In the first half of the season, SC Freiburg were one of the surprise packages, having spent most of the Hinrunde in the Champions League places. In this week’s interview, striker Vincenzo Grifo talks about his and Freiburg’s performances so far, the team’s move to the new stadium, and his passions outside of football.
Vincenzo Grifo on the season so far
2021 was a great year with a lot of successes. There were highs and lows in terms of playing in front of fans and then without fans and everything that came with that. It was predominantly a great year from a sporting perspective. We were fighting for a European spot (last season) and it was a shame that it didn’t work out in the end. Italy also became European champions. This season, we gave everything to have a successful first half and we truly managed that.
Vincenzo Grifo on the current assessment of SC Freiburg and of him personally
We always set goals to continually improve and to try to be better than the previous years. This was our aim and we achieved this as a team. We also set ourselves personal goals, whether that is scoring more goals than last year or being involved in more goals. Of course, it is first and foremost about the team, and we developed very well. We showed this on the pitch and we had a run of 10 games where we didn’t lose until we came up against Bayern, but we still had a great game even then. We unfortunately lost 2-1, but it was tight and it was an open game which Bayern managed to win. Everybody then began to notice what SC Freiburg was doing and were curious how we would progress. We continued to do very well and although we suffered three defeats, which is completely normal, we dusted ourselves off and continued to believe in ourselves. We then picked up some more wins and we were also able to deal with the change of stadium very well. It is not always easy to play in a new stadium because the old Freiburg stadium was a great home for us and was a unique place. We overcame this very well and we have also improved a lot as players. We have played a lot of good football and have scored some great goals, and that is exactly what we want to keep doing.
Vincenzo Grifo on the reasons for SC Freiburg flying high
We just have good players who have improved a lot. They bring a certain experience with them and have also developed on a personal level. Without naming names, everyone knows themselves whether they have made the next step in their development or not. This has all come together and is combined with the quality and engagement in training. We are always hungry for more – that is what makes Bayern so successful. They have won so much, but they always keep going to the very end and do not let up at all. This is what we have to measure ourselves against. I’m not saying that we can compare ourselves to Bayern, but there are lads there who have won everything, and are a good example for how you keep going year after year. This is what we are also doing to a certain extent and we are trying to fulfil our potential. Training does not look that different, but you can see the quality and how the ball is being played. We have a certain amount of quality and are able to capitalise on mistakes, and these are the fine details which set us apart.
Vincenzo Grifo on the change of stadium – from the Schwarzwald Stadion to the Europa-Park Stadion
I would say it has been relatively positive. Of course, we were all wondering whether it would be the same in the new stadium and whether the atmosphere could live up to the old stadium, but it has all been very positive so far. The first game was against Leipzig and although the stadium wasn’t full, it was so much fun to play in front of the 15 or 17 thousand fans. Leipzig were leading 1-0 and then we really came back, made it 1-1, and then could have won it in the end. It was a shame, but this was our first taste of the new stadium and afterwards we realised that the grass and the goals were the same. Of course, the stadium feels a bit newer and is built differently, but this shouldn’t distract us. It should, in fact, give us a bit of a push. I always say it is like moving from an old house full of memories, both positive and negative, into a new, modern house where you can create new memories. We then won against Fürth and Leverkusen and we were able to prove that it was our new home.
Vincenzo Grifo on his gesture for a pregnant woman in the crowd, and his awareness of the fans during the game
We went around the ground to applaud our fans and to thank them for their support. I saw a pregnant woman with her child who was holding a poster asking for my shirt in Italian. Of course, I gave it to her. But you definitely notice these gestures and it was the right atmosphere for her to get my shirt on this occasion. I often have family or friends at the game and I know in advance where they are sitting. I wave to them, which they always like, and I also try to wave to other fans when they wave to me. You always hear the support of the fans when you go to take a corner and this certainly gives you a push.
Vincenzo Grifo on his (not so) secret weapon: set pieces
I spend a lot of time on set pieces and practice them a lot. We talk about it a lot and we have a set piece coach who helps us. Things are going very well at the moment and we have been working on them extensively this year. It is certainly a good weapon to use because it can change a game. Modern teams have become very strong tactically and physically, so it is often hard to find the gaps. A set piece can open up a game and we have done this very well this year. We want to keep doing this because it is a component that can help us to win games. Set pieces are always a good opportunity to get the ball into the middle or to score a goal. Of course, you have to have some self-belief and I never approach a set piece with the thought that it won’t amount to anything. You need to have certain amount of confidence and self-belief to step up to the ball and put it in the back of the net. You need to have the belief that you are going to put the ball right on your teammate’s head for him to score a goal. I am always excited to get a set piece in a promising position. The moment you hit the ball, you know what kind of trajectory it is following and you have a feeling for whether it is going to lead to anything or not. With the free kick against Dortmund or any other free kick that has gone in, you always have the feeling that it could end up in the back of the net. On the other hand, when I miss a penalty like against Hoffenheim, you get the feeling that you might not have hit it very well. But there are generally more positive feelings than negative ones.
Vincenzo Grifo on his Panenka penalty against Leverkusen
I missed not long ago and so I debated what the most sensible thing to do would be, and whether I should hit it right or left. The goalkeepers will be keeping an eye on me as well and they know exactly the way I shoot, the type of run-up I take, and so on. I simply decided the chip was the right decision. In that moment, I was quite convinced the goalkeeper would dive, so I thought it was the best option. Obviously, you need a small amount of courage. When it goes in, however, you hear “wow, cool”, and, “he just did the Panenka just like Sergio Ramos”. You are compared to the greats. “No risk, no fun” is what they say. There is a very fine line between really good and really bad.
Vincenzo Grifo on his mindset for taking penalties
There are different ways to make contact with the ball: you can look up like Max Kruse or Lewandowski. They are the type to look up from the ball. They look at the keeper to see in which direction he takes his first step. There are also others like Cristiano Ronaldo or like me who just decide beforehand to shoot in a specific direction. It is always different. Everyone has to find the best way and everyone has to decide what the best way to shoot is.
Vincenzo Grifo on his aims for the season with SC Freiburg
I have always said that we are professional footballers who always aim high. If we can achieve the maximum, then why not? We will take it. We would like to continue with the way it is going now, but we also know that a dip in performance can happen, like those three or four games that we lost in a row. That is why we try not to make too many predictions from the outside and to simply concentrate on the matches. It sounds a bit like an excuse, but it is always what happens on the pitch that matters. We could gladly talk about this for three or four hours depending on the type of interview and we could say we would like this or that. In the end, if you are not able to make it happen, it will hit you in the face like a boomerang. That is something I do not agree with. We need to simply concentrate and continue from where we left off in terms of playing good football and pushing on hard. We need to try to frustrate every team because we have the quality this year. We are doing well with this method and that is enough.
Vincenzo Grifo on team morale
Maybe it’s because we have a certain number of points or maybe because the work this year is fun. It is fun every year, but having a good start is always very important. I said this at the beginning of the season and it always depends on how you begin the season. It can show you the direction you will be going and this is the same for us this season. We started well and went unbeaten for 10 games, which was amazing for us. That is why the mood was very good and it still is. We were all very happy to have been able to go into the winter break this way, but we cannot relax now because the winter break is over. Everyone was with their families and was able to recover. Everyone was able to feed themselves well, but now we have to concentrate fully on the present and on pushing hard to get as many points as possible.
Vincenzo Grifo on cars
I am the type who knows a lot about cars. I am a car enthusiast. I just like them. I have always been interested in them, even from a young age. I was always like “oh, that’s an Audi RS, this is a BMW M, this is a Ferrari so and so, and this is a Mercedes so and so.” I always told myself I had to become a car mechanic. It is called something different now because there are a lot of electronics involved. I don’t know if I would have become a very good mechanic. I enjoyed it a lot with my uncle. I learned a lot and had a relatively free lifestyle back then when I was still playing for KSC (Karlsruher FC). He also gave me a lot of freedom in terms of when I had training, so that is why I enjoyed it so much. My focus was obviously more on football, but if it wasn’t for football, who knows? It depends on how much enthusiasm I would have shown and how much willpower. I think if you want something, you become good at it. If you are not that dedicated, it won’t be like that, but I think I would have become an average car mechanic.
Vincenzo Grifo about the Italian national team
Of course, I was very happy that we became European champions. For me, I was in the squad and then didn’t make the cut, but I still had my fingers crossed and had my shirt on in front of the television. Italy put in a very good performance to become European champions. It was deserved with that squad, with those songs, with this team and with the atmosphere. They can continue down this path and, of course, there are two or three important games coming up. We need to win those but generally, we have a good squad with great enthusiasm. I think we are always favourites and we worked for this. This is how I see Italy.