Interview: Niclas Füllkrug, SV Werder Bremen

Image Credit ( Bundesliga Content Hub Images)

After an eventful few months – promotion, debut on the national team, participation in the World Cup and the goalscoring trophy – how did you switch off?

“In the first week, I could not settle down, as I had to make sure I worked hard to be in good shape for the national team. You wouldn’t normally expect such a wild 5 to 6 weeks at the end of the season, but since I had been out of action for 5 to 6 weeks, it affected a bit of my positive form and my physical condition. Therefore I worked hard to put myself in good shape for the national team. We then had a very intense two-week period where we focused on training exercises and spent a lot of time on the grass with the national side. We then had the three games before I took a three-week holiday break with my family in Greece and Mallorca. I was finally able to relax – spending all day with my daughter, I don’t have time to think about anything else!

What is particularly important to you when you are on holiday?

“What is important to me is peace. I don’t want it to be turbulent so that I can shut it off properly. I don’t like stressful holidays where I am more tired after the holiday than I was before. I am not a big lover of sightseeing or partying; I prefer to have my peace where I can enjoy my break – a lot of sun and time spent with my family. I think this is the best way to profit from these holidays because, during the season, it can be tough.”

Do you also look for seclusion on holiday?

“It doesn’t always work out that way, but I do try my best to avoid the busy areas.”

What has stuck with you from a sporting point of view from the past season?

“I think we had a very strong first half of the season – I don’t think any team felt confident trying to take points in games against us. We competed in every one of our games and overperformed; a lot of our players had the best season of their careers – this helped us gather momentum. This was followed by the World Cup, which ended in a very disappointing way. Even though it didn’t end the way we had hoped, it helped me kickstart the second part of the season in a good way. I think the second part of the season is looked back at too harshly – the difference was that shots that used to go in were now maybe hitting the post and staying out, which meant we accumulated fewer goals and points. The games were all very close, we scored the first goal in most of the fixtures, but we just couldn’t hold the advantage. We did not perform at our absolute limits, as we did in the first half of the season, but I also scored quite a few goals during the second half – six goals as opposed to the ten in the first half, with 5-6 fewer games played. I think on a personal level, the two parts of the season were quite balanced for me, and I am happy with my performance all season round. We now want to tackle the next season ahead, and channel the positive elements of the first part of last season.”

Was 2022-23 the best season of your career?

“I think it’s difficult to argue with that because the statistics point in that direction. You also have to take into account that I had the national team achievements as well, on top of the Bundesliga ones. The fact that I managed to score seven goals with the national side was also a great source of pride. That is why I would say it probably was my best season yet.
How did it feel: On the one hand you are playing your first World Cup, but on the other, the results did not go your way.”

“Yes, it was a weird feeling, I have to be honest. It was very special and nice to play a part in the tournament, and to contribute in the way I did was also amazing on a personal level. The team is always the priority though, and everyone always profits the most when the team is successful, which we were not, unfortunately. It’s important to be self-critical, and I am convinced we will show improved performance on this kind of stage in the future.”

What wasn’t right?

“Looking back at how we (Bremen) played at our absolute limit in the Bundesliga in the first part of the season, that is something we did not bring to the national side as a team. I think it is down to everyone to reach these kinds of levels because we all carry a certain level of responsibility for Germany. We need to make sure we find our top form, at the right times and in the biggest games for our country.”

The 2006 World Cup took place in Germany. With the European Championship coming up next year, there will be another big event in the country. Are you looking forward to it?

“It was unbelievable back in 2006, I remember everything. I think the culture has changed a bit from those times, and I am curious to see whether the feeling and atmosphere can be as euphoric as back then. I hope it can be as fantastic as the last one, but that will come down to the spirit of the German fans. I think what is special about club football in this country, when you compare it to other leagues, is that constant support for the teams, regardless of how things are going – that is something that is currently missing for our national side. Some people support you during successful periods and stop supporting you during more negative periods. I hope as many people as possible will back us, regardless of how it goes because I don’t think anyone can question our will to be successful. It sounds a bit harsh, but as a German, you have the responsibility to be a fan of your nation, and I hope that is how it will be.”

Where did you put your goalscoring crown?

“It is currently in my living room on the dining table where I can see it every day. I haven’t found a specific place for it yet; it’s just lying around at the moment.”

What does the goalscorer’s trophy mean to you?

“To be able to hold the cannon in your hands is something very special. The credit goes to many factors, including the fact that Haaland and Lewandowski left our league – but you still have to manage to do it, and it doesn’t happen very often that a newly promoted side includes the top scorer. I am very happy, but also a bit regretful that I missed five games at the end of the season because it would have been special to be the sole winner and not to have to share it, but I am very proud of my achievement.”

Together with Marvin Ducksch, you were the best-attacking duo – is that even more impressive, given you were part of a newly promoted team?

“Yes, Ducksch is a very intelligent and silky footballer. His quality of passing and understanding of the game, whether when we press or with the ball, is at a very high level. I think our qualities complement each other, and that is something I immediately notice when I play with someone else. I have to say, it flows well when I play with Ducksch, It’s a very positive harmony between us, and we profit from each other’s qualities – we both assisted one another many times. It is the first time in my career that I had such a positive feeling with a strike partner.”

Bremen conceded 64 goals last season – what plan does the coaching staff have in mind for the coming season?

“I think it is clear what went wrong in the second part of the season; we lost too many games and points. I think this is down to many factors. It’s important to me that we focus on the team and not just the defence – we need to work at it as a team. We need to work together to fix some specific problems that we were causing ourselves – we made a few mistakes that put us in some difficult situations. We need to work on these small aspects, and the head coach knows exactly what they are, and he showed them to us using videos. We have been given guidance on the mistakes, and we are working hard on correcting them as a group. I think if we can fix these problems, we might find ourselves a few places higher up in the table at the end of next season.”

What has Naby Keita shown so far?

“When a player of that quality arrives, it makes you very happy as a squad member and as a club. You then hope that he brings the desired quality. I saw his quality and desire in training straight away, and I feel like we had a very good harmony. He found me very easily on the pitch and always had a really good eye for me and other players on the pitch. He is a very creative player, and if he stays fit, his potential is unbelievable – that’s why it hurts to know he might miss the first two games of the season. We need him in top form; he needs to cover a lot of ground for us in his position, for his quality to shine through. We need to have a bit of patience, but we are really happy with him.”

You will play the season’s opening game at home against Bayern. How do you feel about that?

“I am very relaxed, but we still need to work very hard; we still need to improve our physical condition. I think it will be a nice game and the Weser stadium will be rocking once again. Let’s see if we can make it hard for Bayern and start the season off on a positive note.”

60 years of Bundesliga – what is your personal Bundesliga moment?

“We have always had special stars here in the Bundesliga that you could look up to – players who made you want to turn on your television or go to the stadiums. Amazingly, we have such a great league in Germany, with such high quality. We are attractive to players that are at a world-class level, and it’s great that as a German national, you can play top-level football in your home country – I find that special. We are part of the top five leagues in the world, and I think we have a league that is incredibly strong with some of the best fans in the whole world. The fan scenes and the ultras are extremely loud, and they always create the most fantastic atmosphere and support their teams. I think if you compare it to other countries, they can’t compete in terms of fan support, that’s what makes our league special.”