Interview: Jonathan Burkardt, 1. FSV Mainz 05

Image Credit (Bundesliga Content Hub Images)

You went from youth player to Bundesliga player at Mainz. What do you make of the current U19s, who beat Barcelona and Manchester City? What’s your view of what your successors are doing?

“When I think back to my time, I think we always had quite good U19 teams, but never at the top, top level. We were always among the top three or four, but never at the top. And what’s happening right now, it’s super cool to see. I was in the stadium myself. What an atmosphere, how the boys played. It all started with the title with Nelson Weiper, and Brajan Gruda and has just kept going. Special and nice.”

Why does Mainz do such good youth work? Compared with the resources at Dortmund or Bayern or elsewhere, you’re advanced here. Can you explain that?

“I believe it has a lot to do with the structure in place at the academy. I think we have very good coaches in the academy. The way it’s led is very calm and familial. The players can develop calmly here. They’re trained well. I experienced that as well. Normally a lot of it is about developing good individual players, but right now both things are working well, with both good teams and individual youth players. Very good work.”

Mainz is known for its spirit, its DNA of how it wants to play football but also its attitude. What’s your view of that? How would you describe it?

“I think that’s also a big point that they quickly convey what’s important, the values of the club, and that you can only be here when you live by those values. That’s such simple things like discipline, friendliness, greeting people around the club, not walking around with headphones in. It’s just really cool that people live by that, and that’s then transported onto the pitch. The principle of the foundation is to run back and fight and give your all for the team. And that makes you better as a person. I think that’s taken off and is reflected in performances.”

It’s also linked to a certain style of football – can Mainz only be successful when they play the Mainz way, which ultimately starts from the academy?

“I believe we have these lines from which everyone can be guided. Everyone knows the foundation is defensive work. Counter-pressing is important for us, as quick transitions, and getting forward quickly. And if that’s imparted to you early, then it becomes easier at each youth level to find that connection, and in the best case then make it to the first team, because ideally, we’d also operate according to the same principles. It makes it all easier, has made Mainz successful in recent years and can continue to make it successful.”

Has that spirit come back at the right time to give you a push in the relegation battle? Are you more in tune with yourselves at the moment?

“I believe so. We’re living those things more and more. Those Mainz virtues are being seen on the pitch more and more. I believe that’s also the goal and increases the probability of winning at the weekend when you consistently do those things week after week. That should be the goal.”

What will it come down to in the battle at the bottom? You’ve got key games in Leipzig and then at home against your hometown club Darmstadt. What’s the plan for the coming days and weeks?

“I think just keep working, keep working on those things, leaving everything we’ve got out on the pitch each week, and then hopefully get points. We’ve got a tough game now in Leipzig, but full focus on that game for now. Then we’ll see what comes after that. We’ll try to get something in Leipzig.”

A quote from André Schürrle, a former U19s player here: “You don’t play a final, you win a final”. Do you now have eight or nine finals left in terms of how you approach things at the bottom?

“I think it’s always tough because it feels like we’ve already had 10 finals. Before the winter break, it was always like, ‘This game now, this game now’. So, look at everything one game at a time and try to win as many points as possible. Then I think it’ll turn out well.”

How important will your role up front be? You were out injured for a year. You’ve had time to reflect. Are you the Jonny you were before?

“I think I still need some time. I had an infection and am not yet at 100 per cent in terms of strength and power. But still, I believe I can give the team a lot and try to live by those things, leading from the front with passion and intensity. Then I hope I can play my part.”

How hard was it being out, with several operations and a very complicated injury?

“It wasn’t nice. But I was always clear that I wanted to come back and would give everything to come back. But obviously, nobody is happy about being out for a long time. But you can still take some good things from it. You get to know your body better, I have a very different feel for my body now. I also don’t think it hurt my game in a mental sense to have that annoying time out.”

What’s it like at the moment you return? Striking the ball so well and scoring like you did against Gladbach. What was it like to have that footballing feeling back?

“I hadn’t had that feeling for so long, that adrenaline. Scoring a goal is the best thing, celebrating wins – I’d missed that. And then the win against Bochum last weekend. Those are the moments for which you did everything and for which you worked so long. I hope there will be a few more.”

You seem to have a new coach who’s like a typical Mainz coach in Bo Henriksen. What’s he like? For us on the outside, he seems to have an ability to pull everyone along. What’s it like for you players?

“Probably a bit more because we get a bit more of the energy every day. I believe he’s played a big part in us believing again, in the people here believing. You see lots of people coming to training and watching us. Lots of people are now really up for this relegation battle. I believe he’s leading from the front, which makes it easier for us.”

What will be key, or what makes you sure that you’ll stay up?

“The positive trend makes us positive. As I said, going to the limit week after week will increase the probability of winning games. We’re on course to keep going like that, but it’s ultimately the points that count. You need to do that week after week. We should concentrate on that and not things like, ‘We’ve won one, so things will work out. We’ll deal with it in home games. I think that’s the wrong approach. Focus first on Leipzig, try to get something there, and then approach the next game.”

Mainz is seen abroad as a club of coaching legends, like Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. Similar types of coaches. Are you players aware of that perception or is it more something for people on the outside?

“There are lots of us here who experienced neither Klopp nor Tuchel. They’re huge coaches who came from the club. You know that and hear stories, but I can’t make any comparisons because I haven’t played under either. I’m pleased with the coach we have here now.”

Jonathan Burkardt during the Bundesliga match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and VfL Bochum 1848 at MEWA Arena on 16 March 2024. Image Credit: (Bundesliga Content Hub Images)