Bremen – After 309 matches at club level and 73 appearances for Austria, Sebastian Prödl (34) has recently retired. In an interview with DeichStube, former center-back SV Werder Bremen recalls his career, talks about a special meeting at Hamburg Airport, winning the 2009 DFB Cup and the head shot goal that was a “rebirth” for him.
Sebastian Prödl, in Germany it would be said that you hang your shoes. What does the Austrian say?
We also have that saying. But I don’t use it because I never wanted to be a cliche.
Anyway, will you tell us where your nail was hammered?
That’s a good question because as a family we’ve thought about it a lot. London was a problem because it was an emotional place for us, both sports and private. Eventually we came back to Austria and chose Vienna over Graz, where my wife and I come from. Because there is internationality in Vienna, which we appreciated very much in London.
You also have a new job – as a member of the supervisory board of Austria Wien.
I wanted to do an apprenticeship after my career, so I’m also doing my management degree at Uefa – just like Clemens Fritz. At the same time, there was an opportunity to participate in Austria Wien, i.e. to purchase shares in a joint-stock company. I did it with the team. This includes David Alaba. There I was then elected to the supervisory board – and now I am experiencing in practice how a football club works financially. It’s an exciting mix.
Can you look at the top of the table when considering RB Salzburg’s superiority?
It is well known that RB is undefeated in Austria, but you can also be successful in football if you qualify internationally, if you train good players and sell them on. Thanks to this, everything is going in the right direction step by step. And if the RB isn’t working as you expect it to, you can also be competitive. But we are still far from it. It’s still the music of the future.
Former Werder Bremen pro Sebastian Prödl at the end of his career: “Football is over last year”
Do you like the new job?
Yes, because I have a different perspective. For example, it is exciting for me to look at the different budgets and understand how the whole mechanism works. Over the next two years, I would like to be promoted to a management position in which I feel strong. It’s about finding out what it is.
Before the international game against France, you were officially dismissed as the Austrian international. How was it?
Very nice! The stadium was sold out and of course everyone only came for me (laughs).
Were you able to enjoy the moment or were you longing for it when you realized it was really over?
For me, the game of soccer ended last year when my contract with Udinese ended. But after two and a half bad years with numerous injuries and negative fanfare, it was difficult for me to just end my career. I wanted to calm down first, before I publicly announce the end of my career. I want to look back on a positive note and it just wasn’t good last summer. I also had a secret hope that I would have another adventure with moving to Australia or America. But because of Corona and my injuries, I quickly put it aside.
You mentioned two and a half difficult years towards the end of your career. Why did it suddenly stop fitting?
I still had signs of wear to my knee when I was in London, along with swollen bones – in short: I was just injured. But I still had this great desire to prove myself again at the European Championships at the highest level. That’s why I moved to Italy with an injury to partner club Watford, Udinese. But then it just took too long to get back in shape. It was expected to be able to play after three weeks. After all, it took me six months. After that, I couldn’t actually go back. On top of that, there were contractual disputes and no payment, so we had to talk to Fifa. It soon turned out that the club was wrong and the tablecloth was simply cut. If I had experienced something like this as a young player at Werder, I might have spoiled it, but towards the end of my career I was able to put it into perspective.
Sebastian Prödl in an interview with DeichStube: “Wonderful years” on Werder Bremen, but Norderney “madness” under Thomas Schaaf
Are you still on vacation in Italy?
(laughs) Sure! I was there recently. I love this country and since I haven’t played it, I was able to really enjoy and get to know it.
We’ve been talking a lot about the bad times now. Where did you have your best time as a professional?
Oh, that’s a tough question. I can’t say exactly that. I have spent a wonderful seven years in Werder. But then I played my best football in England. I managed to prove what I am capable of in the greatest league in the world. But my wife and I are lovingly looking back on time in Bremen. It was certainly the most harmonious time of my career. It was difficult for me to leave Bremen. There have already been a few tears. The city, club, fans – it’s something special. I have never experienced it again.
Do you still remember your first day at Werder?
Naturally. At that time, Martin Harnik picked me up from the Hamburg airport together with the photographer “Bild”. Then he took pictures of us and the three of us went to Bremen. Soon after, I went to a training camp in Norderney for the first time. I thought: Great, I can see an island in the North Sea! But I’ve never slept as much in the day as I did in Norderney. The days that started with Thomas Schaaf’s early training on the beach were amazing. At eight in the evening I just went to bed. I will never forget it.
You played a lot in your first season despite the tough competition.
Werder has come with a heavy load of successful years. I managed to establish myself as the third center-back behind Naldo and Per Mertesacker in the pre-season. Then Per got injured and I was thrown right inside.
Werder Bremen: Sebastian Prödl remembers the emotional head goal after a serious facial injury
How did you perceive Thomas Schaaf as a coach?
Like a father trying to raise a boy. Of course I gritted my teeth at his cool North German demeanor. But after the many coaches I have had, I must make it clear: Thomas Schaaf has been a very important factor in my career as he has always been brutally honest and showing clear paths. It can hurt at times, but it was extremely valuable to me.
Who else was important to you in Bremen?
My competitors I got along well with the elders. Although Frank Baumann was only there for a year, he was a character I could identify with. I also got on very well with Clemens Fritz and Per Mertesacker. I was able to learn and develop with such players.
When are you planning your next visit to Bremen?
I was recently at a wedding in Bremen in August 2021. Unfortunately, Werder played an away match in the cup. Another visit will definitely be in the new season.
You played 175 competitive matches for Werder. What’s your favorite moment on the pitch worth looking back at?
The cup victory in 2009 was the only title in my career. Of course it does. What a team it was! Özil, Diego, Fritz, Baumann, Frings, Mertesacker, Pizarro, Almeida – amazing! Another big moment was when Hannover scored after breaking his entire face on the pitch six weeks earlier. The impact seemed to be a rebirth. After my injury, Thomas Schaaf told me that I would have all the time in the world to fit in again. But then a few of the center-backs were gone within four weeks. I wasn’t ready either, I was still scared and didn’t play with my head. The coach held a practice match so that I could play my head again. Soon after, I was playing against Hannover. Thomas Schaaf told me before: And if you don’t play with the head, that’s the way it is. Then I scored a goal with my head (laughs).
Sebastian Prödl often thinks about Werder Bremen – also about coming back? “Give me some time”
How bitter was your losing 2009 UEFA Cup final?
It was really bitter. Already on that day Donetsk was a better team. But it still bothers me immensely that we saved ourselves injury time but were unable to deliver a lucky blow.
Do you still think about the times of Werder a lot?
(laughs) My wife is sitting next to me now and nods vigorously. We stayed right on the Osterdeich overlooking the Weser stadium. This love for the club in the city, lots of fans going to the stadium, all cheering for Werder – it’s just something special! I definitely still feel green and white in my heart and will continue to do so.
Is it possible to return to Werder?
give me some time. First I have to earn my stripes in Austria and finish my education.
How do you view Werder today?
The descent was a blow. I saw fewer matches than usual in the 2nd Division as it was harder for me to find time to watch the kick off times. After the change of trainer, I let my daughter sleep with the Werder pacifier. Since then, it has only been going uphill.
Werder Bremen: Sebastian Prödl is optimistic about the Bundesliga – praise for Marco Friedl and Ole Werner
How do you rate Werder’s chances in the Bundesliga?
In the first year, I don’t worry about Werder at all as I think the squad is already well positioned. If two or three new transfers reach width, I have a very good feeling.
Do you think your compatriot Marco Friedl could grow up to be a top player?
He made a real leap. In his early years in Bremen, I still criticized him because he was prone to making mistakes. Now it has developed very well. But I think the center-back will be the boss in the back three. Marco can become a real constant for Werder over the next few years.
What was the impression of coach Ole Werner from afar?
Good. He is successful, gifted, and has a great leadership style. But now he is in for his first season in the Bundesliga. He hadn’t had any wind in his face in Werder so far.
Do you think Werder might strike again at the summit in the future?
At that time, before Jürgen Klopp became head coach, Dortmund almost relegated from the league and made a big jump. The dynamics that may develop in Bremen is enormous, although the financial possibilities are of course limited. It will not go very high in the foreseeable future.