Yussuf Poulsen returned to the squad for RB Leipzig’s 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the weekend and could make his first appearance of the season when they take on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
It is just the latest reminder of the club’s transformation since Poulsen’s arrival.
The 28-year-old Dane has had to adapt to constant change since moving to eastern Germany as a teenager. At that time, Leipzig was in the third division. Poulsen has not only seen the club grow since 2013 but also played an active role in its development.
“Where we are sitting right now, this didn’t exist at the time I arrived, it was just in the plan,” he explained as we spoke at the club’s impressive training ground located right next to it. across the river from the vast Red Bull Arena. . A third tier club, nothing more.
“What you see here is the academy, there’s nothing here but the earth. If you see the first pitch with the small stadium, that’s not here either. We have some containers that we’ve been working on. built for changing rooms, gymnasiums and saunas.
“The club’s infrastructure has come a long way. Now we have a stadium with 48,000 people. Sold out. My first game at home, there were 9,500 people.” He laughs. “So a lot has changed in the nine years that I’ve been here.”
RB Leipzig is regularly denounced by supporters of other teams in Germany as a club with no history. That criticism only made Poulsen’s continued presence all the more significant. As the record holder for appearance, he To be that living history.
Back in Denmark, they were confused when he signed for the obvious reason that there were better opportunities available to Poulsen. But Ralf Rangnick sold him under big plans in Leipzig and as he grew as a player so the club grew with him.
“I wouldn’t be here if that development hadn’t been exaggerated over the years because of course you always want to reach your highest level. Leipzig has done that for me throughout my career. Always challenge and always give your best.”
Joshua Kimmich, now the leader of Bayern Munich, was a first friend.
“He helped me a lot in the beginning but we helped each other a lot. We were kids then. He was 18, I was 19. We had a great time. for two years It’s been really fun We’ve grown up together now We have five kids, he has three and I have two.
“We have developed a lot as a person since that time. Of course, we were third-tier players at the time we arrived here. Now he is at Bayern Munich winning the league. years. A lot has happened since we were flat, but we are still close.”
Kimmich agreed to move to Bayern while still a teenager. Marcel Sabitzer made the same switch last year. Poulsen has seen Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, Naby Keita and many others pass. Timo Werner comes, goes and back.
“There were a lot of players coming and going.”
Some have been more successful. Others have fallen, not making the most of their talents. Poulsen endured. He has the humility to appreciate that his own success is not inevitable – and after 81 goals and 330 appearances for RB Leipzig, success is.
“If I knew the secret, I would tell anyone I wanted to help,” he said.
“I don’t think there is one way to achieve success. There are always different ways for different people. The other players I played with before Leipzig who didn’t go to Leipzig were probably talented players. capable and better than me. .
“There’s no secret. Just working hard every day to maintain. More or less my whole career, I’ve had to take it to the next level. I’m not the greatest talent when everyone who told me that I would become a star and become a professional soccer player.
“That’s why the fit is so good for me because I’m always striving for the next level. That’s always happened during my youth. There are always two or three players who are better than me. That’s why I think the mentality of the club suits me perfectly.”
Poulsen’s understanding of the random nature of chance in football most likely began long before he moved to Leipzig. He once went with his friend Christian Norgaard to a trial and signed a contract with Lyngby.
Since then, the pair have invested in Tonsser, an app designed to provide opportunities for unknown players from outside the academy system. The venture resonated with the thoughtful Poulsen. “I have always been inspired by helping people,” he explains.
“I think what they’re doing is very, very exciting trying to give people a second chance to achieve their goals in football. That’s why I think it’s a great initiative. great As a footballer, I have some knowledge, I have some experience in the matter.
“I’m also a young player who’s not the best, not the number one and not the guy everyone says is going to be the next national team player to go to the World Cup and stuff. saw a little bit of myself in the project.”
Poulsen’s mentions of not being the best on the team run the risk of being misunderstood. He was a key player for Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhuttl, for Julian Nagelsmann and Domenico Tedesco. Last week, Marco Rose, the team’s new coach, probably noticed the same thing.
Rose’s quest to turn around early-season form has seen Tedesco lose his job in Poulsen’s absence. The long-term goal remains to close the gap with Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga table – perhaps even an end to their decade-long dominance.
“We’ve been a contender for a few years now or at least close to it. Bayern is still Bayern and the best team in Germany. That’s how it goes. We’ve come close for a couple of years. but they are still a bit more consistent than us.
“We showed it before a game that we can be at the exact same level but over 34 games, that’s our next step. It’s our biggest growth point. To can consistently perform at that level over 50 games, I think we’re getting better at it.
“I think we’re taking steps in the right direction and in the right direction.”
Poulsen has been sidelined since the start of the season due to injury but is now back on the training ground. He was so determined to get back in shape during the World Cup year that he had to have his wisdom tooth removed in the hopes that this would make a difference.
“I can’t say for sure that’s the reason, but some studies say that wisdom teeth can have some impact on muscle injuries. I spoke to my doctor and asked what the downside of doing that was and they say it’s nothing, so why not do it. It’s for sure?”
Nine years after this adventure, a journey that begins between the earth and the containers has yet to end. It is set to continue at the Bernabeu. “I’m still only 28. I’m at the peak of my career.” He’s the Leipzig legend making history at a club they say doesn’t have any.