Have you ever been to the USA and do you like it here?
“I was in Miami once, one-and-a-half years ago, but in the summer break
the jetlag does kick in so I am happy to be here with the team, travelling to three cities.”
What are you looking forward to the most here?
“To the three games. In Manchester United and Chelsea, we have two very strong opponents we always want to go up against because we always want to compare ourselves with the best. I am also looking forward to nice evenings with the boys where we sit together and chat. What I am not looking forward to is the runs in training! But a trip like this to the USA is extremely fun. You sweat together, you work hard and you have great games and hopefully great stadiums – but I don’t know that yet, I will have to see them.”
How have you managed to process the conclusion to the end of last season?
“At the end of the season, I was on holiday for 7-8 days until right before the national team matches. I hadn’t been able to swallow it down yet – I had to calm down a bit. Then the national team started, which also didn’t go too well. After that, I was gone with the team for a week. Jule (Brandt) also said so in the interview – I met up with Jule and two other boys. Two weeks before the start of training, I was already pumped. The runs before pre-season are always the hardest so I got through them well and came ready for the start of training. I was very excited. Still, it took about three, four weeks to get over it all.”
Did you talk about it a lot during your holiday?
“We knew we would meet up. We did a lot together. We met up three, four times. It was good but on holiday, you don’t talk a lot about football. You want to clear your mind. As I said, you want to be with your friends and your boys. We did that and that is why it was good to meet up.”
How would you rate your first season at BVB?
“I have to say, a lot of people would disagree but for my first season, I think it was top. I started well. Then the team had a low and so did I. I also had a hard winter break with the World Cup where a lot came my way. In the first game after the winter break, I didn’t start well. I expected more from myself. But then I was satisfied with my performance in the remaining games. We had that run of 10 games won where I played continuously, when it went well and where I could even score some goals. We didn’t concede a lot. In the end, came the injury. You cannot avoid that. I tried to come back quickly because back then, Nicky (Süle) was also injured a bit. Things weren’t going too well. I got fit again after a couple of months. In the end, I didn’t get to play a lot but that wasn’t so bad because the success for the team was most important. Personally, the way the season went for me with the Champions League knockout phase, how we fought for the Championship until the end, I was very satisfied with my season.”
You are also part of the Team of the Season. Are you proud of that?
“Yes. That has a lot to do with the fans and Dortmund has a very big fanbase, luckily. As I said, I managed to collect a lot of scoring points through assists or a goal and was quite pleased with myself. The injury came at a very inconvenient time but that is football. Now I am trying to prepare to convince the coach to put me on the team next season.”
The goal against Schalke – how did you experience that?
“It was brutal – in a good way! My parents were in the stands. Both of my cousins. Some friends. My brother was in the stadium. A girlfriend was in the stadium. I also found out that the goal happened at 19:09. The stadium went quiet. The stand on the other side started celebrating. The shot wasn’t bad either. It was the coolest moment in the jersey because it fits so well with the moment. Of all my goals this season, this is the one I am proudest of.”
The start of the celebration – did you intend that?
“It is always a bit of improvisation, but it was intended. I am getting goosebumps because of the derby against the Blues – it was something special. During the week, we had a game against Chelsea where we lost. Unfortunately, we didn’t win but it was personally a highlight for me last year.”
You saved in the 90th minute against Leipzig. Another highlight?
“To a small degree. I learned in Freiburg from Christian Streich that you should avoid going on the line because you then lose your man. I think Yussuf Poulsen was in the middle and I didn’t know if I should go to the line or go to him. When I saw that Timo (Werner) was only looking at the goal, I said I would try to close the long corner so that Alex (Meyer) could take the close corner. The fact that it worked was great. Timo hit it very well. It had to go in, that is why in terms of the match – it would have been 2:2 in the 90th – it was very, very cool. I think it was our 10th win so it was special.”
As a team, you paid special attention to defence. Was that something you had set out to do?
“I thought it was quite exceptional at times last year. I remember the first game against Chelsea where Greg (Kobel) saves it and Emre (Can) clears it from the line – the emotions that came up there. It was very, very good. The team was alive, especially in the second half of the season. The team was there. We performed very well. We won a lot of games. You could see that something was going through the team. Everyone was fighting. A save from Greg or Alex was celebrated to the maximum. That is something that I like doing and something I like to see from the boys so it was special.”
Why is a captain important?
“Because he is your mouthpiece in the team. I only experienced Marco (Reus) for one year. I would have liked to have played with him as captain for longer. He did it exceptionally well because he asks whether we have any questions or any topics we would like to discuss with the coach. On the pitch, if there is any issue with the referee, he walks up to him. He is a great example – if you are behind, you look at him. He expects a good attitude from us. These things are important for a captain. With Emre, we have a successor who brings aggression to the game. A strong leadership mentality. He has played incredibly well in the past half-year. I have rarely seen a “6” play like he played in the past half-year. I was very satisfied with the choice before as I am with the choice now. That is why I am grateful to play with both. I think it can continue this way.”
What makes leaders stand out?
“It is important to have such a leading figure, in my point of view. Marco gave me a lot last year. His experience. How long he has been at the club? He can describe what is happening on the last day of the season because he knows what is going on at the club. Emre played for Juve and Liverpool. He has crazy experiences. He has been performing at the highest level for years. I do think you can improve yourself with these kinds of things. You can measure your skills, as well because a captain is one of the best players in the team, if not the best. I have taken a lot from Marco last season and I know I will learn a lot from Emre in the next years too and take a lot from him.”
Do you care about your FIFA rating?
“I used to in the past but once you play professionally, it isn’t that important anymore. Before, I used to think “How cool would it be to be in the game?”. Nowadays, if the rating is good, your friends can play with you but I don’t play a lot anymore so it is not too important. But if it is good, I am happy.”
What rating would you give yourself? (Last season 82)
“I would leave it the way it was last year. I had a good card last year, I heard, so I am satisfied.”
What moments from 60 years of Bundesliga history are most special to you?
“I have experienced a lot. The Saturday Conference is something incredibly nice. In the youth team, you played at 11 o’clock and then you came home and watched the conference. If you play in the afternoon, you could watch the highlights in the evening. I remember the moments the reporters scream “Goal in so and so!”. I can imagine as a football fan, this is something special. If you are in the business, you don’t even realise it anymore but I think a Saturday Conference is something special. Sometimes, I wish I were still a kid at the age of 14, 15, 16 and sitting in front of the TV watching my idols.”
Now you are one of those idols yourself. Right?
“You could say that, yes!”