“Unión Berlin is exactly the opposite of Real Madrid”

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Michael Parensen does not forget the day in February 2009, when, dressed in the Union Berlin uniform, he jumped onto the frozen field of the Alte Försterei stadium for the first time. It was the second half of the Third Division season and the 20,000-strong crowd hailed him with the invincible epithet with which they baptized—and baptize—each of their own: “football good!” God of football. Automatically. He, a humble lower league center back. By acclamation. Divinity.

“Here the fans don’t care that the players are professionals who earn a lot of money,” says Parensen who today, at 37 years old, heads as sports director the Unión Berlin delegation that travels to Madrid to play the first day of the Champions League. at the Bernabéu. “Union fans are asking themselves, ‘Have we done enough to support the team?’ The interesting thing is that they give you all their appreciation from the moment you step on their field. Without having done anything you are already a football good. And it’s not a joke. It’s true. You have to make a lot of mistakes to ruin that consideration. That gives you a sense of responsibility. He forces you”.

“This is a rebellious club,” explains the leader. “It is not a myth. It is real. We are open to people who think differently, to working class people. The football aristocrats are on the opposite side. This is true. Of course in modern football you have to invest, be financially strong and pay good salaries to the squad to participate in these competitions. But we are a club of the people. That is why our people celebrate even in defeats. Appreciate the effort. Real Madrid has to be successful and that is not enough for its fans either. He has to play well. Must be The White Ballet. Must be Galactic. It will never be enough. Union Berlin is exactly the opposite. “Just try to behave like a good guy and give your all on the field and you will be a hero.”

Parensen seeks to decode one of the enigmas of contemporary European football. The unusual path that between 2006 and 2023 has elevated a modest club from the Berlin neighborhood of Köpenick from the Fourth Division to debut in the Champions League. “This is neither the work of genius nor an accident sustained over time,” he says. “This is the result of the work of people who have dedicated their time for 20 years. The employees did not come here for the salary, nor because they want to make a living from football, but because they have an emotional connection. There’s the secret. That the people who make this club are faithful to its principles of hard work, unity and solidarity. That’s how it is now in the Champions League and that’s how it was when I played. Here we play football for the people who come to see us. It’s expensive that we have technicians who analyze the big data. But that does not distract us from our goal. We don’t do experiments. We are not interested in breaking new ground in the game, nor in knowing what is possible and what is not. We cling to the roots. We want to remain the same as we were when we were not successful. When it comes to building the team, character is more important than talent for us. When we look for players who fit, we always look at the personal aspect first. You see it in the field.”

On the field they defend with eleven and attack repeatedly with long balls that they divide before going into the fight as a platoon. There, in the capture of the rebound, the collision and the offensive transition, is where the figure of tough and intuitive men like the nine Kevin Behrens, guys disciplined by the training of Urs Fischer, the coach who has modulated the team since 2018. “Everyone knows what to do in each situation,” says Parensen. “Fischer has been working on the same concepts since I was playing. The structure demands that you need players with a certain character. It’s not simple. Sometimes footballers feel like artists who need to create something special. Fischer understands this but says: ‘First you have to stick to the principles, because if you do what you want and everyone has their own plan we will not succeed.’

Isco y Bonucci

Four years after playing its first game in the Bundesliga, the team is showing signs of instability in its most reliable line. He has conceded seven goals in the four games he has played this season. After being the least beaten team in the last German league, the data is disturbing. “We have not had enough time to train with the new signings, we have suffered serious injuries and we have also lacked luck,” observes the sports director. “Fischer is not happy. For that we have signed Leandro Bonucci. He will help us regain defensive order because of his experience, his ability with both feet, and his competence as a marker. He has been training very well for three weeks, and is the only player in the squad who has played at the Bernabéu. Maybe that will influence the coach’s decision to put him on this Wednesday.”

Adjusting machinery becomes more difficult as the equipment takes on greater challenges. In defense and in attack. As solid and combative as it was predictable, Unión Berlin’s game needed a twist when a year ago the coaches considered that Isco Alarcón could add that grain of ingenuity. They tried to sign him, without success. “We had a team of workers and we thought that if we put someone special in we would surprise our rivals,” Parensen confesses.

Isco backed off. The Berlin Union moved on. This Wednesday the workers visit the Bernabéu.

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