"I love the fight with the strikers": Sheffield Wednesday favourite Julian Börner on settling into life in England
Julian Börner is a popular man at Sheffield Wednesday, and settling into his seat for a pre-match press conference ahead of the club’s trip to Middlesbrough, it’s not difficult to see why.
The German, an ever-present in the Owls’ eight Championship outings this season, has a warm and welcoming presence completely at odds with his uncompromising style of play.
His English is improving, though the reporters present are advised not to be too ambitious in their questioning. Asked how to correctly pronounce his surname, he laughs thunderously, and after delivering the authentic Bavarian pronunciation of ‘Boo-urner’, he shruggs: “It’s OK, you know me. I don’t mind.”
And that’s just the thing about Börner. Whether he’s fist-pumping blocks off the line or grinning his way from the field after a job well done, his is a personality worn for all to see. Rightly or wrongly, Sheffield Wednesday supporters feel like they do know him.
Just a few weeks since his arrival on a free transfer from German second tier outfit Arminia Bielefeld he has become a fans’ favourite at Hillsborough.
His first time living outside of Germany, he’s settled nicely into south Yorkshire life with his wife and two-year-old daughter. Multi-lingual Atdhe Nuhiu acts as his translator in vital moments and his team mates have been quick to offer help whenever it’s required.
“I am very thankful,” Börner reports, “because the team has helped me from the first day in Sheffield, with the language, the culture.
“My family are so happy living in the south of Sheffield, next to the National Park, a very green area.
“In the morning I am here (at training) and my daughter is at nursery. Eight weeks ago she started to learn English, then in the afternoons we go to the parks and the playgrounds.”
The transition to life on English football pitches seems to be going as well as life off it for the 28-year-old. His no-nonsense, safety-first style of defending is well suited to the Championship, where Börner admits he is relishing the physical challenge.
He has won 60% of the aerial duels he has entered and 71% of his tackles in the Championship this season. His passing accuracy (85%) is good for a player delicately described in some quarters as ‘old-fashioned’ and he has made more blocks than any of his team mates. These are numbers the German believes he can improve as time goes on.
“The big difference is in Germany the game is very technical,” he says. “Here, all the games are more physical. All the strikers are high and big. I like this.
“I love the fight with the strikers, that’s the big difference to Germany. Here in England, often teams play the first ball long and your first contact is a header, or a fight on the floor.
“The strikers are big and muscular, it’s tough to play against them. Even in training, my friends in the team, I learn every day from Fletch and Atdhe.”
His is not the only transition that has been undertaken at Middlewood Road in recent weeks, of course. Börner seems to be enjoying life under new manager Garry Monk, who he believes has a continental style to management.
With skipper Tom Lees out injured, it has been the German who has stepped into leadership of the Owls back four alongside Dominic Iorfa, and he is delighted to help out in delivering the new manager’s first priority – shoring up the Owls defence.
“Garry is a little bit German-like, he is a tactical man,” he said. “He has a philosophy, I love it - and the distance from player to player is short.
“The first step from Garry Monk was to work on our defence. In the next weeks and months, we will work on different opportunities in the system, score more goals. We need time.
“This is a big moment for us, but we are going in the right way.”
Asked what he misses most about life back home, he eventually lists his parents and friends, but first admits there is one thing in particular Sheffield can’t offer.
“German bread!” he laughs, “It’s another country and another culture, but we are young. It’s okay for us.”
His Sheffield Wednesday side have a cluttered week ahead, with a trip to Hull City splintering that of Middlesbrough and next weekend’s clash with Wigan.
There is little time for reflection, and supporters will hope the big German continues his progress in growing into the blue and white shirt.