Schmelzer storied career spanned 258 appearances from 2008-22 for Dortmund, as well as 16 for the senior national team from 2010-14. The ex-captain departs with the fondest of feelings for his club.
The same could not be said for his experiences with the German National Team.
“Your competitors say ‘hallo’ to you in a different way,” Schmelzer explained. “They also act differently in training. I struggled with that at first. I felt uncomfortable.”
Part of this atmosphere was the tension between the Bayern Munich and Dortmund contingents — fierce rivals for Bundesliga supremacy. But part of it was also a coach who did not seem to favor him.
Löw — who famously and unceremoniously axed the national team careers of three Bayern stalwarts to jumpstart a youth movement that never came — demonstrated his tact by remarking of Schmelzer during World Cup qualifying in 2012: “We don’t have a lot of options – thus we have to continue to work with him.” Löw subsequently left him out of the final squad for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
But Schmelzer’s not bitter, not anymore. “Even if [the snub] was incomprehensible to me at the time, after I had played all ten qualifiers: I’m done with that”, he said. “As much as it weighed on me, and as unfair as I thought it was at the time, at some point I had to focus on Borussia Dortmund again.”
Mario Götze was one of the Dortmund teammates who offered him his support at the time, criticizing Löw, and Schmelzer lamented the energetic midfielder’s departure. Götze signed for Bayern Munich in 2013, and was followed out of Dortmund a year later by one Robert Lewandowski.
“Maybe it would have been enough if Mario or Lewy had not [left so early]”, Schmelzer said. “To replace people of this importance and class every year is just very difficult.”
The signings were contentious at the time (and for long afterward), as the Bavarians would run roughshod over the Bundesliga and be regularly accused to dismantling any signs of competition. It’s not as if Bayern had been lacking in firepower, either: this was the heyday of the Robbery era, and one half of that dynamic duo was already making Schmelzer’s life at left-back miserable.
Said Schmelzer: “Arjen was already very difficult...at some point he knew how we wanted to defend him. And he always came up with something new. It wasn’t as simple as Robben always going inside: then he just started passing on the right and conjuring up dangerous situations. [...] As a perfectionist, he always wanted to win.”
For Robben’s part, the Bayern winger returned this respect in equal measure, referring to Schmelzer as his toughest foe to go toe-to-toe with on the pitch. Schmelzer was honored by the praise, adding: “I wouldn’t have thought it possible for him to say something like that.”
A devastating knee injury derailed Schmelzer’s 2020-21 campaign and precipitated his retirement at the age of 34. Still, Dortmund extended Schmelzer’s contract to 2022 in order to help him rehabilitate optimally at the club — a class gesture for a class player.
Farewell, Marcel! Three cheers to the worthiest of competitors!