For 17 years, Tobias Sippel donned his gloves for 1. FC Kaiserslautern, but moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2015. This weekend, the two clubs face each other in the first round of the DFB-Pokal. The Foals goalkeeper spoke with DFB.de’s Tobias Gonscherowski about the trip to his former home, and the special atmosphere of the Fritz-Walter-Stadion.
DFB.de: Tobias, the draw for the DFB-Pokal’s first round set up a tie for Borussia at Kaiserslautern. What feelings do you have before the game?
Tobias Sippel: I feel like I’m going home. I played for FCK for 17 years, so I’ve always hoped to get them in the draw, and finally we have. I’m really looking forward to going back home and seeing all the familiar faces. I don’t think I’ve been back to the stadium since I moved to Borussia.
DFB.de: What was your first reaction to the draw?
Sippel: I only watched the draw by chance, really. When Kaiserslautern got drawn, my wife said “Now it’ll be us, it’ll be Gladbach”, and she was right. I couldn’t believe it at first, and then my phone blew up with calls and messages.
DFB.de: Do you still keep in contact with your former colleagues at FCK often?
Sippel: I know two of the coaches very well, and I played together with Fabian Schönheim and Florian Dick. I’ve also kept in contact with the physios and the assistants, as well as my old goalkeeping coach, Gerry Ehrmann.
DFB.de: You had a clear role at Borussia last season – Yann Sommer was the number 1 for the Bundesliga and Champions League games, and you got the Pokal games. Have there been signs from the new coach Adi Hütter that this will continue to be the case?
Sippel: s1 Last season we were involved in three competitions and had a huge number of games, so the coach let us know clearly what the solution to that would be. This time round, Yann has only been back in training for a couple of days after the EUROs, so we will find out their choices in the next couple of days – I don’t know what their decision will be. However, it’s the last game before the start of the Bundesliga season, so the coach will probably want to choose a similar team to the one which will start that game against FC Bayern, so I understand if I don’t play. That said, I would really appreciate it if he did choose me.
DFB.de: How closely have you been following Kaiserslautern’s story recently?
Sippel: I still watch their games, yes. I hope that they can get promoted back to the 2. Liga, as the club is bigger and has more potential than to be sat in the 3. Liga, especially with the atmosphere in their stadium. Actually, I think FCK belong in the Bundesliga. The fans returned to the ground for the first game of the 3. Liga season, and that really helped the team, which was a massive bonus that they didn’t have last season. I have more confidence in them than last time round.
DFB.de: Your career in the DFB-Pokal has been impressive, with two quarter finals and two semi finals. You were between the sticks yourself for three of those four games. What does the Pokal mean to you?
Sippel: We only have two competitions in this country, the Bundesliga and the Pokal, so it’s natural for us to want to go as far as possible in both of them. You also need a bit of good luck – when I played for Kaiserslautern didn’t always have that, despite being drawn at home often. One time, we beat Leverkusen home and away, but then got put up against FC Bayern in the semi final. You could really see the gulf in quality between the 2. Liga and the Bundesliga that day, but we were proud just to get to that stage, even if it would have been great to get to a final.
DFB.de: Is there a game in the Pokal which you would like to play again?
Sippel: It’s difficult to say. Maybe the game we played against Bayern Munich in 2014, where we lost 5-1 and got completely battered. We really felt what it’s like when Bayern take control of a match that day, but even still, it was great to reach the semi finals as a 2.Liga club.
DFB.de: How would you describe the typical atmosphere of a game at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion?
Sippel: Even when you see the floodlights on the way to the stadium, you know it’s a special place. The teams have to take an elevator up to the dressing rooms and it increases the tension a lot – it’s not a normal way to get to the pitch. When the stadium is full with around 50,000 fans there is an atmosphere that you don’t get often elsewhere, and not many teams can deal with it. We have that kind of noise in Mönchengladbach as well.
DFB.de: Bearing in mind that anything can happen in the first round of the DFB-Pokal, what kind of game do you think will be played out this weekend, with Borussia the clear favourites and FCK the underdogs?
Sippel: Yes, that’s true, and you see it every season. Cup ties are never a foregone conclusion, and a game against 3.Liga opposition is always tricky because there is a lot of expectation for the higher-class club. It’s going to be a difficult game, and we have to be ready for it right from the start. We also have to avoid the noise of the crowd becoming a factor in the game.
DFB.de: When you think of the DFB-Pokal as a whole, what comes to mind first?
Sippel: A highlight was definitely the year when Kaiserslautern won it, in 1996. I had tears of sadness at first because of the relegation, but a week later they turned into tears of joy.
DFB.de: So you were a big fan of FCK when you were a boy?
Sippel: Yes, of course – I grew up 30km away from Kaiserslautern, and I don’t know anybody from the region who isn’t an FCK fan. I got taken to the stadium as a boy and played in their academy as well.
DFB.de: What’s your personal highlight from the Pokal?
Sippel: That would be our home game against Bayer Leverkusen in September 2009. We were a standard second-tier side, and we beat a good Bundesliga club 2-1. The atmosphere in Betzenberg that day was something truly special.
DFB.de: You’ve been at Borussia for six seasons now, as a backup to Yann Sommer. What are your feelings towards your role in the squad in Mönchengladbach?
Sippel: It’s difficult to be the backup to one of the best ‘keepers in the league. The good thing for me personally is that I’ve never been labelled as the ‘Number two’ specifically. I’ve got to know loads of great people at the club and made lots of friends – it’s like a family, and I have fun here. My family and I feel very good here too. I can imagine ending my career here, actually, as the club gives me exactly what I need. I look forward to every minute of game time I get. I give my all in training, so that I am ready for the minute I’m needed. As a backup keeper, you need to be ready to perform well without any warm-up time, so I need to work on that.
DFB.de: How is your relationship with Sommer? Do you have a rivalry, or is it friendly?
Sippel: We’re almost telepathic between each other. He takes a lot of advice on board from me which I tell him at half time. We always talk about things that have happened in games in the dressing room afterwards. We push each other hard, but he knows I’m never going to give him any abuse. I’m a team player – when the team has success, I’m always happy with them. When Yann is on form, it’s difficult to get near the team.
DFB.de: You named Gerry Ehrmann earlier on. Nowadays you train with Uwe Kamps at Borussia. How would you describe them both?
Sippel: I learned everything I know about being a good goalkeeper from Gerry. You gain the ability to have no fear; to be courageous. I met Gerry in the youth setup, and he treated the young goalkeepers the exact same way as the professionals. I have to say, that did me a world of good, as I’ve got the benefit of being much fitter now. At Gladbach, we play a very different style of football – we play much more with the ball at our feet. Being here and working with Uwe Kamps and especially Steffen Krebs has meant I’ve put the final touches on my game and improved myself as a footballer.
DFB.de: Adi Hütter took over as head coach of Borussia a few weeks ago. How have you found life under him so far?
Sippel: At the start of training, around half the squad was either at the EUROs or on holiday. At first, he did a lot of watched on from afar. He’s quite quiet. As all the players are back in training now, everything has changed a bit. He gets a lot more involved now and will start being a lot more honest soon.
DFB.de: What do you expect from next season? Will something change from last season, as the team dropped a lot of points from leading situations?
Sippel: Last season was a complicated one. It’s important to remember that the last head coach (Marco Rose) told us he was leaving the club before the end of the season. That period of time was very difficult for both the fans and us as a team, as we lost a lot of points then. We should’ve finished the season higher up the table. This season we know that there will be less of the extreme stress, so we should be able to recover well after every game. We believe we can reach the European competitions this season.