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Steffen Tigges – captain and mate

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''Journey'' - it sounds like something from a bygone era. But not for Steffen Tigges. The 22-year-old centre-forward is on the journey of a lifetime in the 2020/21 season. A joyful voyage in which he has sometimes found himself as the captain commanding from the bridge and sometimes as the mate scrubbing the deck. As captain of the U23s in the Regionalliga West and as mate in the first team in the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League.

It's been a journey which has led him to FC Bayern Munich. And FC Wegberg-Beeck. In which he's taken to the field against Manchester City. And then gone back to playing against SV Straelen. A substitute for the headline Bundesliga match in Mönchengladbach on Friday night. Then, just 16 hours later, a double goalscorer in the 3-0 win in the Regionalliga clash away to the second string of 1. FC Cologne. Steffen Tigges has been on a wild trip between two footballing worlds. But when you speak to him it doesn't seem like he's losing his orientation.

A lot of travel plans have been thrown in the bin since Covid became a factor. Whoever says ''travel'' also has ''cancel'' in the back of their minds. And Steffen Tigges almost missed out on his own journey. ''There were a few thoughts about a transfer in the summer of 2020,'' says the attacking player. He had only moved to Dortmund from Osnabrück the year before. At boyhood club VfL Osnabrück, who he had played for since the age of 12, he managed to achieve promotion to the second tier. However, he was not involved in the club's further plans. The 2019/20 season with the BVB U23s, which was ultimately called off due to Covid, had been ''pretty average.'' However, Tigges was one of the few bright spots, as he notched up over 20 scorer points both as a goalscorer and assister. Offers came in from elsewhere - it was only down to the persuasiveness of team manager Ingo Preuß that the striker chose to stay. 

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Now he knows: it was a smart decision. A decision which has given his sporting career a new lease of life. A decision which combined with other decisions and coincidences which Steffen Tigges, admittedly, had no say in. However, somehow all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place over the months to come.

Steffen Tigges is a positive young man, whose 1.93-metre height and shining blonde hair give him the look of a likeable lead actor in a Hollywood college comedy. He exudes a cheerfulness about him that is infectious.

One piece of the puzzle: the change of coach for the U23s. Enrico Maaßen not only brought a clear playing philosophy. He also finds the right approach, gets the maximum out of his young talents. "The coaching team is doing an outstanding job," says Tigges, going into further detail: "On the one hand, the analysis of the opponent plays a central role. On the other hand, we have worked out clear patterns and principles for ourselves that must always work, regardless of the opponent and our own line-up. This mix is what makes us successful." The U23s have lost only one of 38 games in the Regionalliga West - a 2-1 defeat to SV Rödinghausen on 25 November 2020. They've notched up 12 draws and celebrated 25 victories. Rot-Weiß Essen took advantage of a small phase of weakness in March to move past its big and longstanding rival in the table. With only two games left in a mammoth season with 21 teams and 40 matchdays, the Black & Yellows find themselves with 87 points to their name.

Another piece of the puzzle: his physical development. Steffen Tigges spent a lot of time in the gym and toiled away on the weight machines, especially in the spring and summer of 2020 as Covid brought all other activities to a standstill. The result is visible. He himself describes it this way: "I have become physically more robust. I benefit from that in one-on-one situations. I can assert myself better in physical battles and keep hold of the ball more often.'' Essentially, Tigges is a physical monster who commands respect from markers and who would be perfectly at home in the backcourt of a handball team.

Another piece of the puzzle: his progress with the first team. One consequence of the change of coach from Lucien Favre to Edin Terzic has been the greater permeability between the U23 and Bundesliga squads. When goalscorer Erling Haaland had to take a break due to injury in December, Terzic caused a surprise as he called up Steffen Tigges to the starting XI for the DFB-Pokal Round of 16 tie away to Eintracht Braunschweig. Although the striker didn't manage to score a goal of his own, he impressed with a courageous performance and played the full 90 minutes.

It proved to be the first of many premieres: on 3 January, he made his Bundesliga debut in a 2-0 win over VfL Wolfsburg. Substitute appearances followed in Leipzig, Leverkusen, Gladbach, Munich and at home to Bremen. Then, on 14 April, he took to the stage of Europe's elite club competition for the first, coming on as an 81st-minute substitute in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie against Manchester City. All the while, he was busy playing in the Regionalliga. Against Wuppertaler SV, Sportfreunde Lotte, Bonner SC and VfL Homberg.

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The fact that he barely had time to stop and think due to the packed schedule perhaps worked in his favour. "Maybe after the season I'll have a bit of peace and quiet and the opportunity to reflect on my development and let the events sink in a bit.'' Until then, however, the young man still has big goals and lots of plans to fulfil.

Right at the top of the to-do list: the Regionalliga championship and promotion to the 3. Liga. As captain, he feels responsible for ensuring this outstanding season is crowned with glory. He has certainly had a major part to play in this with his goalscoring. Tigges has found the back of the net 20 times in 33 games. An impressive strike rate. "The lads know: when they give me the ball, I usually do something useful with it.''

The team managed to win the difficult match away to Oberhausen without their offensive stars Steffen Tigges and Ansgar Knauff, who had been called up to the first-team squad for the match against Werder Bremen. "We simply know that our systems work regardless of the line-up, that we can find solutions during games and overcome setbacks," says Tigges, adding: "But we also know that nothing runs by itself. This team have good character, a great team spirit and take their work very seriously."

The successes of the past months have acted as a catalyst for his development. "When things are going so well, you're hardly challenged as captain," says the 22-year-old. There is no doubt that he would be able to cope with more difficult situations. Steffen Tigges seems very mature for his age. That is in no small part due to his down-to-earth parents. He is "reliable" and "helpful". These are values that his parents have passed on to him. "I don't define myself solely through football, I go through the world with my eyes open and I'm also interested in the things that happen to the right and left of the pitch." That's why he's studying sports business as a remote degree in parallel with his playing career. And even though he has entered the biggest stage in German sport, he doesn't crave the spotlight. "I have a sense of humour and always have something to say, but I can also be really shy in some situations.''

It must be said, however, that the biggest stage has been different this season; it has been surrounded by empty stands. Not a single fan has been able to witness Steffen Tigges play in the Bundesliga. He is yet to experience the tingling goosebumps that inevitably arise when you come out of the narrow players' tunnel at SIGNAL IDUNA PARK and look left at the pulsating south stand. 

But no matter what happens: when the final whistle blows on the 2020/21 season, Steffen Tigges will be able to look back on an unbelievable journey. Whether it proves to be a voyage into happiness may depend slightly on the final result. In any case, it was an adventure packed full of wow moments. A wild rafting trip. And long may it continue. Whoever asks Steffen Tigges where he'd like to end up by 2024 or 2026 gets a clear answer: the Bundesliga! He is not drawn to faraway places. "Dortmund would be my ideal. BVB. As a starter." He would certainly no longer be the mate. Captain? Who knows...

Frank Fligge