CARSON, Calif. – The UEFA Champions League Final is the soccer showpiece that will have the eyes of the world tuned to the famed Wembley Stadium this Saturday. (11:45 a.m. PT, FOX Soccer)
The match that will pit German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund against one another is sure to draw mammoth television ratings as the soccer world turns to London for the biggest club soccer spectacle in the world.
The chance to win the Champions League is an honor that few players will ever attain, but one member of the LA Galaxy, Technical Director Jovan Kirovski, is among the lucky few— in fact, he is the only American to do so in the 58-year history of the tournament. Then just 20-years-old, the longtime U.S. international and former Galaxy forward lifted the European Cup during the 1996-1997 edition of the tournament when Die Schwarz Gelben (The Black-and-Yellows) bested Italian giants Juventus for the title.
Kirovski may not have been in the game day squad as he watched the game from the team luxury box at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, but it didn’t make the accomplishment any less meaningful.
“For me I was young. It happened so quick. I was in such a great team with experienced players. Looking back now, it was an amazing experience,” said Kirovski, who made two appearances while making four game day rosters during the campaign. “To be part of that experience was amazing, with the big players, the big crowd. I didn't realize until now how big a deal that is.”
Following their Champions League triumph in 1997, Dortmund teetered on the brink of bankruptcy with Kirovski even admitting that it was his classy squad that may have caused the financial troubles.
“I remember like today. We had a great team. We had world class players,” said Kirovski. “If you look at the players, we had Matthias Sammer [current Bayern Munich Sporting Director], [Stefan] Reuter, [Karl-Heinz] Riedle, Paulo Sousa, Julio Cesar. That's why they were in a financial crisis, because of that team. And that's the truth. They spent all that money.”
Kirovski departed Dortmund in 2000, but would go onto enjoy an 11-year European career that saw him make stops at Fortuna Koln, Sporting Clube de Portugal, Crystal Palace, and Birmingham City before he returned to MLS.
But despite playing for a number of different types of managers including the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Bruce Arena, he admits that his manager at Dortmund, Ottmar Hitzfeld, played a significant role in his development.
“He's totally different from, let's say, a Ferguson or even Bruce. All these guys, these great managers, they have their own ways. He was very calm,” said Kirovski. “He wasn't a guy that came in and shouted or screamed to put fear in anybody. It was very calm, very tactical.
“Totally different than let's say a Ferguson who would go nuts once in a while. So different styles, different philosophies, but they were great in their own way,” Kirovski added. “So you take little bits and pieces from everybody and you try to learn. That's what I've done over the past.”
For all their problems in the early part of the last decade, Dortmund righted the ship over the past five years under the helm of Sporting Director Michael Zorc—a teammate of Kirovski on the Champions League winning side—and manager Jurgen Klopp, who is considered one of the world’s bright young coaching minds.
Zorc and Klopp have led their renaissance by developing young players through the club’s Academy ranks while simultaneously investing in young players. When one reads Dortmund’s talented youngsters, it is like reading a laundry list of some of the fine young talent in the footballing world today: Kevin Grosskreutz, Ilkay Gündogan, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus just to name a few.
Now with the Galaxy, Kirovski has some of the United States’ best young talent at his disposal throughout the club’s ranks. And as he looks to help the Galaxy continue to develop, Kirovski views Dortmund as the perfect model to replicate.
“I'm planning on going to visit and just see how they do things there,” said Kirovski. “The way they do things, pushing young players, developing young players. They've done a really good job with that.”
This year, Kirovski expects to watch the final from his home near San Diego as his old club look to best Bayern with his winner’s medal safely tucked away in a security box at home. And no, he never takes it out and wears it.
The lone American to ever win the Champions League never considered for a second joining the legions of Dortmund fans who will descend on London for the match as he is far too busy with his role as the Galaxy’s Technical Director.
Some will say that if Dortmund wins Kirovski will no longer be known as the lone American to lift “Ol’ Big Ears” as Dortmund center back Neven Subotic grew up in Florida and represented the United States at the youth level before famously snubbing the U.S. National Team for his native Serbia. However, Kirovski—the son of Macedonian parents—is quick to disagree and notes that Subotic was born in the then-Yugoslavia, not in the United States as he was.
(“Doesn’t count,” he said.)
As for Kirovski’s prediction for the match? It’s no surprise that he’s backing his former team for a repeat of their glory of 1997.
“I'll say Dortmund, 1-0,” Kirovski said. “I think they can win. They're tactically very good; they have some very good players. I believe they're good enough to win, for sure.
Kirovski added: “You've got basically the working class club in Dortmund against the big spenders in Bayern. It's a great story— And I hope Dortmund wins.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com