Goalkeeper Roman Bürki Gave up Millions to Play in St. Louis

As the team's first captain, he's been instrumental in shaping CITY SC culture as well

May 24, 2023 at 8:39 am
click to enlarge Goalkeeper Roman Bürki (yellow) is CITY SC's first captain and started the tradition of applauding the fans after each home game.
Goalkeeper Roman Bürki (yellow) is CITY SC's first team captain and started the tradition of applauding the fans after each home game.

A St. Louis CITY SC ticket is the hottest one in town right now, and while there are lots of reasons to love the team (homegrown young guns Caden Glover and Miguel Perez playing in the majors for the first time, the history-setting five-win start, the intense style of play), goalkeeper Roman Bürki is a perennial fan favorite.

Defensively, Bürki is considered a "sweeper-keeper" because he comes flying out of the box to intercept long balls from opposing teams. Despite its risks, sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel believes Bürki's playstyle is essential to the CITY philosophy.

"We need a goalkeeper who can play like that. Otherwise, it completely changes our game structure," he says.

Bürki enjoys the risk associated with his playstyle. "I just try to have fun on the pitch, and fun for me is playing with the ball," he says.

Before signing with CITY, Bürki played for European giant Borussia Dortmund. There, he kept 83 clean sheets in 232 appearances. Bürki also made 33 appearances in the UEFA Champions League, one of the premier soccer competitions in the world.

But Dortmund signed a younger goalkeeper in the summer of 2021, and Bürki's playtime significantly decreased.

By 2022, Dortmund no longer required Bürki's services while CITY searched for a goalkeeper of his caliber. Bürki reportedly earned $6.5 million a year at Dortmund, but he reduced his salary to $1.63 million a year to make his transfer to CITY possible.

"I could've sat on this really good contract in Dortmund for two years, but I didn't care about the money. I wanted to play," Bürki says.

"I just had enough of European football. It was too much about money in Europe," Bürki adds. "The guys here don't earn as much as the players in Europe, but they come in and put in the same work, maybe even more. And that's what I really like."

Bürki enjoys life outside the spotlight in his Downtown West apartment. "It's a good area where I can walk to go buy groceries," he says.

Such anonymity would've been unfathomable in Europe. "It feels nice that people don't recognize me immediately. It's relaxing," he says.

Pfannenstiel and director of team operations Vin Ko took Bürki out for dinner and showed him around the city when he first arrived. So he did the same for his teammates who came to St. Louis after him. "I was here by myself when I arrived, too. So when the new players arrived, I texted them if they wanted to go out for dinner and tried to show them that I care," Bürki says.

"I've never met anybody who is more professionally focused than him. His whole life is about football. He prepares for matches and training sessions with plenty of sleep and the right food. His preparation is a model of how it should be done," Pfannenstiel says.

Bürki's example on and off the pitch has clearly resonated with his teammates. CITY players elected Bürki to be the first captain in club history. "It's an amazing feeling," Bürki says. "I had really good captains, and I had really bad captains in my career. So I know how to help the guys."

Bürki started the tradition of CITY players walking around CITYPARK and applauding the supporters after the team's first home match. "I just took the team and said, 'Guys, come say thank you to the fans.' I didn't say we had to go all the way around, but it just happened," Bürki says.

Bürki appreciates CITY's passionate fanbase. "When the fans are on fire, they push us even more to get through difficult situations," Bürki says. "I think CITYPARK could be even bigger, and we would still sell it out."

Catching a match at CITYPARK and watching a world-class goalkeeper like Roman Bürki is a sight for all to see this summer in St. Louis. Just ask Pfannenstiel.

"Expect Roman to be unbelievably influential with his feet, to be demanding in the air, and to be a good captain. Somebody who the younger players look up to and who gives the other players confidence."

This reporting was supported by the River City Journalism Fund.

For more on how to have a great St. Louis summer, check out our summer guide.

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