It’s been a long journey to the top for Peter Gulacsi and in this week’s interview transcript, RB Leipzig’s No.1 discusses his side’s chances in this Saturday’s top match, as well as his goals for the future, and the change in form under new coach Domenic Tedesco.
The winter break seems to have done you a lot of good. You’ve won every game since then. How did you use the winter break to gather your strength?
We said from the first day of this year that we would try to have a new start, not for the season but for our situation. We put a difficult half year behind us and it was important that we all had a rest and that we could all prepare for the second half of the season with a clear head. In terms of confidence, it was important that we came back and started on the right foot. I think it has been working really well and the results in January were perfect for us. We got our first away win and we won two home games in the Bundesliga and one in the cup. It’s a great start to the year, but we also said that in terms of our game and our performances, we still want to improve further. It’s good that we still got the results, but we have the feeling we can do even better.
You’ve risen from vice-captain to captain of your team. How would you describe your leadership style as captain?
For me, whether I am the captain or not, I think the goalkeeper has a very important role in the team. I am now the second oldest player in the team, so I want to help with my experience, my calmness, and my personality. I am a really positive guy on and off the pitch, so I always try to help my teammates. We have a lot of young players, so I can help them a lot with my experience. This role became even more important this year when I became captain. I think everybody is a bit different and I try to set an example with my actions and my personality, and I try to give something to the team in important moments. If something is not going well, I have to be there, mention it, and try to figure it out with the team. There are a few experienced players in our squad who have a similar role to me. Of course, I am the captain, but we have other players who have leadership roles within the team and I think we have a good mixture of players. I am trying to do my best and hopefully we can achieve something big this season together with the team.
You’ve played an outstanding season so far and haven’t really shown any weaknesses. But as an athlete, you always set yourself personal goals. To what extent do you feel that you can perhaps improve further, and in what areas would that be?
We are talking about top football, so there are always some areas where there is a little bit more room for improvement. I see myself as a complete goalkeeper but, of course, there is still small room for improvement in every area. I also keep improving with my experience and we work on every aspect of my game, whether it be using my feet or defending the area in front of me or in the air or just making saves on the line. We have to work on every aspect because I am playing at the highest level. You can never say I’m now good enough and that’s it. We have to improve all the time and we have a really good environment with our goalkeeping coach, Frederik Gößling, who creates an environment of pushing each other and trying to improve. I think it has been the case for me that I have been able improve step-by-step year after year and that is my goal for the rest of my future as well.
Your role model is Petr Čech. Like Manuel Neuer, he was the dominant goalkeeper in Europe in his time. Where do you see parallels between the two?
In terms of style, maybe they are not exactly the same, but they still have a lot of similarities. Edwin van der Sar and Petr Čech were the first era of goalkeepers who paid a lot more attention to positioning and decision-making. Maybe sometimes their games looked really simple from the outside, but this was because everything they did before the action was perfect – they were in the best position, they were always ready, and they read the game well. This has to do with intelligence and understanding the game, and they were the best at that time. A new era then started with Manuel and he is playing even more with the team, so he is like the 11th player for the team.
He is playing high behind the defence, which is a little different to Petr Čech and van der Sar, but he is also very much involved in the game. He has great intelligence in understanding and reading the game and I think this is modern goalkeeping. The game is so quick, the shots are so quick, the players have so much quality that if you do something wrong in the action then you don’t have a chance to make the save. I think this is an important aspect in modern goalkeeping and, for me, Čech, van der Sar, and later Manuel Neuer, were the best examples of this kind of development.
At 31, you are at the prime age of a goalkeeper. What are your further goals for your career?
At 31, you could say I’m experienced enough, and I have many seasons at the top level behind me. But if you look at my physical shape, I am in top condition, so these are the years that you try to reach your maximum potential, and that’s my goal. I play for a top club in Germany and we still have two chances this season to win our first trophy – the German Cup and also the Europa League – and we are maybe still in the running to win those competitions. In the league, we now have the opportunity to close the gap step-by-step to the first four places.
We said from the beginning that we want to focus on ourselves and on our job, but our main goal stays the same. We want to play in the Champions League next season. There are enough targets and goals for this season and, long term for my career, I want to play at a top club at the top level for as long as possible. That’s my goal and, of course, along the way I want to win important trophies. The opportunity is already there this season and hopefully we can do it. If not, then it stays a remaining goal for the rest of my career.
Things are going much better this season under coach Domenic Tedesco. How has he given the team back its confidence?
As I said, it was not an easy half year behind us. We had some difficult moments and we had games where we definitely should have got a better result. We also had the phase with the coronavirus, so it was a frustrating six months. As our new coach came in just before the winter break, we still had three games to play and we starting picking up results a little bit. After the winter break, we stabilised ourselves and I think that’s an important part of what he has done so far. He is trying to use our squad well and to use the strength in the squad to play a little bit more controlled football. From the outside, this might not always seem spectacular, but it definitely gives our team a little bit more stability, which I think was an important step in this case.
If you look at the first four games we played in January, in terms of performances they were not always out of this world, but we got the results. We now have players slowly coming back, like Emil Forsberg, Dani Olmo, Dominik Szoboszlai, Amadou Haidara, who have this creativity going forward. This shows the strength in our team that we could still pick up important results without these players. We now have them on board for this important phase of the season and hopefully now with a bigger squad and even more quality throughout, we can keep on having these results.
You fought your way up from 10th to 6th place within four matchdays. What’s still to play for this season?
There is a lot in it because the league is really tight this season. It’s really exciting to see who is going to reach those international places because teams like Freiburg, Union Berlin, FC Köln, Hoffenheim are pushing up in the table and trying to compete for those international places. I think it’s big competition but, having said that, we are not just fighting against one team but multiple teams. The chance for them to drop points is even higher than the year before and that’s why we have to focus on ourselves and on our job. We now have a really difficult game coming up against Bayern München and, after that, we have games against our so-called direct rivals at home – Freiburg, Frankfurt, Köln, Union Berlin, Hoffenheim. This situation means that there is still a lot to play for this season and we can still climb the table to the places we want to be. But for that, we clearly need results and that’s why January was important and why the coming months are even more important.
Off the pitch, you’re known for getting involved socially. Why is that so important to you? And what is it that you do?
First of all, I think if you look at the whole world, there are many footballers trying to use their publicity and their role in the world to do something nice and to help a good cause. It was always an important part of our lives for me. We are privileged because we can do what we love and, at the same time, we can have a privileged life. It is a good situation and we work a lot for what we have achieved as footballers, but I think it’s really important to have an open mind and to think about others in the world. This is what we are trying to do with my wife and with my family. Mainly, we are trying to help in my home country, Hungary, as you cannot help everyone in the whole world. It’s impossible, but we always try to pick different causes and different situations where we can help.
I offer my national team bonuses for good causes all the time. For me, if you play for your country, it has nothing to do with money or bonuses, but it is to do with being proud and loving playing for your country. I try to give back something to my home in this way and this is what we are doing. We already helped a child with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy) in their recovery, and we helped a premature baby unit during the COVID fight. There are always different topics and we try to choose different ones every year. We now have a project that we can hopefully launch in a few months and we are still working on it. It’s going to be a bigger project and hopefully it will work out because if it does, it could also make a big difference to many lives, and that’s our goal. As I said, you can’t help everyone, but if people in this kind of situation with these kinds of lives are open to helping, then our world can be a better place, and this is what we are trying to do.