Marco Reus happy as the constant and the mentor at Borussia Dortmund
CHICAGO -- Borussia Dortmund is a vastly different place from the club Marco Reus left as a 17-year-old. It's a very different place from the club he rejoined as a 23-year-old, too.
Reus left the academy in 2006 after 10 years in its classrooms and on its training fields. The senior side was 29 points adrift of champions Bayern Munich that season, stuck in seventh place, and fell at the first hurdle in the DFB-Pokal. He spent three years at Rot Weiss Ahlen, propelling the club from the third division to the second, where he caught the eye of Borussia Monchengladbach. And it was there that Reus made a name for himself as one of Germany's brightest young attackers.
When he returned to his hometown club in 2012, Dortmund were back-to-back Bundesliga champions. Much has changed since then, however. Many of the architects of those title-winning sides had left or would soon leave the club, like Jurgen Klopp, Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan.
Household names who made their names at the Westfalenstadion since, like Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Tuchel, have also followed suit in heading elsewhere. But Reus has remained as his star continued to grow, watching big names come and go.
"It's never a good sign when many players leave the club or when you have many coaching changes," he told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview, "because it brings a lot of distraction to the team and the club."
There were opportunities for him to become one of those distractions. The 29-year-old has been linked to Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal in the past year alone, but in March, he signed a new contract with Dortmund, keeping him in his hometown through the 2022-23 season.
"When you are 28, 29 years old ... you are aware that this is going to be your last big contract of your career," said Reus. "You have to make up your mind: What is it that I want? Do I want to find something new, a new culture, a new league, a new language, new teammates, a new city? And what is it that I need to be happy? What is it that I need to perform?
"After all these evaluations, the choice was always Dortmund ... I see and I believe in the potential the club has and I believe in the potential to have an evolution as a club and to follow a new path."
Amid that exodus of stars, Reus was the constant at the club, and other players have found the pull of Dortmund to be irresistible; Sahin, Kagawa and Gotze have all returned as well.
There is one name that is new to Dortmund, but very familiar to the 29-year-old: Lucien Favre. Favre was named BVB manager in May and it was under his stewardship that Reus exploded on the European scene in 2011, scoring 23 goals in 50 appearances under the Swiss manager.
"I know Marco very well," Favre told members of the media at a news conference at Soldier Field on Thursday. "I coached him in Gladbach, but that's already six years ago. He developed a lot since then and is now a very, very, very, very good player."
Of course, it hasn't been entirely positive for Reus since his return to his boyhood club. Across six seasons with Borussia Dortmund's first team, he's missed 102 matches. His injury history reads like the New England Journal of Medicine: ruptured ankle ligament, fractured ankle, torn ankle ligament, osteitis pubis, ruptured cruciate ligament ... and those are just the headlines; there are dozens of lesser muscular issues that have disrupted his career. But not only has Reus bounced back from every one. Each time he's returned to the level expected of one of Europe's most impactful players.
"I think if you're not strong, in life or in football, not every day is going to be going up and seeing the sunshine," he said. "I was injured many times but life is like this, and I have to accept this.
"[When] I was injured, I was thinking, 'OK, I'm injured, but all the people out there, they are not injured, they are sick, they have real health problems.' Of course you have bad days when you are injured, but in the end it's just a torn ligament."
As Reus joins his Dortmund teammates for their preseason tour of the U.S. -- Dortmund face Liverpool in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN, Deportes) and Benfica in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPNews, Deportes) -- his positivity is apparent. Reus is fit, in good spirits and motivated to learn the hard lessons from Germany's devastating group-stage exit at the World Cup, which came four years after one of those ruptured ligaments kept him out of their world championship run in Brazil.
It's here in preseason that the next wave of rising stars to emerge from Dortmund takes centre stage. U.S. international Christian Pulisic has been the headliner of the Bundesliga club's tour of America and he delivered on the hype on Friday night, winning the penalty that yielded the lone goal in Friday night's 1-0 International Champions Cup victory over Manchester City.
"Christian is a good guy, he has so much quality," Reus said. "I hope he plays [for Dortmund] for many, many more years, but we will see over the next few years."
Like Reus, and like so many promising young Dortmund players before him, Pulisic has been linked with some of football's biggest clubs, Liverpool and Manchester United among them.
Reus getting his wish to play alongside the 19-year-old for years to come would be a change in fortune for a club so used to having their best talents poached by wealthier rivals. And when you consider how much Dortmund have changed in the 22 years since Reus joined their academy, perhaps a shift in that direction doesn't seem so far-fetched.