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Paul Lambert: 'Before I leave this earth, I want to join the Südtribune in Dortmund'

Part of Dortmund's Champions League-winning team of 1997, the Scot has an affinity with the club. Back in Germany to observe training, he speaks about the Bundesliga, his battle with Zinedine Zidane and his career.

When Paul Lambert arrived at Borussia Dortmund on trial in 1996, he reignited a love affair with Germany and its football culture.

A tireless midfielder, Lambert's appetite for German football correlated with the expansion of cable television in the UK and the German national team's success at the 1996 European Championships.

Just months after impressing for Scottish Premiership side Motherwell in a UEFA Cup First Round tie against Borussia Dortmund, the Scot found himself in a dressing room, which included the likes of Euro 96' winners Matthias Sammer, Steffen Freund and Andreas Möller. Helped by his Dutch agent, Lambert took the plunge when his contract expired at Fir Park to fulfill a professional ambition to play on the continent.

"There was no other job, really," he told DW.com. "I always wanted to try to play abroad and the agent arranged something with Dortmund. I had nothing to lose at the time and never knew how things were going to pan out.”

A German education

Lambert's year in Germany was fleeting, but laid the foundations for his coaching career. He was meticulous in his preparation for coaching exams - "I didn't know they existed," he said - and he undertook his UEFA badges through the German FA's Hennes-Weisweiler Akademie. "I took so much out of the time I spent there. The German system gave me more knowledge about things I'd never considered like sports science, psychology and whatnot.”

Since retiring in 2006 with more than 200 appearances at Celtic and 40 international caps, Lambert's coaching career has been a series of peaks-and-troughs. He led Norwich City to two successive promotions before his move to Aston Villa in 2012, the stint that many associate with his career in the dugout.

A club on the decline as a result of misspending in previous seasons, Lambert's hands appeared tied with his youthful Villa squad keeping their head above water before he parted company in 2015. The return to management at Ewood Park came hot off the heels of a visit to Germany to study Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen. Asked if he would consider coaching in Germany, his answer was unambiguous, "That'd be a no-brainer."

Paul Lambert bei Borussia Dortmund

Lambert faced Zidane, but wasn't intimidated

As a player, Lambert never quite espoused the qualities of a modern coach. There was nothing outstanding tactically or technically; perhaps he was a professional who made the most of his fitness and workrate. But his encounter with legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, the man who head-hunted him in 1996 to complement Paulo Sousa's more gracious style, was something he went back to during his studies as a coach.

"There wasn't one thing I can think of that he was special at," said Lambert. "But he was great to work with. He was great with the players and great on the pitch. Everybody knew their job. You can't argue with what he did in his career. I've spoken to him a few times since he retired and I went to watch him when he was the Swiss manager.”

One night in Munich

What came to define his Borussia Dortmund stint as a player, the 90 minutes to distinguish himself from other Scottish players of his generation, was helping the yellow-and-blacks to their first-ever European Cup in 1997.

"Nothing was really said to be honest before the game," he recalls. "Most of the guys had experienced big games before and I wasn't too nervous. I just remember the fact that Munich was full of Dortmund fans.”

Lambert's task on the night was to man-mark Juventus' chief playmaker, Zinedine Zidane. "It wasn't really an instruction. I kinda knew my role in the team," Lambert explained. "We played against a lot of superb No.10s at that time: Gheorghe Hagi, Paulo Sergio, Olaf Thon and so many others. So this was nothing different.”

Lambert, talking as he took a break from watching one of Bayern's recent league encounters, passed his test with flying colors on the night. Zidane was ruffled, his threat nullified and Dortmund famously went on to seal a 3-1 win over the Italians.

Two decades on, Lambert's affinity with Dortmund is still unbroken. The Scot regularly returns to Signal Iduna Park and has watched with studious eyes the improvement under Thomas Tuchel this season. "He's a great coach. I've seen him a few times. Let's see if they can compete with Bayern because they are fantastic under Pep (Guardiola) right now.”

But Lambert still has one last ambition - to be a part of Dortmund's 25,000-strong standing block in the South Stand. "The club couldn't have done anymore for me. It was an amazing experience. I've never been to the game as a supporter though. That'd be a great thing and something I've got to do before I'm not fit enough to keep up with the boys in the Südtribune."