He is Borussia Dortmund’s longest-serving player, having returned to the club of his youth from Borussia Mönchengladbach a decade ago. In that time he has scored more than 150 goals – putting him on the verge of becoming BVB’s leading scorer of the Bundesliga era – and he has captained the club since 2018.
He is in fine form going into Wednesday’s Champions League group-stage showdown with Manchester City at the Etihad, too, having scored three times this season. Yet Marco Reus is reluctant to be seen as some kind of figurehead for Dortmund, an emblem of the club he grew up supporting.
“It doesn’t reflect my character that I want to be seen as the face of the club or the star of the team,” Reus says. “My goal is to play in a style that’s best for the team. I’m convinced that if the team is playing well, each player will have the chance to shine and excel. My approach is to play the best possible way for the teammates next to me, in front of me, behind me.”
Many of those teammates, across the 10 years Reus has been an attacking catalyst at Signal Iduna Park, have shone to the extent they have earned big-money moves; several, such as Wednesday’s opponents Ilkay Gündogan and Erling Haaland, to the Premier League.
Reus, a three-times Bundesliga Player of the Year, has had no shortage of offers but none has persuaded him to leave his home-town side. “It has always been my dream to play for this club and to this day it is still my dream,” he says. “Yes, there have been offers from elsewhere, but it has always remained my top priority to stay here. The way it’s worked out is a great way.”
Dortmund are a club for whom a high player turnover is a fact of life. They have come to specialise in buying young prospects, developing them into stars and selling at a huge profit.
Reus was 23 when he rejoined Dortmund in 2012. Now, as the captain and the third-oldest player, he is an elder statesman. The younger players, including the English teenagers Jude Bellingham and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, look to him for direction.
When it is suggested to Reus that his approach to guiding Dortmund’s emerging generation is reminiscent of how Eric Cantona influenced Manchester United’s Class of 92 – not through a vocal, tub-thumping form of leadership but by setting an example of high standards in training and matches – he sees the similarities.
“With the captaincy comes a lot of responsibility,” he says, “especially to the younger players who come through the academy or come from other countries, other leagues, other cultures. I need to help them get settled in Dortmund, the club, the culture, sometimes the language.
“There are different ways to lead a group. Do you have to bang the drum? My opinion is that it’s not necessary, as long as you have an opinion and you stand behind it and find ways of putting it across.
“I’m a relaxed guy. I like to have fun with the boys. Sometimes I have to hold myself back and not make too much fun and be a good example for the group. I also try not to be someone else. I have to be me, the person I have become through everything that happened to me in my career and my life. I can’t pretend to be someone else.”
It is not just on-field experience that Reus can mine for insight and wisdom to help younger colleagues. The 48-cap Germany international has also overcome multiple major injuries. So when injury strikes down a teammate, Reus can offer consolation and advice backed up by his own unenviable experiences, as he did recently with the 19-year-old American midfielder Gio Reyna.
“He was out a long time and when he came back he had some little setbacks,” Reus says. “I talked to him and told him to stay positive. Staying positive is one of the most important things during your rehab process. It can influence the way you come back and whether you can get back to your best.
“You have to stay strong in your head. You have to live with injuries and setbacks in our profession. But ultimately they will make you stronger, because after what you’ve gone through, you know what you can achieve.”
One colleague of Reus’s who appears to have little issue staying strong in his head is Bellingham. He moved to Dortmund from Birmingham City for £25m in 2020 and is likely their next superstar cab off the rank, with Real Madrid and Liverpool reportedly interested in the £100m-rated midfielder. Despite the weight of expectation that followed Bellingham to Germany, Reus was instantly impressed by the England international’s rapid adaptation and unwavering self-belief.
“From day one, he has not shied away from taking responsibility in midfield. He never seemed to be intimidated by playing against 25-year-olds or really experienced players. I must admit I didn’t know too much about him when he came. But my first impression was that, while he was not yet a complete player, he already had something to his game in all aspects of his position that I had never seen before for a player of his age.
“At 19, he’s taking steps towards reaching his full potential, which will make him one of the best players in the game in two or three years’ time.”
At the Etihad Dortmund will reunite with Haaland, their most recent megastar departure. City activated the 22-year-old’s £51.2m release clause in June and, with 10 goals from six Premier League appearances and a brace in City’s first Champions League tie, a 4-0 win over Sevilla, he has hit the ground running in English football.
Reus is aware that if Dortmund are to have any chance of an upset against City, stopping his former strike partner will be crucial.
“It’s simply sensational how he is performing at the moment in Manchester,” he says. “It helps that his teammates are not the worst!
“How do you stop him? Good question. It’s not easy to stop him. One of the keys is not to be too late with your decisions, to be good at anticipating what is going to happen. You have to stay close to him to be able to stop him as much as possible for 90 minutes. Then you just have to hope he doesn’t have his best day.”
In 2012, Reus made a similarly impressive start to his Dortmund career, scoring five times in his first eight games. The football world seemed to open up before him. Although his list of accolades would be the envy of most footballers, it is impossible not to wonder what might have been but for all those injuries, to lament what his misfortune robbed from him – not least a World Cup winner’s medal in 2014.
It would be easy for Reus, in periods of form and fitness such as this one, to feel the need to make up for lost time, to chase something lost. Yet the reluctant face of Borussia Dortmund remains remarkably content with his lot.
“I’m happy to have been in this business for such a long time already,” Reus says. “There have been tough times, but I have learned in life that there are always harder situations for others. Life is life, and life happens. It’s not about catching up or compensating.”