Interview: Dodi Lukébakio, Hertha Berlin

Image Credit (Bundesliga image)

You already have seven goals and two assists to your name. That’s more scorer points than you’ve ever had at this point of a season. In your career in the Bundesliga, is this “your season”, and what can we expect for the rest of the season?

“For me, it is important that I keep it this way – to be important for my team. To give my best offensively, and defensively. Our focus is to take points because this is what was missing in the past. I am feeling really great. I have a good feeling about the team. Everybody knows what we have to do for the rest of the season.”

Sandro Schwarz has been your new head coach since the beginning of this season. Looking at your record so far, do you feel comfortable under the new coach?

“Yes, I think everybody is feeling comfortable with the coach. He is a coach that really speaks with everybody. Everybody feels comfortable in the team. The ones that play more – or less, it doesn’t matter because he gives a good feeling to everybody. He also says what he expects from everybody. Everything is clear. We have a clear plan. We know what we have to do on the pitch, and I think everybody can see that. We are really close as a team. I feel good about the second part of the season because we can grow more together and we know where we have to do better as a team. Hopefully, we will be able to take the points.”

Despite your place at the table, from the outside, the team seems very united and convinced of your coach. Is that right?

“Yes, the team seems very united now, like I said. I think this will be very important for us because we need everybody. The players that start. The players that are on the bench. This is the team. The team is not only the players on the pitch. We made some mistakes, but we want to improve on them and take the points because when you win games it is more fun and you have more confidence as a team. I think these are the things that we missed, and I hope we will be able to take them so that we can have more confidence and have more fun.”

What will be decisive for the rest of the season?

“Without putting pressure on us – our main focus is to win as many games as
possible. Of course, it will not be easy because the Bundesliga is a tough league. That is why we worked hard in the training camp during the break. As I said, we are united. We know we need everybody, and I think this will be the key. To just go into every game with the same mentality to win. This is why we are here. This is our main focus for the second part of the season. Then we will see what happens.”

With the Berlin derby, a big game is coming up for your team. How important is that game?

“It is really important because everybody is watching the derby. The stadium will be packed. It’s just a really nice game. I have played a couple of the games before, and they were unbelievable. I played two times in front of the fans, but it was at Union Berlin. It was just unbelievable. We are playing at home now, so I am really looking forward and I am excited about that game. The derby is not just a game to play, but a game to win. I am really looking forward to playing this game and winning it. Of course, it is something different and something special.”

You’ve already experienced derbies in other leagues in Belgium, France and England. Is the capital derby in Germany comparable to the others or is it a completely different story?

“Yes, of course, because the stadiums are packed and the stadiums are big in Germany. This is what also makes the Bundesliga special – everywhere you go there are a lot of fans. It is different because the Bundesliga is special. You have the feeling that every game is crazy. There are a lot of fans in the stadium, so the atmosphere is crazy. It is definitely not the same in other countries.”

What was your best derby moment so far – if there is one?

“I have a really great memory from the game against Dresden. The DFB Pokal game. Unbelievable atmosphere. It was my first time in Berlin where I saw such an atmosphere. It was just unbelievable. I will never forget that game. We played until the end – we played for 120 minutes. It was unbelievable. We had a penalty shootout – Dresden was leading and, in the end, we beat them on penalties. It was just fantastic. This is my best memory. It was a proper derby. “

What was your greatest moment at Hertha so far?

“It was two years ago. We needed the points and I think we were really low on the table. I was on the bench that game. It was against Augsburg at home. It was 1-1 around the 80th minute, I think. I came in and we had a penalty. We needed to win. It was very important for us. It would have been really complicated – maybe we would have been relegated. There were a lot of teams that won below us so it was really important to win. Very important game for the club. I took responsibility. I said, ‘I will shoot’ because I like the pressure. It is not arrogance, don’t take it the wrong way, it is just something that I like – the challenge. I took the ball and there was a lot of pressure. I can tell you, a lot of pressure. I scored and then we won 2-1 in the end. I think everybody felt this pressure and it was a great moment because we needed the three points. I think this moment will also be one I will never forget.”

Let’s end by talking a bit about your beginnings: Where did you start playing football? Where are your footballing roots?

“I started playing football at a very young age. I really loved football. I still love football. I played in the park, at school, and everywhere I went, I played. When I went to school, after school I remember I always did my homework in school. My mother came a bit late because she had to work. After getting home I would go straight to the park to play football. I was always someone who was hanging around in the park playing football with friends. It was always like this. Those are really nice memories and here I am today.”

What role has your family played in your development as a professional footballer?

“My father played football in Africa, and he always said to me that he had a lot of success but it was difficult to make it in Africa. He always tells me, when he sees me, when he sees my pace, that it reminds him of himself, but that he didn’t have as much talent. He is so funny. Yes, my father played football and he had a lot of success. When I meet his friends, they always say to me that he was a really good footballer. I always tell them that I can’t confirm that because I have never seen him play. The rest of my family plays as well. Almost all of them play football. My brothers play football, and my cousins do. We have a family that loves football.”

Apart from the family, are there any coaches or friends who have had a major influence on your footballing education?

“Yes, I had a coach when I played for FC Brussels before I went to Anderlecht. He really encouraged me and pushed me. He taught me some skills that I will never forget. We keep in touch. I call him sometimes. We exchange some messages. He is a person that means a lot to me because I can’t forget what he has done for me – when things are going well for me, I think about how he really pushed me and taught me a lot of things.”

Prince Boateng will end his career after the season. How important is he still for the team and what can you learn from him?

“I like Prince because he is a guy who always smiles. He brings positive energy to the team, and he speaks a lot. He brings his experience to the team. He helps the young players. He gives advice. It can’t be too easy for him because he doesn’t, let’s say, play a lot. He played in great clubs so he has this mentality that he wants to play. It’s normal. It should be like this for every player. This mentality to want to play. He has a lot of experience and he can handle it. He doesn’t take things like an egoist. He really tries to encourage the team.”

Image Credit (Bundesliga image) The Belgium international during the match between VfB Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin at Mercedes-Benz Arena on 8 November 2022.