Interview: Rocco Reitz, Borussia Mönchengladbach

Image Credit ( IMAGO/UWE KRAFT Images)

Are you enjoying life in the Bundesliga?

“Yeah, sure. It’s coming more and more, I keep realising it more and more when I’m at home or lying in bed alone. I think I’m just getting to grips with it, but it’s hard to grasp it all because you just take things game by game and training session by training session. So I think it won’t be until the winter break when I have a couple of days off that I will come to terms with it, but as I said, I don’t want to relax, I try to go from training sessions to the training session, game to game, trying to keep getting better and improving on the things I’m doing wrong. But yeah, it’s fun at the moment.”

How did it feel to score your first Bundesliga goal?

“Very, very cool, especially in front of the home crowd, and when I did the knee slide to celebrate, it was awesome. It was cool, a dream of mine, and I couldn’t believe it at the moment. But I was happy on the day, the fact we won 4-0. Good for the team, for the atmosphere, it was really important and it was a really good day.”

As a young Gladbach fan, did you dream of this moment?

“Yeah, a long time ago, when I was very young, I was a striker. And then I think when we moved to a full-size pitch at 15 or 16, I was always the striker, and then I just kept moving back! And I think I was about 10 or 11 when I started following the first team and paying attention to their games, so that was probably when it became a dream of mine, like ‘Oh, how cool would it be to score a goal there’.

“I think even earlier in the U9s, or when I was young, we had a game at BORUSSIA-PARK and I think I probably imagined it back then too. I can remember it happening a bit later, but I was playing at BORUSSIA-PARK as a young kid, a ‘pre-game’ was what we called it, we played before the first team. I don’t think they do it anymore, but it was a really cool experience.”

When did you start following Borussia Mönchengladbach?

“I think pretty early. I’m not sure, because my whole family is linked to the club, my father’s friends too. I’ve been registered as a club member since I was born, and I think ever since I’ve been watching football, it’s always been Gladbach, so the club has played a role in my life since the very start.”

How does it feel to be a fan favourite so young in your career?

“It’s the nicest thing ever, obviously it makes me happy. I always put myself in the place of the fans a bit, and it would make me so happy too to see a kid from your academy, who’s been there for so long, finally break through and have a run like that. It makes me so happy as a fan, and then for myself, it makes me even happier! It’s just so much fun.”

You spent time playing in Belgium – how was that experience?

“It wasn’t an easy time. To be on your own in a new country, where they play a different kind of football that you have to adapt to, and then during the times when you don’t play as much, you start to think ‘Damn, this is tough’. But I think I just told myself every morning before training to give my all and it’ll come somehow.

I grew up with that mindset, you need to look in the mirror and be able to say you’ve given your all, otherwise you only have yourself to blame. I want to do everything I can, everything I can contribute to, to make sure it works, and if that’s not enough, then that’s fine. But right now it’s going well, and I think that was the main thing, that I never gave up and always kept going.”

What do you think led you to this point?

“I just want to highlight the hard work part. I think others have the talent, but I think it was a lot of hard work. Lots and lots of hard work. I can’t say what percentage it was, but I always did more every training session, I did more every weekend when I didn’t play. And I think that’s part of it because it’s so hard to reach the top and you don’t get there without hard work. That’s just the way it is. You have to do it, no doubt.”

Do you prefer the attacking or defending part of your game?

“I think everything starts with your defensive work. You have to do your job defensively and make sure you keep a clean sheet, and when you do that and you do it well, that’s when you can think about attacking. And then when you get involved, win your duels defensively, then you start going forward and you get better chances, and one is linked to the other – if you don’t do your job well defensively then it’s less likely you’ll get the opportunities going forward, that’s how I see it in football. So I try to make sure I do everything defensively, give my all there, and then, and only then, start thinking about what you do with the ball.”

What do you think of your nickname: “Messi from Niederrhein”?

“No, stop! No, it’s a laugh in the dressing room, but I don’t want to hear anything about it, because it’s a comparison that’s just a joke between friends. But as I said, on the ball I’m not so bad, it’s fun to play with the ball and I like to have it, I like to have control or start an attack or dribble a bit, so it’s really fun.”

What did your teammates think?

“Yeah, it’s all jokes, but I hear it a lot every time I get the ball in space at the moment. It’ll stop eventually but you just have to laugh right now.”

It was a tough start to the season – what do you put that down to?

“I don’t think anything changed all of a sudden or anything. I think when you start a new process, especially when you have a change, it’s clear that it’s not going to go only one way or the other, you’ll have ups and downs, and you have to find yourself, make sure everyone understands each other on the pitch, that’s part of it. I think game by game you could see developments in various areas, and when you take steps forward in lots of little places, you’ll automatically start something bigger at some point.

“We started to pick up results, and then you get the setback like against Dortmund where we started well and gave it away. We have to learn from that and move forward and it’s something that maybe won’t happen in the next game. You just have to learn from the things you do wrong, either as a team or personally, and that’ll happen throughout a season, you’ll have ups and downs of course.

We can’t throw away our whole style of play because of losses or individual mistakes, instead, we have to do what the coach says and keep working every week, so I’m not worried about it at all throughout a season.”
How much of an effect has head coach Gerardo Seoane had on you?

“A huge role, for sure. Because with a young player at their boyhood club, the way a season can go, you need a coach who trusts them, who’s behind them and says: ‘He can make mistakes, who gives a s**t’, if I can say that, ‘I trust them, I’ll back them’, and that’s so important, because without confidence it’s so hard to reach the top, so I’m thankful for that.”

You have a young core, but experience too. Have you found the right balance?

“Yeah, that’s part of it. You need a bit of mixture in a team, of more experienced older players and unencumbered younger players who’ll give their all and run every yard, perhaps run too hard. And that’s the mixture. It’s really fun to play with the team because we have that mixture of young and old and we all get on well. Yeah, it’s very positive, I have to say.”

What is your relationship with the other young players?

“I think we all push each other. The young players perhaps go out a bit harder than the older guys, and then there’s something back from the older guys and that just pushes you all higher, that’s how the quality in training goes up and how the team gets better, which is better at the weekend, it’s what helps you perform better.”

Who have you learned the most from in training?

“I think in terms of football, I spoke to Chris Kramer a lot, he listened to me and I listened to him a lot. I think he has a really good idea of the sport. I think in terms of the work he puts in, and his desire to always do more, I also think of Tony Jantschke, who is always at the gym so much for a guy his age, he prepares himself so well before and after games. And outside of our team, I look at Kimmich, and Xhaka, those are role models of mine.”

What is your next dream?

“Well, I’d say I’ve already checked off a lot, I have to say! It’s a bit corny but I think my next goal is to have a consistent season with Gladbach, as a team, and contribute to that as much as I can with goals or assists, or stopping goals with my defensive work, just throwing myself into everything. And then just to soak up the whole season, learn a lot, and then who knows where that will take us if we can stay together as a group and play our game. So I just want us to have a good consistent season, win lots of games, as many as we can, and become a really strong group.”

You went from a ballboy to a player – how does that feel?

“When I was a ballboy I always wanted to get out there and play. It was really fun, experiencing the fans, the players, my family could be there, then just looking around at the other ballboys and laughing, thinking about how I was there before, it was really fun, and it makes me really proud because it’s something I always wanted.”

Do you still have your season ticket?

“Yeah, I still have it, but I can’t use it! My family, my dad and my best friend, we have three season tickets, yeah.”

What are your memories of being a fan? Were you ever a mascot?

“Yeah, I was a mascot, always with the away team. I walked out with players like Edin Dzeko, with Thomas Müller once, it was really cool, because we always fought about who would get to go at the back because the best players or the biggest names would go there! So, I usually would win the argument and I got to walk out holding the hand of a couple of really big names.”