Bayern fan Julian Gressel played for D.C. United in the USA

Julian Gressel interview: 'When Davies ran past I thought: Yikes, okay!'

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Julian Gressel is a born Franconian from Neustadt an der Aisch and a devout Bayern fan. Nine years ago he left his homeland to follow his dream of becoming a professional footballer in the USA. He played for D.C. United, FC Bayern’s friendly opponents on the Audi Summer Tour, for two and a half years before being traded to Vancouver Whitecaps just a few days ago. In an interview, the 28-year-old discusses the American MLS and his connection to the German record champions.

Interview with Julian Gressel

Julian, because of your move to Vancouver Whitecaps a few days ago you’re missing the encounter with your beloved club on Wednesday - is that a bit of a shame?
“I was certainly looking forward to this game, but that’s the way it is sometimes in sport. I’ll watch the game in any case.”

As old family photos prove: Julian Gressel has had a soft spot for Bayern since he was little.

You’re an FC Bayern member - how long have you been a fan?
“Since I could answer the question of who my favourite football club is. It came from my granddad, my dad is a Mönchengladbach fan. Since the age of 12, I’ve also been a member - I just got my new membership card again. I never had a season ticket, but we used to regularly get tickets for Champions League matches through friends, so I kept being drawn back to the Allianz Arena.”

Do you still follow the matches nowadays? You have to get up early in the USA to watch the Bundesliga on a Saturday.
“Kick-off on the East Cost is at 9:30, now it’s even earlier in Vancouver. But sure, I’m awake and I don’t have much to do on Saturday mornings apart from looking after my young daughter (laughs). She’s also watched the odd game with me. She’s only 20 months old and doesn’t understand much about football yet, but she has to watch the Bayern games with me.”

My daughter’s only 20 months old and doesn’t understand much about football yet, but she has to watch the Bayern games with me.

Julian Gressel

It is said that you incurred your mother’s displeasure when Patrik Andersson scored the goal to win the title in Hamburg in 2001?
(laughs) “We’d invited a few friends over and watched the final matchday of the Bundesliga at ours. We were in the living room and had a big bowl of sweets on the table. When Andersson scored the goal, I knocked over the bowl out of joy and the contents went all over the living room. When my mum returned home later, I asked her very excitedly: ‘Did you see Andersson’s goal?’ But she only looked at the living room and made me tidy it up first. Only afterwards did she rejoice with me.”

Many Bayern supporters will recall that match fondly. What other highlights stand out for you as a fan?
“2012/13 was obviously a highlight season, when Bayern won the Champions League against Dortmund at Wembley. That was one of the few matches that I didn’t attend that season. I went to every home match, we even flew to Barcelona for the semi-final, which was a great experience for me. I was also at the 2010 final in Madrid, when we unfortunately lost to Inter Milan. Overall I have a lot of nice memories from away trips in the Champions League. Those are the ones that stand out, but the experience that was probably the best and the worst at the same time was the ‘Finale dahoam’. My two brothers and I luckily got tickets for it. Obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted, but there were nice moments that I shared with my brothers and that we still like talking about today.”

Successful in the USA: Gressel became an MLS champion in 2018 with Atlanta United, and won the U.S. Open Cup a year later.

You yourself played up to regional league level in Germany and then made the step up to the American professional league via college football. How did that happen?
“I played in the Bamberg regional league, where he played against the Bayern reserves among others. Then I applied to an agency who place players in the USA. I thought: if I don’t get any offers, there’s no harm done and I’ll stay here in Germany. But then I received two very good offers from colleges and opted for Providence College. I studied at the same time, progressed well as a footballer and made a name for myself. I was drafted by Atlanta and took my opportunity there. With a bit of luck and maybe in a roundabout way I fulfilled my dream and have been playing professionally here for five years.”

Can you imagine a draft system in Europe?
“I don’t think so, because this college system doesn’t exist in Europe. If you play at college, you don’t belong to a club. The players in Europe come more from academies, so the clubs have already done a lot of work to develop the talents before the first professional contract.”

Julian Gressel and Bastian Schweinsteiger tussle in MLS
Coming up against his idol: Gressel played against Bayern legend Bastian Schweinsteiger in MLS.

Playing in MLS also allowed you to come up against a player whose number you previously wore on your shirt. What was it like facing Bastian Schweinsteiger?
“I was still at Atlanta United then. I wished him good luck in German before the game, which took him back a bit. He didn’t know I’m German. We chatted for longer after the game. After that he knew me and every time we played against Chicago, he came up to me before the game and had a bit of banter – that’s just the way he is. It was a nice experience for me to meet my idol, play against him and also win a few times (laughs).”

I wished Bastian Schweinsteiger good luck in German before the game, which took him back a bit. He didn’t know I’m German.

Julian Gressel

How did Schweinsteiger become your idol?
“During the 2006 World Cup, he was the one who stood out for me. Since then he’s been my favourite player. Schweini was someone who could do a bit of everything as a right winger and a central midfielder. That’s also how I modelled myself. As well as that he was a central figure for Bayern, my favourite club, so it was an easy choice for me.”

The USA is a huge country. Give us an idea of everyday life in MLS.
“At D.C. United, the shortest trip for an away match was three and a half hours by bus. For all the other away games we flew, so you certainly rack up the air miles over the year. With some away games it’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight and three-hour time difference. That’s when you realise how big the country is and how difficult it is to consistently produce top performances and be at your best physically in away games. If you have two consecutive away games, you might not come home for a week. Then there are the temperature differences: this season I played in Toronto, where it was 0°C, and two weeks before I’d been in Miami in 30°C.”

Gressel moved from Washington, D.C. to Vancouver just a few days ago:

You’re now at Vancouver Whitecaps, where Alphonso Davies started his career. Can you recall your first encounter with him?
“He was very young and stuck out straight away. He also played directly against me - I was on the right side and he was on the left wing. When he ran past me for the first time, I thought: ‘Yikes, okay!’ (laughs) It was maybe a bit of a surprise that he made such a breakthrough at Bayern, but it also shows you how much talent there is here. There are more and more players going from the USA to the Bundesliga, the talent pool is massive.”

Would you like to play in Germany again if you had the opportunity?
“If the chance arose, it would obviously be a big dream come true. I grew up as a huge fan of Bayern and the Bundesliga, who watched almost every match. But I’m realistic enough to know that I’m nearly 29 now, perhaps it’s too late for me because young talents are more in demand. However, if an offer came, I’d jump at it with ambition and motivation.”

We've run the rule over FC Bayern's opponents for Wednesday's friendly:

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