Dejan Ljubicic: "No reason to change clubs"

Dejan Ljubicic: "No reason to change clubs"

It was also a gut feeling to sign a contract with 1. FC Köln, although the traditional club’s relegation was anything but certain.

This decision brought a lot of criticism in April 2021. In retrospect should Dejan Ljubicic have been right.

More than a year later, the ex-Rapid captain has had a strong debut season and is setting himself goals for his second season despite being eliminated from the DFB Cup.

During this transfer period, it was his brother Robert who caused a shake of the head in some places by moving from Rapid to Dinamo Zagreb.

Dejan Ljubicic explains in the LAOLA1 interview, why Robert acted conclusively. In addition, the 24-year-old makes it clear that the dimensions at 1. FC Köln are much larger than expected, why Steffen Baumgart is a coach like he has never experienced before and why there is no reason for a change.

Ljubicic: Happy with the first season in Cologne

Photo: © getty

LAOLA1: From the outside, you have had a successful debut season in the German Bundesliga. Are you satisfied yourself or is there something to complain about?

Dejan Ljubicic: No, I’m already satisfied with my first season. I’m happy that I didn’t get injured and had a good season, we were also successful as a club. It was a perfect match. The most important thing will be: I have to confirm that this season.

LAOLA1: What is the biggest difference between Dejan Ljubicic in summer 2021 and Dejan Ljubicic in summer 2022?

Ljubicic: Personally, I’ve matured and become a dad a second time. Thank God I had my wife and daughter with me from the start. It makes a lot of things easier when you come home after training and the most important contacts are there. It’s a pity that I don’t see my parents and siblings that often anymore, but otherwise I enjoy the peace and quiet with my family. In terms of sport, I was confronted with a new pace. I developed a few things that the coach asked of me.

LAOLA1: You can now be used in even more positions. Is that also a sporting realization of the first year at FC?

Ljubicic: Definitive. I’ve played most games on the eight in the diamond, but I’ve also been used on the six, in the right defender position or on the ten. In my eyes, the motto has always been: I’m there for the team. If we play good football, it doesn’t matter where I play.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of that when I signed. Of course I knew it was a huge club, but you can’t realize the dimensions until you’re there.”

Dejan Ljubicic

LAOLA1: How flexible do you have to be in your head when the coach pushes you from one position to the next from one week to the next?

Ljubicic: This is also something where you learn. Admittedly, there were phases in which I found it more difficult. But now it’s a lot easier for me mentally. I now know how to play in the different positions and then it will be relatively easy for a player to get used to it.

LAOLA1: How helpful was it in the first year to have two compatriots in the club, Florian Kainz and Louis Schaub?

Ljubicic: That was very important. I knew Louis from before. I trained from time to time when Kainzi was still at Rapid before he switched to Werder Bremen. Both are great guys who made it very easy for me. Especially at the beginning I was always able to get in touch if I needed something. This is very important for a new player, because everything is not so easy, especially at the beginning. You have a lot of things on your mind. They were there for me and I’m happy that at least I’m still playing with Kainzi.

LAOLA1: You said you have to confirm yourself in the second season. Personally, what do you think is your next step in development?

Ljubicic: Despite all my satisfaction, I can’t sit back and think to myself: “Okay, I did well in the first Bundesliga season, now it’s going to continue like this by itself.” In any case, I have to continue to give the maximum. I want to be able to say after every workout that I’ve trained well and not have to ask myself on the drive home, “Why didn’t I give a few percent more?”

LAOLA1: 1. FC Köln stands for emotions. How is it living in such a cult club?

Ljubicic: It really is a huge club. The fans are really emotional, the atmosphere in the stadium is outstanding. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought of that when I signed. Of course I knew it was a huge club, but you can’t realize the dimensions until you’re there.

“I’d have to think twice about an offer from a Champions League team, but otherwise I have no reason to change clubs.”

Dejan Ljubicic

LAOLA1: In April 2021 you also cited the fact that FC is a “big traditional club” as one of the reasons for the change. Looking back, do you sometimes think that you took quite a risk? Because when you made your decision, you couldn’t know which league Cologne would be in. The rescue was only very close via relegation.

Ljubicic: Of course that’s true. Nevertheless, I made a very conscious decision at the time that I would also play in the 2nd Bundesliga if the club were relegated. For me it was just a gut feeling. I said to my advisor I want to do it. I also had other offers, but looking back it turned out that it was the right step.

LAOLA1: In hindsight it’s easier to talk, of course, but did this very conscious decision for the club help you in any way – with the fans, for example?

Ljubicic: That can be, yes. I do think that the fans appreciate such a clear decision for a club. I had the feeling that a few people in Austria were wondering: “What’s he doing there? They’ll soon be playing in the second division.”

LAOLA1: Above all, Hans Krankl criticized you and spoke of a “bad transfer”.

Ljubicic: Well, there were also these voices at Rapid. But I’m not mad at anyone. Quite simply because I decided it for my family and myself – and, as I said, rightly so.

Ljubicic has never had a coach like Baumgart

Photo: © getty

LAOLA1: When you signed, you didn’t know that a certain Steffen Baumgart would come into your life. What was the craziest experience with your coach?

Ljubicic: There’s a lot of stuff we laughed about with him, but it’s better to keep it between us (laughs). He is a very emotional trainer and – one cannot stress this often enough – just great as a person. He approaches the players and talks to them. Even if you have problems, you can always come to him. I have to be honest, I’ve never had a coach like that before. Because the way he coaches us and pushes us in training is unique.

LAOLA1: You recently said that you still have big plans for 1. FC Köln. Where do you want to go with the club?

Ljubicic: The club is huge, so it still has a lot of potential. If you look at the number of members (118,000, editor’s note), FC is already in fourth place behind Bayern, Schalke and Dortmund. You can achieve a lot with this club. Of course everything has to work the way it did last season, but my goal is to have another good season. In the Europa Conference League we want to do well in the playoffs and in the group stage.

LAOLA1: What would have to happen for you to finish the mission in Cologne at some point in the future?

Ljubicic: It was always my dream to play in the Champions League. I really want to achieve that. I’d have to think twice about an offer from a Champions League team (smiles). But otherwise I have no reason to change clubs. My family and I feel really comfortable here. The people are great, the coaching team is wonderful.

Robert Ljubicic went to Dinamo Zagreb from Rapid

Photo: © GEPA

LAOLA1: Speaking of the Champions League. How much are you shaking with your brother Robert and Dinamo Zagreb in qualifying?

Ljubicic: Of course I watch the games and sometimes you have to tremble (laughs).

LAOLA1: How much gut feeling was there about Robert’s move from Rapid to Dinamo? That was also a transfer that not everyone understood.

Ljubicic: Perhaps that’s because not many have delved into the details of the club. If you name players who played there, you could name almost the entire Croatian national team. Whether Modric, Mandzukic, Olic, Brozovic or Kovacic – all world-class players and all started there. My brother told me that the club is well managed and everything is very professional. They become champions in the Croatian league almost every year and play regularly in Europe. So I think it was a really good decision.

LAOLA1: Is criticism often expressed too quickly during transfers?

Ljubicic: People have the right to discuss and say things, even if it might turn out to be wrong in the end. But when I look at Robby’s situation: he had a really good season at Rapid and has really improved compared to St. Pölten. It was just his desire to join Dinamo because it’s a huge club and he has a chance to showcase himself and then take the next step into a top team.

Ljubicic finds Rangnick “really good”

Photo: © GEPA

LAOLA1: After you left Rapid, it happened pretty quickly when you were called up for the national team for the first time. So do you have to be a legionnaire or play football at Salzburg to belong?

Ljubicic: Apparently so (grins). In any case, the fact that I wanted to play for my country was one of the reasons why I wanted to go abroad – and then I was there for the first time in October. So I was already aware: If I change, I have a good chance of getting in.

LAOLA1: How do you rate your current standing in the ÖFB team? The competition is enormous, but on the other hand the variability from the club could help, right?

Ljubicic: The most important thing is that I play good games in Cologne. Of course I have really strong players in my position who do it really well. Being able to play in different positions is definitely one of my strengths. With this I make it easier for the coach to bring me.

LAOLA1: What was the feedback from Ralf Rangnick on the first course?

Ljubicic: We didn’t talk that much. For him it was just the beginning, he had to see everything first. I really like him. He found a system that suits us perfectly. All of Austria will have a lot of fun with him.

Source: Laola1

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