Dario Scuderi believes in God. "Perhaps," says the half-German, half-Italian, "everything happened for a reason". The right-back was once one of the most talented youngsters at Borussia Dortmund. He played in a team alongside Christian Pulisic and Jacob Bruun Larsen. But while the American is currently plying his trade in the Premier League and the Dane is competing for a starting berth in the Bundesliga at TSG Hoffenheim, Scuderi ended his career. Aged 21. The dream is over. But life goes on.
The place where heroes are made. That's what it says in the foyer of the Am Rabenloh training centre. Below that are pictures of Borussia's heroes – Günter Kutowski and Michael Zorc, Jürgen Kohler and Dede, Stéphane Chapuisat and Lars Ricken and Mario Götze. A handful of greats, the few of the hundreds and thousands who made it. Dario Scuderi could have been one of them too. Should have been. The one from his year who would make it all the way to the top.
On a cold evening at the start of this year, Scuderi is standing on an artificial pitch in the shadow of the brightly lit Signal Iduna Park. But the German-Italian is not training himself; he is the coach – despite having only turned 22 at the end of March. He couldn't continue as a player. This is how it was meant to be. Six eight-year-olds on the BVB Evonik Football Academy refresher course are chasing the ball. He watches them run around, observing. In the short breaks, Scuderi kneels down in front of the kids to meet them at eye level. He's positive – the way he talks, his body language. And he's learning too. In every session. In many situations. He is consistently given tips from his coaching colleagues, and takes them on board.
When the session is over and Dario Scuderi walks off the pitch, he says: "I'm doing brilliantly. Because I know that I almost lost my leg two years ago and would've been in a wheelchair. But I'm still standing on a football pitch and I can pass on to children what coaches like Hannes Wolf and Thomas Tuchel taught me." Coaches like them, and team-mates like Mario Götze and Marco Reus.
It was the afternoon of 14 September 2016 that changed his life forever: the day on which Dario Scuderi fell from seventh heaven back down to earth. Just one movement, one individual accident. Scuderi was playing for the U19s against Legia Warsaw in the UEFA Youth League. After a quarter of an hour, something happened that can happen in so many situations – but only happens to others. Certainly not to you yourself. Scuderi made a tackle and landed awkwardly, twisting his left knee. His cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament tore. His meniscus, muscles and tendons too. His lower leg was out of alignment. Team doctor Dirk Tintrup pushed the joint back into place while still on the pitch. Doctors would later describe it as the total destruction of the knee. But it didn't stop there.
Compartment syndrome developed on the flight back to Dortmund, with pent-up fluid in the leg putting pressure on the muscles and veins. Scuderi underwent emergency surgery upon arrival, barely escaping the amputation of his left leg. "It was the first injury of my career." The first, and the last too.
Scuderi might have returned to the football pitch – courtesy of 10 operations and lengthy rehab work – but he is not a player himself. Nonetheless, Scuderi certainly has both his feet firmly on the ground.
"I want the kids to take some human elements on board, things like respect," he said. "For example, when we go into the changing room, we shake everyone by the hand. We don't simply go in and sit down. And when we talk to someone, we look him in the eyes in the process rather than starring off into the distance." Respect is very important to him. It's one of the reasons why he is always so positive towards the young players. "I'm not a fan of screaming at children. What does that achieve? If I scream at a child, he becomes fearful and loses his self-confidence. But that's exactly what is required if he goes into a one-on-one situation. My fear would be that the children might not always try what they actually want to do. My goal is for the kids to believe in their abilities."
Dario Scuderi joined BVB aged nine. "As a young boy, I only thought about football." As a teenager, he then became a German B-Youth champion. And then a German A-Youth champion. He played for Italy at U19 level and joined Borussia's senior squad at a training camp. He started to play with the first team, with the likes of Götze and Reus, coached by Wolf and Tuchel. "School was secondary." The 21-year-old added: "When I look back, I realise I was lucky. I can still work for the best employer in the world – but that's not always the case." How many people fall by the wayside at some point on the route to the top, never make it – and then fall from grace?
In Dario Scuderi's case, however, there were no two ways about it. "For a club like Borussia Dortmund, it is only natural to help in a situation like that. Anyone who can still recall the events in Warsaw will know what Dario went through. We bear responsibility, especially for our young players – and that doesn't stop when they walk off the football pitch," said managing director Carsten Cramer. He looked after Scuderi and offered him the opportunity to train as a youth coach. The 21-year-old became trainee number 14 of 849 employees. A blessing for Scuderi, who advises the children "that they shouldn't always put their eggs in one basket, that they should always have another plan up their sleeves in addition to football". Unlike Scuderi, who wanted to graduate from high school but stopped – without a Plan B – due to the injury and the many months of rehab that followed.
The children at the Football Academy – or the majority of them, at least – know his story. Since the summer of 2019, Dario Scuderi has been a full-time employee. Full-time and fully committed. He quickly put a stop to the football he had started playing with Westfalenliga side FC Iserlohn. To focus on his job. "Better to do one thing right." He is now focused on football eight hours a day. "I come into the office and get to work." On training contents and training methods. He speaks with the children – and with the parents, which is often more important. "I spend the whole day thinking solely about football and thinking about where our children can still improve." He coaches 50 per week; in Dortmund on Tuesdays and Thursdays, in Bocholt on Wednesdays.
Dario Scuderi has a B License. He is hoping to follow that up this year with the DFB Elite Youth license, then the A-License. Scuderi wants to do his own licenses and have his own experiences. "And then I'd like to go over to the youth training centre where I came through the ranks myself. I'm on familiar turf there, I want to go back – when I'm ready for it." Possibly in two to three years, but he doesn't put pressure on himself.
Before that day comes, there will likely be many more moments in which he thinks about what might have been. "But there's nothing I can do about it. I value what I have. I could look up to the very top and see those I played alongside like Christian Pulisic – nowadays he is driving a Lamborghini and I have to work for eight hours a day. But that's not my approach. Instead, I think: how many players that I played with don't have anything right now; how many of them are currently doing something they don't want to do at all. I look down below rather than up above." And to the future. "The main thing is that I am happy and I'm having fun."
And fun it certainly is. Even though he earned more at U19 level than he does in his current job. "That's how it is, but it's no bad thing." There are more important things. Happiness, for example. Dario has married Lorena. Their first child was born a few days ago. He proudly posted a picture from the delivery room. This news was received with great excitement at BVB headquarters. The knowledge that he has others that are there for him helped. "I'm infinitely grateful to my parents for that. And of course to the club too."
It was there for him back when the injury happened, and it still is today. "Dario wants to be coaching on the football pitch and passing something on to the kids. We will continue to support him in that," said Carsten Cramer. Scuderi has spent more than half his life in black and yellow. And it is quite possible that that ratio will never decrease. "Regardless of where I go, whether it's work or free time. I always have Dortmund stuff on. BVB is like my own skin." Goosebumps. He is a young man at one with himself.
In the days before corona, parents used to stand on the touchline (and hopefully they will again soon). Primarily mothers who share the dreams of their sons that he will be the one to make it. Just as Dario Scuderi should have.