For the last five years, Roman Bürki has been as reliable as a Swiss watch in between the sticks for BVB. And having extended his contract until 2023, he is on track to achieve the same kind of longevity as his well-known and respected predecessors Roman Weidenfeller (16 years in the BVB goal), Stefan Klos, Eike Immel (eight years apiece) and Horst Bertram (12 years).
He kept 13 clean sheets during the 2019/20 campaign, a tally only surpassed in the Bundesliga by Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich (15 clean sheets). Bürki also kept the opponents out in the first two Champions League matches against Barcelona and Slavia Prague, eventually conceding his first goal 201 minutes into the group stages. He then made a string of saves in the return fixture against Slavia Prague, a 2-1 victory, to ensure that Borussia Dortmund reached the knockout stages. "He was unbelievable! He was fantastic!" said Lucien Favre in praise of his goalkeeper, who produced a match-winning performance and at one point made three saves in a matter of seconds to keep out a certain goal. Mats Hummels expressed his thanks on behalf of the team. "He can't do any more than what he did today. That was truly sensational."
Bürki set both club and league records during the 2017/18 season: he first became the first BVB goalkeeper not to concede a goal in the opening five matches of a season (total time without conceding: 515 minutes), then made 11 saves – a season high for all Bundesliga goalkeepers – to ensure the Black & Yellows came away from Mönchengladbach with a 1-0 victory and three points. He maintained those high performance levels the following season: in 2018/19, kicker Sportmagazin ranked him as the second-best shot-stopper of the season with an average score of 2.64.
"He has above-average explosive power and can keep his team in the game with strong saves on the line. He has incredible precision and sharpness when initiating attacking plays with his feet. Those are not all of his top qualities, but they are certainly his strongest characteristics," Patrick Foletti, the goalkeeping coach for the Swiss national team, once said of Roman Bürki.
The goalkeeper, who left his hometown club of TSV Münsingen shortly before his 15th birthday, started his career with Young Boys in 2007. But the Bern-based outfit initially sent him on loan to Thun and Schafhausen, before he was allowed to join Grasshopper Club Zürich in 2011. SC Freiburg soon came calling and signed the talented young goalkeeper, who was then 23 years of age, ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. Bürki then switched to BVB a year later, where he took over from long-term goalkeeping icon Roman Weidenfeller. The pair enjoyed an extremely positive relationship during their time together at the club.
Bürki is a goalkeeper who likes to join in the play, stands high when his team has possession and almost serves as an 11th outfield player, capable of receiving backpasses with both feet and finding a team-mate. His style is to open up and speed up the play – at times with long and precise throws-outs. "Being a goalkeeper is certainly not the most rewarding job," he said in an interview with members' magazine "Borussia" (August 2020 edition), adding: "You carry a great deal of responsibility, you're the last man. Behind you there is nothing but an empty goal. The ball must not go in there. Yet the coaches demand that you join in the play and take a certain degree of risk. I took a long time to find the right balance when it comes to risk. I really like my job and I'm also a bit proud of what I've achieved so far – and of the club I play for."
One trait that has always come naturally to him is ambition. It is a characteristic he has always possessed, perhaps inherited from his father, who was also a goalkeeper and even today calls his son after every game to analyse his goalkeeping performance. It has long been clear to his team-mates that Roman Bürki likes to put in an extra shift from time to time. They value him because they know that they can count on him. And they value him because he is an uncomplicated, entirely down-to-earth and likeable guy to deal with, who self-critically acknowledges his mistakes.
To ensure he consistently remains at the top of his game, he stays in close contact with his mental coach – a topic he addresses with typical transparency. "Mental training has made me calmer internally and on the pitch," said Bürki, adding: "Now I can cope much better with everything that comes my way, I've found a very good balance."
The Swiss lives life to the full. His home is at Phoenix-See in Hörde – where steel was produced 20 years ago. "I like it very much. You can get some exercise in the fresh air and there are great cafés." The people he meets "are reserved. That's another thing I like about Dortmund." And his sporting home is Signal Iduna Park. "For a footballer, playing in a stadium like that is the greatest thing," said Bürki: "I get goose bumps every time, even though I've been here for a long time."
When he's at home in Switzerland, in tranquil Münsingen with its 13,000 inhabitants, the place where it all started and where his parents and grandparents still live, Roman Bürki has plenty to tell: "For the Swiss, the players I get to play with are absolute top stars. Many people ask how they are off the pitch. And what it's like to play in front of our Wall."