The final step for Mateu Morey
1.5.21. Mateu Morey suffers a serious knee injury without any outside influence. Although they are on the verge of making it through to the cup final, his teammates are shocked. 14 months later, they applaud Mateu when he finally joins them back out on the pitch for the first time. In the weeks before that, the 22-year-old Spaniard worked hard on his fitness in his home town of Petra, Mallorca. His dad is the coach of the club's first team – and so the doors were always open for Mateu.
On this early summer's day in Dortmund, the sun is struggling to break through stubborn clouds. It is a good thing that we have an appointment with Mateu Morey, who, through his pure presence, makes the day seem brighter. Morey's smile is beaming across his face as he parks his car next to the building of the youth academy on the BVB training ground in Brackel just after 1 pm. The training session has just finished. It was a very special one for Borussia's Spanish defender, as he celebrated one of his many small victories – but more on that later. It is our third meeting with Mateu Morey for our story, which has seen us following him for around a year – shortly after that memorable match against Holstein Kiel, when Morey suffered such a severe knee injury that he has not been able to pull on the Black and Yellow number 2 since then. For a year, he worked in rehab and dreamed of getting back out on to the pitch. Now he is back, not only as a welcome guest in the dressing room, but as a fully-fledged member of the group in training. Could there be a better occasion for an interview?
Buenos dias Mateu, how are you? Do you remember what you promised me in our last interview in winter?
Hmm, let me think... well, we wanted to have the conversation in German. Well, you know that I'm from Mallorca, and you have to speak a bit of German there.
There are a few people here who call Mallorca the 17th Federal State
Okay, I can understand you. Perhaps we can agree on this: you ask in Spanish, I answer in German, and then you make something out of it. Okay?
Sounds good! Let's start with the question which you have probably already heard a million times before: how is your knee?
Yes, that's what a few people have asked me over the last year – it was a long and difficult year. Anyway, I like this question because I can give a happy answer to it: the knee is perfect! Do you remember how I was running around with the huge orthosis a year ago? Look, now you can hardly see the scar. That's a great thing for me and I worked very hard along the way to make it to this point. Since I started training with the team again, though, hardly anyone has asked about the knee. That's a good sign – I'm just like everyone else again. Just as it was before the injury.
What did you learn about your knee in this long and difficult year?
Quite a lot. I've had two operations, and now I know all the German technical terms. The first operation was on the lateral collateral ligament and the capsular ligament, the second one a little bit on the LCL but mainly the cruciate ligament. The doctors were very thorough and now everything is fine again.
Do you notice a difference from before?
Well, I don't feel any difference, but that might be because after the long injury, I don't even know any more what it used to be like... No, seriously: I feel good and I'm not worried. The knee is perfect. Maybe after the surgery and intensive work in rehab, it's even a bit more stable than before. That would be nice!
Stability in the knee is one thing, getting your head over it is another. Did you have any concerns before you first sprinted after a ball or went into a challenge?
Not at all! I knew from the beginning that I had a very serious injury and I had to be patient and work to make sure it was going to be like it used to be. That's what I did. I know how important it is: what's going through your head. That's why I gave my brain a little break.
Mateu leans back and tells of the start of the summer, of the time between the last day of the Bundesliga season and the start of the pre-season. He resisted the temptation to think only of his knee and put that above everything else. So he went on holiday with his girlfriend – not home to his family, where everyone would have asked him about the long injury again – but to a Greek island, where nobody knows him and where for ten days there is not a single mention of football and injury and rehab. Just to clear his head. Then he was ready for the next stage – for a three-week programme getting back up to speed at home in Mallorca. Jogging, weights and also working a bit with the ball while his teammates were all still on the beach. And he also represented the BVB all the while.
There are some nice pictures of you with a load of kids on the football pitch.
Oh yeah! I was at Borussia's Academy in Cala Millor – a very welcome change with young and older children. Of course, they all wanted to know about my knee. Or what you can eat as a professional footballer. I told them, unfortunately no pizza!
Rafael Nadal grew up a few miles from your parents' house. An outstanding athlete who has also come back time and again after serious injuries.
Rafa is crazy! Did you see the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, when he won despite a severe abdominal injury? Unbelievable! It was a pity that he could not compete in the semi-finals. I was suffering watching that on the TV. As a child, I also enjoyed playing tennis.
Nadal wanted to become a football player as a little boy. His uncle Miguel Angel won the league five times with Barça, he won the Champions League and was a Spain international.
People at home tell me he had talent. But I think Rafa's decision to opt for tennis wasn't a bad one! I have also enjoyed my decision to play football.
Mateu is not the only one making a comeback at the start of the training in Brackel at the end of June. Edin Terzic, too, is delighted to finally be back out on the pitch with the ball. His one year as technical director was exciting and taught him a lot, but the job of head coach is another challenge entirely. Around 2000 spectators are there as Terzic gathers his players in a circle around him. The exact content of his speech remains hidden from the fans, but a directional microphone catches that he says "Mateu" and the players suddenly burst into loud applause. What was going on?
It's nice that we can ask an ear-witness! What did Edin say in his speech?
Only nice things! He welcomed me back to the team and reminded the players that I was in hospital, in rehab and everywhere else for a year, but not on the pitch. He told me to enjoy it first and foremost. It was his first speech as a new head coach, and he was thinking about me. That's great! You can imagine how much that moved me. I wasn't just out for a year. I had no contact with the fan base for a long time. First came Covid-19, then my injury. Now to be back out on the pitch again and then also in front of the public, that was a big really thing. But enjoying it is one thing – now I have to work hard to take the next step!
In the spring, you met Patrick Owomoyela for a cup of coffee in front of the camera and said you almost felt like a football player again. And now ...
... I am a real football player again! One hundred percent! You can't imagine what a great feeling that is! I'm back, even though I still have to be careful about some things.
Do you still have your old spot in the dressing room?
Of course! It's been a year. A few players have gone, and a few have come, but otherwise not too much has changed.
What did your teammates say to you?
It was a very warm welcome. Everyone was happy for me. I am also very grateful for that. We never lost contact – I was in the dressing room several times.
As a positive person, you like to talk about positive things. But there may have been a few not-so-nice moments last year.
Unfortunately, you are right. I can remember two very important moments. The first was immediately after the injury, in the game against Kiel. I knew immediately that something very bad must have happened. As an athlete, you get a feeling for things like that. I thought good heavens, that was it for me – and for a very long time! You have to come to terms with that.
And the second moment ...
... came after the second operation. I was on a good path before that and had already managed to get a lot back. It was small and very laborious steps, but things were on the up again. Then came the second operation, and I had to start again from square one. That was hard, very hard!
How many times during that period did you dream of the ball or of the pitch, of the sold-out stadium?
Give me a minute – how do you say 'cerrar los ojos' in German?
Close your eyes.
Thank you! Every time I close my eyes, I see myself in our stadium. Even now, when I am training with the team again. I can't help it. I absolutely want to play football again. I will do everything I can for that! I think everything in life happens for a reason. That time is behind me, and I'll be a better football player than I was before.
During our conversation last winter, you told us about the small victories in everyday life. From the moment you were allowed to drop the crutches. Or the first time you had the ball at your feet. What has been your latest victory?
I just celebrated it – an hour ago, during training. After a good year's break I have to take a little extra care and not take part in everything completely. I need control over my body. But today, I played my first game since May 2021! It was just a training game, eight against eight, but it felt great. Another small victory! That is why today is a very important day for me!
Have you set a schedule for the coming weeks?
No. It will all come in time. I've waited for more than a year and learned what patience is. May I ask a question now?
Of course it is!
We've met a few times, you've seen me over and over in the different stages of my rehab. Was this our last interview now, because I'm back on the team?
I would say that the long-term observation of the convalescent Mateu Morey is over. Now we are back to the footballer Mateu Morey ...
That sounds like a good plan! Let's see what else happens. We will see each other and talk again!
Author: Sven Goldmann
Photos: Joel Kunz
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