate losing and I've always hated it. It really hurts, especially in such important matches. But you learn lessons from every game. Every one of those finals has its own story.
One common denominator for all of those finals – and this is the most important thing – is that we always gave a good account of ourselves. We tried and gave everything. In 2012, we produced a colossal performance that irritated Bayern for some time. Wembley and the 2014 DFB Cup final were two defeats that I still find difficult to accept today. On both occasions, we ended up on the losing side despite having put in good performances. There were also poor refereeing decisions in those games, such as Mats' header that was disallowed. If you lose on penalties, as we did in 2016, then although it's tough to take, you can accept it. At some point the match has to be decided one way or the other. That's why I was happy to accept my silver medal – although I would have preferred to win gold – at the Olympics when we lost to Brazil on penalties in the final. But I think that the lesson that would serve us best for Saturday's final would be the defeat to Wolfsburg in 2015.
Wolfsburg were good, no doubt about that. But it was more a case of us losing the game than them winning it. It was in our hands to decide the outcome of the match, but we didn't manage it and missed out on a big chance to win a title.
So how can you apply that to the clash with Eintracht?
We must take nothing for granted: we're the favourites against Eintracht Frankfurt, because of the season we've had on the one hand and our experience in previous finals on the other. But for Frankfurt, too, this is a huge opportunity to win another title after so many trophyless years. They will give it everything they've got, it's going to be a very, very intense match, we need to be aware of that and we need to be prepared for it, too. Nonetheless, we will need to play the same football that has set us apart throughout the season and brought us so far. And then…
There is nothing better than winning a title!
Interview: Daniel Stolpe