Mahmoud Dahoud – whom everyone simply refers to as "Mo" – has been a Black & Yellow since 2017, but has made a greater impact at BVB in the past weeks and months than ever before. "I've become a lot more stable, a lot more mature," said the 24-year-old during our interview, which takes place over two cups of fantastic coffee and with a view overlooking the Dortmund skyline.
He's just gone for a quick kickabout. It's no problem, says his girlfriend. It's always been that way. Her Mo is football-crazy: he's at training during the week, plays in the Bundesliga on Saturdays and sometimes even kicks a ball about after waking up early in the morning. Just outside the door, on the fourth floor, right next to the bedroom.
Mahmoud Dahoud, who is known as Mo by all at BVB and beyond, has constructed his own training pitch - overlooking the rooftops of Dortmund and on the terrace of his apartment building. "I thought to myself: this terrace is big enough, and because I have one on both sides here..." So he called up his uncle, "who is handy when it comes to things like this". A few weeks later and the finishing touches had already been applied. Home office is all the rage these days, after all.
When the coronavirus arrived in Dortmund in the spring, bringing football across the world to a halt, Borussia's midfielder completed his own individual programme on his terrace every day. "Always for a few hours, because you need to get a feeling for the ball," explained Mo, adding: "Come with me, I'll show you what you can do there!"
So off to football school and into the cage we go. The finest artificial grass, 3 x 10 metres, surrounded by waist-height hoardings and covered by a net so that balls don't fall down onto the street below – the name of which will not be revealed here. Mo prefers to keep to himself for his private training sessions overlooking the Dortmund skyline.
For the benefit of all those who are interested, our photographer Alex is allowed to take a few quick snapshots. Then we walk across the way to the living room for our interview, with a short detour to the kitchen and, more specifically, the coffee machine. It is said that no barista in Dortmund can get even remotely close to matching Mo Dahoud's skills. He still buys the coffee himself in Düsseldorf. Not all that far away from Reusrath, where he grew up and took the first steps of his career. Mo is now an international footballer, having played 11 minutes of a friendly against Turkey a few weeks ago. It is the perfect occasion for a chat about the journey that has brought him here and what the future holds.
Congratulations on your international debut, Mo! Joachim Löw has said you're the man the future belongs to. What can we expect from you in the future then?
Let me put it this way: if I play more often, then I can continue my development, find my rhythm, and things will happen. Do you remember the first Bundesliga match after the international break in Hoffenheim? We won, completely deservedly. But I personally wasn't at match fitness; I wasn't energetic enough; I was simply lacking game time. As a young player, it's important that you maintain your level. But you can only do that if you're playing regularly too. Up until that point, I hadn't really had a look-in this season. So I thought to myself in the week before that: okay, work on your power a little bit. After the final training session, I spent half an hour hammering the ball at the goal. I never expected that I would be playing. And when I was actually named in the team, I went out there with really heavy legs.
There is probably no other club in the Bundesliga with such a concentration of central midfielders of the highest quality. Thomas Delaney and Axel Witsel both arrived two years ago, followed by Julian Brandt last season and then Emre Can, and then Jude Bellingham this summer.
Jude is Super Man, only 17 years old and he's already very advanced, crazy stuff! Yes, of course, there's enormous competition here, but that's exactly how I want it! I want to have this challenge in training every day. I honestly don't spend any time thinking about it. When I'm on the pitch, I just want to play football! But when you're out for a long time, you first need to get a feeling for it again. You need to know how the guy next to you reacts in a game, how he anticipates the pass, what runs he makes. You need to keep working on becoming a part of the whole. That's only achieved through competition, because that's the only way to reach the highest levels of tension and concentration; you can hardly simulate that, even in training.
You have repeatedly been linked with moves to other clubs in the recent past.
That's never been on the cards for me! Yes, there's huge competition here but that's the kick, you know! Here you are challenged in every training session, you always have to go to your limits. I enjoy every day in this fantastic team. Then there's the fact that we're growing ever closer together on a personal level too. The group is coming into its own; we're enjoying playing football together.
That's exactly what BVB represented in the 2011 and 2012 title wins – a tight-knit group who were successful in part because the players were more to each other than just players.
That's how it is! Look at Bayern now and, I believe it was even more the case in the Robben-Ribéry era: that was a team of friends where everyone fought for each other. Also, it was a team that was kept together over a long period of time. But I also get the sense that we're moving in a similar direction. The inner circle is coming together, the axis has stayed the same; we're growing together and building something!
You were the big winner in the weeks that followed the restart after the corona break. You produced some very good performances against Schalke, Wolfsburg and FC Bayern – and then came that damn knee injury.
Yes, the first really severe one since I've been in Dortmund. It was a tough one to take, I tore the ligament as I was turning and without any contact from an opponent. Bad things happen, but you can't get caught up in them for long. So I thought to myself: it doesn't matter, it's done, now you can prepare for the new season!
During that game against Bayern, there was a passage of play that represented everything that is good about Mahmoud Dahoud the footballer. The incident took place in no man's land, just in front of the centre-circle. Mo won the ball back – but found himself under intense pressure from Joshua Kimmich, while Thomas Müller was blocking his path ahead. Müller, the man whose long, gangly legs bring every ball under their control – and it looked set to be the case again on this occasion. Not happening! signals Mo. He steps on the ball with the right toes, hangs in the air for a short time, strokes it with the sole of his foot for a fleeting moment and then transfers it over to his left before quickly initiating a counter-attack. Müller's long legs slide into thin air where the ball had been. In Arabic, "Mahmoud" means "the praised one", and who wouldn't praise him that wonderful piece of trickery?
You're quite a fan of stuff like that, aren't you?
Only if it serves a purpose. I love tricks but you should never do them for the cameras; they need to suit the situation on the pitch.
Would you contradict me I were to put forward the following theory: that you have the best feet at BVB?
Of course I would contradict you! Just look at Rapha Guerreiro, a sensational football player! Or Jule Brandt. Or Marco Reus! You know, when you have an attacking player like Marco in front of you, there is less work to do behind him! If a striker makes the right runs and presses, then the central defenders don't have an opportunity to build the play. On top of that, Marco does things in one touch when he goes forward that other players would need three touches for. Everything he does on the pitch is so incredibly intelligent!
I was not questioning intelligence on the pitch, but who has the best feet...
Let me put it this way: I can do a few tricks that not many players can do. But others can do things that I myself can't do. Does that suffice? I'm pretty satisfied with that.
How much of your game is intuition and how much is calculation? What's more important: thought or feeling?
Definitely feeling! If you only follow your head, then you're doing too much thinking and you'll always have doubts in there too. You need the combination.
Mo is now playing his fourth season for BVB, but it hasn't always been as plain-sailing as it is at present. In the summer of 2017, he was one of the most sought-after players in the Bundesliga, only 20, and coveted by the likes of Juventus and FC Bayern. His heart said Dortmund and not only because of the proximity to his family. Thomas Tuchel had been full of praise and showed Mo the trust that young players need. But then, for the first training session in the summer of 2017, Peter Bosz was the coach.
Lothar Matthäus said before your move to Dortmund from Mönchengladbach that you could become a world-class footballer. You were only 19 at the time.
Yes I remember that well, it was after a game I played for Gladbach against Frankfurt. We won 5-1 and I scored a goal, set another one up and won a penalty. Do you know why I was so good then? The coach just let me play. He gave me the freedom that I need on the pitch. Please don't misunderstand me: I'm aware that I still have an awful lot to learn even as I approach 25 years of age.
What new things do you learn in your everyday life as a professional?
Lots, especially over the last three years here in Dortmund, above all in terms of mentality. I've become more stable and more mature. I've learned to go to training every day with a positive mentality and then to give everything I have. That's incredibly important, because only by doing so can you improve as well. I only come home happy after a good training session, because I know that I gave it everything.
How often do you come home happy?
Always actually, except for perhaps two or maximum three times during my time in Dortmund. I would describe myself as football-crazy in a positive sense. Or as a perfectionist. I'm really only satisfied when I've given everything. I always want to keep developing and never want to stand still.
Do you re-watch your games?
Of course! Every single one, and I analyse them very closely. I used to do that even when I was still at Gladbach, and I've saved everything on USB sticks!
Even the international appearance against Turkey?
Of course, the DFB takes care of that. To be honest with you, I wasn't so enthusiastic. Of course, it was a wonderful feeling to make my international debut. But we weren't playing so well at the time I came on; lots of substitutions and our rhythm had gotten lost. You can't control the game anymore in that situation.
Gladbach executive Max Eberl once labelled Mo as the typical street footballer. That's what people always like to say about footballers that possess a natural individual edge that goes beyond the teachings of the DFB's youth academies. But who plays football on the street these days? Where's the space between the cars, buses and trams? Mo laughs, rolls up the sleeves of his sweatshirt and gently rubs his arm.
Scars! Small reminders of my childhood, of the matches on asphalt and concrete. My knee looks the same. It was a cool time; we always used to play against the older kids, there were some really good players there too. Later, once I got a bit older, we would meet at a carpark every Sunday, there would be around 40 people who turned up and we'd play proper tournaments.
Do you sometimes miss that nowadays? Going out onto the street on a free Sunday and kicking a ball around with a few pals?
I'd really like to do that, but I don't think that the coach would be all that happy about it. Just imagine if something happens to me, I go over and sprain my ankle. What can I say then: sorry, it happened when I got up off the sofa?!
You used to have a reputation as a joker who doesn't take anything seriously.
Sorry, but that doesn't reflect reality. Of course I like to have a joke from time to time, but that's part of life – if you can't have a laugh anymore, something is wrong. But that doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with my attitude to football, the way I approach my work. I don't approach anything with a casual attitude, especially not on the football pitch. Now that it's so quiet in football stadiums, more and more people are asking me why I'm suddenly so loud. Sorry, but I've always been like that. Nobody heard it because of all the noise.
After an hour overlooking the rooftops of Dortmund and drinking Mo's fantastic coffee, there are just a few minutes left to broach a tough topic. The Dahoud family arrived in Berlin from Syria in 1996, when Mo was only seven months old. Who brings up war and displacement when a person who has been affected by them is sitting at the table with you?
Mo, you grew up and went to school in Reusrath, and you're a Germany international, but many members of your family still live in Syria. Is it rude to ask you about your roots?
No, no problem, I'm often asked about this. Unfortunately, I've never gotten to know my parents' homeland. The Arab world is a great unknown for me, I've only managed to spend three days in Lebanon, it's unfortunately too dangerous in Syria. That's tough for me! I'd absolutely love to visit my grandfather; I still only know him from telephone conversations.
What still connects you with Syria?
Well, there are quite a few things. The music or the food, for example. And the language of course. I grew up bilingual, we spoke Arabic at home. But personally I definitely have a lot more German characteristics. Commitment, discipline and punctuality are not foreign concepts to me. When I'm with Syrians, they laugh at me and say: You're not a Syrian, you're a German! What else?
Author: Sven Goldmann
Photos: Alexandre Simoes