The BVB U23s have been at their training camp in the Kitzbühel Alps – where they are preparing for the new season, which starts with an eagerly anticipated away trip to RW Essen on 26 July – for almost a week. In an interview, the new coach Mike Tullberg spoke about young players, his excitement for the new season and football as a way of life.
Mike, the training camp is drawing to a close. What's your assessment of the preparations so far?
We've seen in the last few days that one or two of the players have been lacking freshness. I felt that the first half of yesterday's match was good, but it was subsequently clear that some of the lads were very, very tired. As a result, we weren't at the level we need to be at to compete in the league. We mustn't forget that we have a lot of players who haven't played much recently. Steffen Tigges, Lars Bünning and Magnus Kaastrup featured little in Osnabrück, Bremen and Aarhus respectively, while Maximilian Hippe has been injured for almost a year. We've regulated the load and have had to find the right level. We've managed that well. We haven't had any serious injuries, even though we've really gone to our limit. On a tactical level, too, we've accomplished what I set out to do. That was clear from our first-half performance. In general, I'm very satisfied with the first two and a half weeks.
What's the mood like in the camp?
Although we've had to integrate a lot of new players, the lads have found their way very quickly and very well. They have fun – off the pitch too. On Wednesday we went rafting together and then after that everyone had to sing something. It was a great day for everyone.
Yesterday you won 2-1 away at Austria Salzburg. How satisfied are you with the friendlies?
As I already said yesterday, our chance conversion in the matches against Aplerbeck and the one last night has not been good. We simply need to score more goals. Aside from that, we've been operating and moving well. We've been lacking that little bit of luck in front of goal. Our defending has convinced me too, but obviously we still need to continue working on it. In the second period, the team was simply very tired.
You've now been in Germany for almost two and a half weeks. Have you settled in well at BVB?
Our contact with each other at the training centre is fantastic, whether it's the players, staff, the caretaker Paul or the many groundsmen. We give each other a high five, have a quick chat and joke around. That's really, really nice. I really enjoy being on the complex, I think the others have noticed that as I've been there almost 12 hours a day to date (laughs). Although BVB are a very big club, everything I've seen here is very down-to-earth. The people around me are super. The one thing you really have to laugh about is the bus journey. I slept really badly as BVB fans were constantly honking their horns when they saw the bus. That also goes to show what a big club BVB are, but I'm aware of that and I'm really happy to be here. I'm really proud to be able to wear this badge. As a young lad, I saw Marc Strudal and then later Flemming Povlsen play in a BVB shirt and so I always had a fondness for the club. But it's still football; the ball is still the same, it's just the language that's different. Beforehand I used to coach in English but now I do in German.
So English is the official language of Danish football?
Yes, we're a small country and there are a lot of foreigners playing in Denmark. Here, however, it is predominantly players who grew up in Germany and so we speak German with each other.
It's going to be quite some start to the season with matches away to Rot-Weiss Essen and at home to relegated Lotte. Would you have preferred an easier start?
I already got used to the big-game atmosphere in the Danish league last season. I'm extremely looking forward to the opening day in Essen. It's a huge clash, for our squad too. The lads all want to prove themselves, they all want to play at a higher level. There's no better opportunity than to play directly in front of a big crowd against an opponent that has strengthened well. There will certainly be a lot of BVB fans who will come to Essen and cheer us on. The match against Lotte will definitely be full too, with the season opening event taking place at the same time.
Could it be a weight on the players' shoulders to play twice in front of a full house?
Well, if a player feels that it's a weight on his shoulders, then he needs to tell me. Everyone has a desire to play at a higher level. I believe – and I don't think this only applies to me – that there's more enjoyment when more spectators are there. But obviously there will be other games in front of smaller crowds too. Football remains the same and we need to deliver the same performances. Everyone must and will be excited for the first two matches, I can sense that in the squad. I can't imagine that anyone sees it as a weight on their shoulders.
Had you previously been told about the fact that BVB has a large fan-base in the Regionalliga?
Yes, I was definitely already aware. I watched one or two videos, some of the fans too. Last season as well, I attended matches once or twice and I obviously witnessed it there. I think it's really outstanding that there are a few hundred BVB fans who travel to an away game and cheer on the U23 team. That really is something really, really special. But at the same time I know that it's difficult when the first team play at the same time. I hope that the association consider that in their planning a bit more so that we can get more spectators. For the lads, every fan is worth their weight in gold, they make it more fun. Even if it does increase the pressure, it's good for the lads. It's part of it all and everyone needs to get used to it.
What do you think is the reason that so many fans come to watch the U23s too?
You just get a sense that the people in Dortmund live and breathe football. When you speak to the people that have an attachment to BVB, I get the feeling that it comes from their heart. I have the feeling that it's something really, really special. I would compare it a bit to my time in Italy with Reggina. There I couldn't go out onto the street, football was a real way of life there too, even though it was a different culture. I would almost say that football here is like a religion, football is a way of life in Dortmund. And you can see that the people are interested in the U23s too as a result. In the end, it's the club that counts.
What are you expecting from your team in the coming season?
It's difficult to assess, because we have lots of new signings and a very young team, we're only an U23 squad. What I expect from the boys is that we play courageous football. We have players who are good footballers. We have to have the courage to really produce this football on the pitch. I've told them that several times too, including yesterday when we were a bit under the cosh and were looking slightly unsettled after conceding the equaliser. I don't want to see that we're scared to play football; that we don't play the ball out, that we don't trust ourselves to get on the ball. It is clear that we're an U23 team and it is our aim to win every match. But that won't happen if we don't have the courage to play football. For me, that's the most important thing of all.