He scored the Black & Yellows' very first goal of the 2019/20 campaign and, eleven months later, he came on as the last substitute of a season that turned out to be anything but ordinary. Indeed, it proved particularly special for Tobias Raschl: on the last matchday of the season, the 20-year-old made his debut in the Bundesliga - meaning the young midfielder went down in history as the 383rd Borussia Dortmund player to make an appearance in the German top flight.
The stadium clock read 17:33 on 12 July 2019 as Borussia Dortmund celebrated scoring the opening goal of their first warm-up match ahead of the new season. The goalscorer that day was Tobias Raschl, who in finding the back of the net against eighth-tier outfit FC Schweinberg signalled his arrival in the world of professional football. The warm-up match marked the beginning of a year of learning for the 19-year-old, who topped it off with a substitute appearance in the Bundesliga finale against TSG Hoffenheim almost twelve months later, on 27 June 2020.
Schweinberg, a pretty little town of 700 inhabitants in the Neckar-Odenwald-Kreis area that was able to attract a crowd of over 5,000 for the local club's ''game of the century'' against BVB, is probably not a name that lived long in the memories of most Borussia fans, while the encounter with Hoffenheim is one game they'd be more than happy to forget. But for Tobias Raschl, these were important milestones on the journey from youth footballer to Bundesliga player.
Raschl made the step up to the BVB first-team squad twelve months ago after lifting the German Championship trophy as captain of the club's U19 side. Accustomed to a leadership role throughout his youth career, the midfielder had to get used to standing at the back of the queue and waiting for his chance. ''It wasn't an easy time for him,'' says former player Otto Addo, who now works as a coach responsible for helping players make the transition from the academy and who served as Raschl's closest sporting companion in his debut season with the first team. ''He was always used to playing on the team that he trained with,'' says Addo.
But that would soon change. The 19-year-old found the first few weeks ''far more intense than in the youth set-up, far quicker and more physical.'' Two sessions a day took its toll on body and mind. He made several appearances for the first-team in pre-season warm-up matches as well as in friendlies during the international breaks earlier in the season. When the big-name stars were away on their travels, Raschl was more than happy to plug the gap. The youngster even got on the scoresheet in the charitable match in Cottbus. ''For large parts of the season I had the feeling that I could more than hold my own,'' says Raschl, who was delighted about ''the positive feedback from teammates in training,'' as well as encouraging comments made by head coach Lucien Favre and assistants Edin Terzic and Manfred Stefes. Not to mention the support of Otto Addo, who Raschl talks to several times a week. The 20-year-old adds: ''I have a healthy sense of perspective, I have a clear view of where I am in terms of performance.''
The young midfielder had to juggle several balls at once. Before the season came to a premature end due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Raschl made 15 appearances for the U23s in the Regionalliga, contributing two assists. ''Dropping down to the U23s wasn't easy, but he definitely learnt a lot from it,'' explains Addo, adding: ''He had a few problems adjusting to the speed, to the different style of play. But he improved quickly and impressively.''
Meanwhile, Raschl was also able to continue demonstrating his talents for the U19s, captaining the side in the UEFA Youth League as one of the over-aged players eligible to play in the competition. Raschl had a large part to play in the Black & Yellows finishing the group stage ahead of Barcelona. In their back-to-back 2-1 wins over football's most famous talent factory - La Masia - the captain was involved in three goals, scoring two and assisting another. ''These matches were easier for me than they were for the others because I was that bit more experienced and had been there and done it in the previous two seasons. Overall, they were great games on a good stage,'' says Raschl.
Raschl was first included in a Bundesliga matchday squad on 26 October 2019. And not just for any old game - the biggest of them all, away to Schalke. Just rewards from head coach Favre for Raschl's impressive work in training. ''It was in the middle of the first round of fixtures. That's when it really started for me,'' says Raschl as he looks back: ''Being there for the first time, getting a sense of how everything works - it was a cool feeling. Being part of a Bundesliga matchday and not just training - it was an important step for me.''
Raschl would go on to make two further appearances in a matchday squad in the first half of the season, but after the winter break, the new year began slowly. The arrival of Emre Can heightened the already fierce competition for places in central midfield. ''It's entirely normal that he felt disappointed or frustrated at times,'' says Addo: ''For me, the most important thing was to see Tobi always try his absolute hardest in training - regardless of the situation he was in.''
The resumption of the league in mid-May served as something of a fresh start for Raschl. With the exception of the match against Bayern Munich, the 20-year-old was included in every matchday squad for the remainder of the season. The appearance of a new rule - five possible substitutes instead of three - seemed to boost the prospects of a long-awaited Bundesliga appearance.
Against Schalke, with the team's regular ''double pivot'' midfield of Witsel and Can out injured, Thomas Delaney marking his return to action after a seven month injury lay-off and BVB 4-0 up on the scoreboard with an hour played, Raschl had his hopes up. But alas he would have to wait another day.
''There were several times when I expected to come on. When it didn't come to pass, I'd be pretty annoyed the evening after the game. But I always kept it to myself and did all I could to convert my disappointment into strength and focus,'' says the youngster. Then, on the very last day of the season, his efforts were finally rewarded with an appearance. In the 65th minute of the Bundesliga meeting with TSG Hoffenheim, Favre sent Raschl onto the field of play. ''We'd rather have sent him on with us 4-0 up as opposed to 4-0 down,'' says assistant coach Edin Terzic, adding: ''It was a very special day for him, despite the disappointing final score. A debut appearance in the Bundesliga was richly deserved after all the hard work he put in over the past year or so. Tobi always gives his utmost and he more than merited those 25 minutes on the pitch.'' Terzic's closing remarks underline his positive view of Raschl: ''Tobi isn't just a great player; he's also a great guy.''
Although not on the pitch for long, Raschl managed to notch up some impressive numbers. Over 3.47 kilometres covered, which, over 90 minutes, would add up to 12.24 kilometres; 19 touches of the ball (68 in 90 minutes); and 14 of his 16 passes arrived safely at their destination for an overall completion percentage of 88% - more than could be said for most of his teammates in Black & Yellow. ''Numbers don't lie, but I don't want to focus too much on them. We had loads of gaps in our play. It wasn't a good game,'' said Raschl in his post-match comments.
But it was nonetheless an unforgettable afternoon for his family. Parents Robert and Nadine as well as older brother Henrik and younger sister Leonie all live in the Unterrath area of Düsseldorf. This is where Germany's oldest frame straightening workshop for commercial vehicles is located, and the Raschl family have been bending metal here for the last 70 years. But not on weekends, which are all about the Raschl childrens' passion for football. Ever since Tobi made the jump up to the senior squad, the entire family makes sure to gather round the television in time for kick-off (if they can't make it to the stadium).
But on 27 June, the Raschl family were more leisurely than usual as they did their Saturday afternoon shopping. They'd heard Tobi was injured - no need to hurry then. Once back in the house, Nadine hovered ''between the TV and the garden. Then I saw Tobi in his full kit. And then he actually got on the pitch. It was crazy,'' says the proud mother: ''We were so happy!''
Otto Addo was equally delighted that afternoon: ''I was happy that, despite the bad scoreline, the coach gave him a little treat and honoured his performances in training. It was a small but important acknowledgement.'' And in Raschl's own words: ''Regardless of the game itself and the scoreline, it was important for me to get that appearance. Coming onto the pitch was a great moment that I will never forget.''
Twelve months after his debut goal in Schweinberg, Raschl can look back on ''a very educational'' first year of senior football: ''I was able to learn so much. All in all, I was hoping for more action and more playing time, but you should never feel completely satisfied with anything.''
The youngster allowed himself a week's holiday with his closest friends in Amsterdam. No flying - not worth the risk of quarantine. Since his return, he's been working on his fitness with a personal trainer - two sessions a day so that he can ''come back in good shape.'' Raschl knows what he needs to improve on: ''I wasn't happy with my first year overall. I have to do more. I have to be stronger - more physical, more athletic - if I want to get to the next level.''
The stage is set for Raschl to make his breakthrough in the Bundesliga. Assistant coach Edin Terzic is full of praise for the youngster: ''He is growing more confident in his actions, becoming bolder and getting over his fear of making mistakes. Tobi is safe in possession and can set the pace of a game. He's a midfield strategist. He stabilises his teammates and destabilises the opposition through his intelligent play.''
Tobias Raschl has been at BVB since the age of 15. The move from Fortuna Düsseldorf has paid off, the youngster has made his first steps in professional football in the Black & Yellow of Dortmund. ''If he stays healthy, he can make it all the way,'' says his mother, while Otto Addo has a similarly positive view of things: ''I'm convinced that he'll make the step up and become a key player in the Bundesliga. When and where that will be is hard to say. The big question is: how much patience does he have? I hope he remains as hard-working as he was in his first year.''