Rot-Weiss Essen are unbeaten and top of the table in the Regionalliga West and are through to the round of 16 of the DFB-Pokal, with midfielder Dennis Grote playing a big role in his side’s so-far successful season. The 34-year-old spoke to DFB.de about the potential cup opponents and the chance of a first title of 2021.
DFB.de: Former world-class ski jumper Sven Hannawald helped with the DFB-Pokal draw, pulling Rot-Weiss Essen first out of the hat. How was that for you?
Dennis Grote: I watched the draw at home with my family on TV, as did my teammates and the club staff. We can’t do it any other way at the moment. Just like in the second round, we were drawn out first again. It makes it very exciting because every possible opponent is available.
DFB.de: You were drawn a home tie against either Bayer Leverkusen or Eintracht Frankfurt. The two sides will play each other on the 12th January. What was your initial reaction?
Grote: It’s certainly not the draw we were hoping for – to be honest, we’d have preferred to avoid one of the top Bundesliga teams; that would have given us a better chance. Regardless of that, whichever team we come up against, it’s clear that it will be brutally difficult for us.
DFB.de: Do you have any particular preference?
Grote: None. But after our previous opponents Arminia Bielefeld and Fortuna Düsseldorf, my former club VfL Bochum or FC Schalke 04 would have been a nice match – they would have been interesting derbies for our fans. But that might come later on. (laughs)
DFB.de: Which of the two sides do you see winning?
Grote: They have played each other in the Bundesliga, and with their 2-1 victory, Frankfurt showed that they’re on a similar level to Leverkusen. Overall, however, I think Leverkusen are a touch stronger and I think they’ll get through at home. It’s not by chance that they reached the cup final last season, while this season they won their Europa League group and are among the top teams in the league table.
DFB.de: Rot-Weiss Essen have reached the round of 16 for the first time in 13 years. What does that mean for the club?
Grote: For a club from the fourth tier, it’s definitely something special to be among the best 16 teams. We’re unique, as we’re the only fourth-tier side to have got this far this season, and not even a third division side has made it. As such, we’re getting a lot of attention. It’s big for the club and it’s also beneficial financially. The money generated in the DFB-Pokal can’t be matched in the Regionalliga.
DFB.de: During your long footballing career, you’ve reached this stage once before. In December 2006, you were at VfL Bochum when they were defeated 4-1 by VfB Stuttgart. What memories do you have from previous cup games?
Grote: Yes – it’s true that most of the time, I only reached the first or second round. But I was often playing for the underdogs. Nevertheless, we did manage to pull off some upsets, such as with Preußen Münster against Werder Bremen or now with Essen. Now we’re working to try and get me into the quarterfinals at my old age. (laughs)
DFB.de: Can the games against Bielefeld and Düsseldorf provide a basis?
Grote: In each game, we defended really well while also using the transitions to create dangerous counter attacks. In the round of 16, we’re not going to simply throw caution to the wind, but rather try and keep the opposition away from our goal as best we can. However, Bayer Leverkusen or Eintracht Frankfurt will be a different kettle of fish.
DFB.de: The aim for Essen is to win the Regionalliga West and secure promotion to the 3. Liga. With this in mind, how important is success in the DFB-Pokal?
Grote: It’s a very welcome addition to our season. Obviously, the league is the priority though. We want to build on our good work in the first half of the season to stay at the top.
DFB.de: Are you not afraid that the cup could be a distraction from that?
Grote: Not at all. We’re lucky in that we don’t have a league fixture the weekend before our round-of-16 match, so we will be able to prepare more specifically for the game. After the cup match, we have a really important game in the league against Borussia Dortmund U23, who are our closest rivals. So there’s certainly no danger of our concentration slipping.
DFB.de: Essen are unbeaten in the league, DFB-Pokal and the regional cup in almost a year. What can the team take from that?
Grote: We can take a lot from it. It also adds more appeal to the games as we want to carry the run on for as long as possible. As long as we keep it up, we have a good chance of finishing the season top of the league. The unbeaten run has also earned us a lot of respect from our opponents - not least with regard to the DFB-Pokal. On the other hand, however, every team wants to be the first to beat us. That makes it even more important to do well in our league games against SC Wiedenbrück and Bonner SC. Only after that can we look forward to a nice Pokal evening.
DFB.de: You have the chance to pick up the first award of the year. Your impressive overhead kick in the victory over 1. FC Köln was nominated for ARD-Sportschau’s Goal of the Month in December. Were you expecting that?
Grote: Not at all. I was surprised when I heard about it. I scored that goal at the start of December and a lot has happened since then. However, it is really nice to be part of such a traditional vote for the first time.
DFB.de: With your back to the goal, you looped the ball into the net, catching everyone by surprise...
Grote: Myself included! (laughs) If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’d be able to do it again.
DFB.de: The award is voted for by fans. How do you rate your chances?
Grote: It’s tough to say. The fan base is the decisive factor. With the Essen fans, I've got some good support, but the same goes for other clubs like SG Dynamo Dresden, who have Julius Kade up for the award. Personally, I thought Fin Bartels of Holstein Kiel’s acrobatic goal goal was spectacular. The competition is very tough; I see myself more as an outsider. But maybe there's a surprise to be had there, too.
DFB.de: In the summer you’ll turn 35, and your contract is coming to an end. What are your plans for the future?
Grote: I’ll let things happen in due course. At the moment, I feel great and in good shape, and I’m pain free. I don’t want to leave my home of Münster for football again and do another trip of Germany. Therefore, I can see myself staying at Essen and also finishing my career here at some point. I’m in continuous discussions with the club about that.