Knut Reinhardt experienced contrasting fortunes during his playing days, enjoying some of the most beautiful moments a sportsman can experience as well as dealing with setbacks that shaped the course of his career. Now in his early 50s, the fan favourite from the 1990s has dedicated himself to an admirable profession: Reinhardt is now working as a teacher at a primary school in a difficult area.
How's your brother Alois doing?
(laughs loudly) Alois is my namesake, but he still isn't my brother. I was surprised back then how quickly I managed to obtain a brother...
"Battle between brothers at the Westfalenstadion" was the headline of probably the most legendary (erroneous) report in Dortmund newspaper history. The story was about the supposed meeting of the "Reinhardt brothers" in a match between Borussia Dortmund – featuring Knut – and Bayern Munich – featuring Alois – at the end of the 1990s. Even the (entirely fictitious) quotes from their mother did little to increase the story's credibility: Knut (born in Hilden on 27 April 1968) and Alois (born in Höchstadt an der Aisch on 18 November 1961) had nothing in common beyond a shared surname and a spell together at Bayer 04 Leverkusen, with whom they won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1988.
Borussia Dortmund were scheduled to go up against Bayern again at the beginning of April – this time without the Reinhardts on the pitch but with Knut in attendance as a fan. He had an excellent record against the Bavarians as a player, experiencing more wins over FCB in a BVB shirt (four) than defeats (three, plus one draw). Below, Reinhardt reminisces with us about his playing days – and heaps praise on Erling Haaland and Emre Can...
What do you like about Emre Can?
You need people who are, in quotation marks, bad guys in the middle of the park, who break the game up when it's needed. He does that intelligently, is hard-nosed and boasts good heading ability too.
Of which game against Bayern Munich do you have the best memories? I'm going to say the DFB Cup tie on 12 September 1992 with two Reinhardt goals: the first to open the scoring in the eighth minute and the second a penalty kick in the shootout, which you won 5-4...
I didn't actually score many goals throughout my career (editor's note: 15 in total) and was more of a provider. Of course, it was a big moment for me to score two goals against Bayern. In that period we were really on our game, we had Bayern well under control in the 1990s.
There was a mood of real euphoria at the Borsigplatz at the beginning of the 1990s. What was it that set you apart back then?
Well we had a relatively unknown coach from Switzerland, Ottmar Hitzfeld. And on top of that Michael Meier made some good transfers. The first year saw the arrival of Stéphane Chapuisat, Bodo Schmidt and my humble self. It was a good blend; we strengthened superbly. All the parts fitted together perfectly from the beginning. The team was strengthened intelligently in the years that followed, and we started to be successful from '95 onwards.
Which of your 18,000 minutes in a BVB shirt was the best?
Each individual match was special in a way. Winning the title for the first time was a very special moment; the gates opened and the crowd flooded onto the pitch uncontrollably and tore clothing from our bodies. Two of my team-mates were injured on the pitch with torn cruciate ligaments. The fact that nothing happened to them was a minor miracle. It was a feeling of pure joy. Hoesch workers were celebrating arm in arm with millionaires. I'll never forget it.
You went from a relatively simple family background all the way to the very top and yet you always remained a "man of the people". Does that explain your considerable popularity to this day?
You need to keep your feet on the ground, that's the best approach. Respect is important. Many people who experience a rise thanks to football come back down again at some point.
Football gifted you some of the most beautiful moments – but some very bitter experiences too...
I had wonderful experiences and enjoyed success, but I also had long periods of suffering with all the injuries I had towards the end – plus I had to deal with exclusion and not playing any more. But that's all part of it. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say: it was a wonderful time. And it was a time when we didn't have smartphones. Every step you take as a young person nowadays is monitored and commented upon. For the current generation of players, public life is more difficult. But in return, they are better paid.
You were still allowed the benefit of human error...
If you made a mistake in a match, you didn't simply go home. You sat together with your team-mates and had a beer or two. Nowadays those photos would be posted online immediately. It's terrible.
Would you have preferred to play now rather than back then?
You can't make that comparison. And even if you could, I couldn't change it. I had an incredible time and I achieved everything that you can possibly achieve. The business has become faster-paced; the game has been quicker and more athletic. The players have a better footballing education. An enormous development has taken place within football. But it's not all positive.
Nowadays, there can be 20 players on a team sheet at national level and 18 at international level. The current regulations would have spared Knut Reinhardt one of the biggest disappointments of his sporting life. When Borussia Dortmund played the biggest match in the club's history – the Champions League final against reigning champions Juventus – on 28 May 1997, Knut Reinhardt was sitting in the stands. With the exception of one injury-enforced absence, he had been a constant presence between Matchday 3 and the semi-final first leg in Manchester, playing the full 90 minutes three times. "It was very painful. Everyone was fit in time for the final. I was depressed, low. But we won the match, the coach got everything right. It was a difficult situation for him. I was a specialist on the left flank. René Tretschok, meanwhile, could play in several different positions."
As a result, he watched on from the stands in Munich's Olympiastadion as Juventus were beaten 3-1. He was sitting alongside Wolfgang Feiersinger – the other casualty of the selection procedure and a man whose outstanding displays as a stand-in for Matthias Sammer had gotten Borussia to the final. A friendship between Reinhardt and Feiersinger was born that night.
As a player who never shied away from a sprint or shirked a tackle, the physical consequences of elite football began to catch up with Reinhardt towards the end of the 1990s. He made only 21 appearances across all competitions in 1997/98. In the first half of the following season, that figure was down to six. By 1999, he had moved to a new club: 1. FC Nuremberg. The Franconians, who would go on to be relegated, paid 300,000 Deutschmarks for his services. He began commuting between Dortmund, where his partner and son lived, and Nuremberg, his new place of employment. The cover of the kicker edition published on 11 January 1999, which covered Reinhardt's transfer to 1. FC Nuremberg, bore the portrait of Jens Lehmann, who had joined Borussia Dortmund from AC Milan.
In the first few months of 1999, the professional footballer became personally acquainted with every inch of the A45 and the A3, as he drove endless kilometres on the motorway. Up and down he went, as often as he could, to his girlfriend and son in Dortmund – and then back to Nuremberg for training. It was around this time he began to notice some changes. It looked as if a wedding was being planned. But Reinhart only found out it would not be his when he was told by Wolfgang Feiersinger, who couldn't bear to let his former team-mate live – and dream – in ignorance any longer.
Writing in his book "Wenn Fußball Schule macht" many years later, Reinhardt wrote in detail about this bitter personal experience. "I chose to include this story to demonstrate that everyone can fall into a hole in their private life at some point."
For Reinhardt, everything collapsed in those few weeks. He lost his girlfriend, the ability to live with his son and ultimately his job too. He only made 14 appearances for the Club, with whom he was relegated to the second tier, and decided following a miserable battle with injury to hang up his boots before he was pushed out. A report by kicker football magazine on 16 December 1999 stated: "The former international Knut Reinhardt, 31, will be allowed to leave in the winter break. The club has set the transfer fee for the left-footed player at 100,000 marks."
"Most of the time, sporting failure does not come alone," Reinhardt says today. "It all prompted me to decide that I would fight again and that I would try to start something new. With a bit of hindsight, I can now say that it was the best decision I could have made at that point in time to be happy again."
But there was some satisfaction to come. Because when Michael Zorc's farewell match was played in front of 40,000 spectators in August 1999, Reinhardt scored two goals past Jens Lehmann – and made his rival look rather silly in the process, deceiving him with shots from the halfway line. "The fact I connected so well with the ball, and to do it then of all games, did give me a small degree of satisfaction. My fellow players fell over laughing." Nowadays, Reinhardt and Lehmann are on good terms. "Privately, everything is okay. We can look each other in the eyes."
Knut Reinhardt started a new life for himself – on both a professional and private level. He met Helena "who really wasn't that interested in football. So I had to work really hard." But there was one advantage. "When you're in the public eye, it is difficult to get to know people who have honest intentions with you." He had found the one for him and when they later had two children together – one is now 18, the other is 15 – he quite literally discovered his vocation: "I was looking for something that would be fulfilling and make me happy. Football has always made me happy. But what would I do for the next 50 years? Watching Bärbel am Mittag wasn't really for me. I can work with children. So I started to study. With a clear objective." Reinhardt worked hard for his qualification. And on the day of his last seminar, he uttered a remarkable sentence. "This certificate is worth more than winning the Champions League."
For 10 years now, Knut Reinhardt has been working as a teacher at the "Kleine Kielstraße" primary school in Innenstadt-Nord, which a bureaucrat might describe as "a district in particular need of renewal".
You deliberately picked this school and stayed there after completing your traineeship. Why?
Some of the children come from educationally disadvantaged families; a high proportion are migrants, some from patchwork families, raised by single parents. In addition to teaching the material, I have major responsibilities: replacement father, parental duties, educational duties, rubbish bin for everything. But you get so much back from the kids because they trust you.
So you teach them about life?
Yes, you could say that. When I teach them to read transport timetables, then they can make it on time to school or other destinations. Going shopping, making sandwiches, showering, coping with traffic. Things that the parents should do themselves get left to the teachers.
Are you the coach for a school class?
Sometimes it's just as loud in the classroom as it is in the stadium. Working with children is challenging. We work in a team. Teachers may be lone wolves, but when it comes to problems you have to work in a team.
Does it spur the pupils on to have a teacher with a prominent past?
I can certainly speak to them in a different way and say to a Croat: Modric, come to the board. He immediately stands several inches taller. "Reinhardt called me Modric!" There's always a good learning atmosphere with me.
Does your life experience help you?
Well I'm not your typical teacher, I've experienced a lot in sport, particularly in sport, with crazy people. I know how I need to handle the children. A normal teacher has never known anything beyond the school and education system: first he was a pupil, then a student and finally he goes back to school. When you have seen something different, it helps in many situations.
Did you have it easier at school than your pupils do nowadays?
At primary school level, many things have changed for the better. But we're lacking the teachers who can fulfil the diverse responsibilities. There are so many different pupils that you can't get by with one teacher per class: some have problems with the learning material, some have behavioural problems, some are very capable and some struggle. They all need to be supported.
How do you manage this balancing act?
Our concept foresees that we provide individual support. Each child receives their own tasks. The role of a teacher has completely changed. I don't stand in front of the class like before; I accompany their learning. I try to support or challenge each individual as best I can. It's tough but it's fun too.
When one of your pupils makes it to a grammar school, is this a special vindication of your work?
The problems our children experience in school mostly have to do with language, because German is not their mother tongue. That means they don't really have the intuition when it comes to spelling. And yet several make it to a grammar school, some of them are studying nowadays – and they still speak of their primary school days. Yes, that makes us proud.
What connection do you still have to football? We haven't seen you playing in the Borussia Dortmund Veterans XI recently.
I stopped last year for health reasons. My body can't keep up with it anymore. Pain for two or three days because I played one half of football... I don't need that. I'm now a taxi driver for my children, who play at Eintracht and in Aplerbeck, and I keep myself fit by going on bike rides and on the cross trainer.
But you're still in contact with Kutte & Co.?
Although I'm now earning my living in another field, the education system, I obviously keep a keen eye on BVB and look forward to every meeting. We regularly see each other at matches or celebrations.
Football players come and go. You stayed in Dortmund beyond the end of your career.
Initially I used to commute; there were still fires here, Hoesch was still going, it was bright as day at night, the mines were still open. I also experienced the period of high unemployment. This city is open, honest, warm-hearted. It really is a great place to live. Since '97, I've been living at Westfalenpark and I am very, very happy here, feel very comfortable. The only thing still missing is a star on the street with my name on it (laughs)...
The star would only need to be inscribed with a (drawn-out) first name: "Knuuuuuut" – everyone in Dortmund would know who it referred to.
German champion and Champions League winner
Knut Reinhardt played for Borussia Dortmund between 1991 and 1998, making 225 appearances for the Black & Yellows. The dynamic midfielder, who boasted a powerful left-footed shot, helped BVB finished as runners-up in his first season, and was then one of the driving forces the following season on the journey to the Champions League final against Juventus. His highlights came between 1995 and 1997, as he won two German titles and the UEFA Champions League. The Hilden native, who was born on 27 April 1968 and came through the ranks at Bayer Leverkusen, with whom he won the 1988 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, made seven senior international appearances and ended his career at 1. FC Nuremberg in 2000 following seven knee operations. Since February 2009, Knut Reinhardt has been working as a teacher.