Mats Hummels: ?There are not many clubs as an alternative to the BVB?
Mats Hummels is one of the “Borussen” which already was a part of the national cup final in 2008, even if he did not field. Under Juergen Klopp, he formed the initially derided “Kinder-Bar” and is now among the EM candidates for the German national squad. In the first part of our interview, we talked with the 23-year old about his memories of the national cup final, his role as a build-up central defender and future perspectives (with or without title).
schwatzgelb.de: Mats, if you talk about Borussia Dortmund and its team of coaches, Juergen Klopp is always in the spotlight. Therefore, we would like to know how the work is split up among the assistant coaches?
Mats Hummels: That’s all clearly defined. Peter Krawietz is taking care of the opponent inspection and the video analysis. He cuts the videos together, shows us our own scenes after the game and, in preparation for the next game, the scenes of our opponents. Zeljko Buvac is totally involved in the daily training units and dictates at least half of our exercises by himself. Of course Juergen Klopp as head coach is the face of the squad and of the whole club but during the training also Zeljko takes over a lot of work.
schwatzgelb.de: How can we imagine the post-consideration of matches by use of video analysis?
Hummels: I think, the coaches discuss the scenes together in advance and share their opinions. Peter then shows us the match scenes while the coach - sometimes also both together - explains who went wrong in the particular scene.
schwatzgelb.de: Major strengths of the BVB are of course fitness and stamina. Which part play your fitness coaches?
Hummels: I think in preparation for the season they are the most important coaches, expecially in the training camp. To the suffering of the players they explain us the running exercises and sometimes also treat us harder as normal. But that’s a part of it and we know that our fitness experts do a good job. They make a major contribution to the fact that we are nearly never exhausted during the matches.
schwatzgelb.de: The transfer of Nuri Sahin was accompanied with a change in your game style. How did you react back then when he told you that he is going to switch to Real?
Hummels: Of course we assumed this decision already before he definitely informed us. At those days, he talked to the squad and the whole situation was very emotional for everyone of us, also for him. But we always understood his decision because he had the chance to transfer to one of the biggest clubs in the world. We always keep our fingers crossed for him that he plays and we are happy if he fields as in the Champions League first leg against Nikosia. Also, a lot of us still have intensive contact with him.
schwatzgelb.de: You also?
Hummels: Yes, also I have. The last time after the Stuttgart match (laughing). We talked about the match, he asked about the general situation and told me when he will be over the next time. Altogether, a classic call.
schwatzgelb.de: Recently, it was more and more recognisable that also you took over a part of his role during the match, especially in the build-up and with your long passes. How do you see this?
Hummels: Yes, it certainly was like that for a while during the season. Now, with Ilkay in a good shape, it became a little bit less. If we keep on playing that good, that’s of course no problem for me. The passes in the depth will be shorter then, I don’t have to shoot them 50 meters far, more 25 to 30 meters. Thereby, the chance that the ball is actually received by your own player increases. I also like it if others try to play these passes because than we are more flexible as a team and it is harder for the opponent to react.
schwatzgelb.de: How does it then feel to be marked up by opposing players as a central defender?
Hummels: I have to admit that it makes me a little bit proud. It is a clear appreciation of my quality if opposing coaches have to use their players, which are originally used to score, to cover me. This situation took place for the first time in Munich, when Louis van Gaal even admitted after the game that he instructed Gomez to cover me.
schwatzgelb.de: Meanwhile you are completely prepared for that?
Hummels: Yes of course. The problem is that I cannot close up 15 meters because then I would leave a huge gap behind. I simply have to accept that but there are anyway opportunities in each match to become active. Therefore, I have to accomplish that the quality of my actions in these few situations is even higher than if I would have 30 of them in one match.
schwatzgelb.de: Do you then profit by the fact that you played in the defensive midfield on the classical “6” position?
Hummels: Of course, this is also something that further helps me now as a central defender. That’s because the time in which you have to make decisions is clearly shorter in the midfield due to less space. As a defender, I often have situations in which I can control the ball five to ten seconds. In the midfield, two to three seconds are a rarity. This thinking of course helps if you play in the defense.
schwatzgelb.de: Even if Dortmund has no lack of personnel at the moment: Could you imagine to play in the midfield sometime?
Hummels: Basically yes, but only in emergency situations. I also played 30 minutes in the defensive midfield in the national squad in Austria, when everyone else for this position dropped out, although we really have 25 good midfield defenders in Germany. But I cannot imagine it as a complete new position.
schwatzgelb.de: When Juergen Klopp arrived, there was a radical change in the central defence. The “Grandfather” defence with Woerns and Kovac was replaced by the critically eyed “Kinder-Bar”. How did you experience this situation as 19-year old professionals?
Hummels: That both positions have been manned with two 19-year olds was already surprising at this stage. But the coach had known Neven from Mainz and also I recognised quickly in the preparation for the season that he builds on me. Then it does not matter if you are 22 or 19 years old. I think it is exciting that we are still called the youngest central defender pair in the Bundesliga, although we are not anymore. We are yet 23!
schwatzgelb.de: Neven once said in an interview that the strikers prefer to approach him so they do not have to play against Mats Hummels. How are the roles separated between you two?
Hummels: I think this statement was just a joke from him. Otherwise I could not imagine it because Neven is also in a tackling one of the most dominant players. I experienced it myself during the training.
schwatzgelb.de: But you participate a lot more in the build-up than him, is this arranged or is this just happening because of the fact that you have more qualities in the build-up?
Hummels: Depending on the ball contacts I would not say that. Maybe it just looks like I am more active because I play a few more “deadly” passes. If Neven does a 5-meter pass to me beforehand, the long pass from me gets more attention. But if I look at the statistics afterwards, things look relatively even.
schwatzgelb.de: How is your relationship to Neven?
Hummels: Absolutely easy. I think Neven is the most sociable guy in our squad. He does his own thing and lives in his own world a little bit. If you call someone “Chiller”, it fits perfectly for him.
schwatzgelb.de: You and Neven are set as central defenders. Tele Santana is the third player in our squad who is also very strong, but who is logically not satisfied with his time on the pitch. Is that an issue among yourselves?
Hummels: That was already an issue before the season. The coach wanted to substitude considering those many games we have to play. Then, Neven was injured two times anyways so that Tele did 10 games in the first half of the season. He is 26 now and if you are such a strong player like Tele, you want to be a first-team player. That’s why we cant blame him if he wants to transfer in summer after such a long time at Borussia. Even though that would be a real pity because he has some enormous qualities. Thus I hope that we would find a good substitute for him then of course.
schwatzgelb.de: At the beginning Tele, Neven and you scored relatively many goals, the majority of them with headers after corner kicks. That has changed. Against Augsburg e.g there was a free kick out of the centre of the pitch...
Hummels: ... but now we again scored goals after inactive balls.
schwatzgelb.de: Perceived we are clearly less dangerous after free kicks and corners as we were two years ago.
Hummels: At the beginning of the season we scored some goals after inactive balls. But its true, we had a period of 13 to 14 games in which firstly inactive balls were kicked pretty bad and secondly we did not score, even if they were kicked good. Against Lautern I headed against the post two times and some day you think for yourself: ‘Oh well, corners wont be effective anyways’. But that’s not only the feeling of the fans, we also feel like this. But we worked on that.
schwatzgelb.de: That means, free and corner kicks have been trained harder in the past?
Hummels: Exactly and we also improved us there. It is a question of practice. The others never trained corners because they have never needed to kick them like Nuri or Mario. And then it simply needs some time until you fit into your new role. Luckily we again reached the point now at which the fans can scream ‘in, in!’ and not ‘avoid counterattacks!’.
schwatzgelb.de: Let’s talk about the cup final. You were present at the last final in 2008, but you didn’t play. Prior to the last season, you’ve said “This year we’ll win a title”, and in the end this title was the championship. Having watched the match against Düsseldorf this season and the jubilance afterwards, especially yours, one had the impression that you want this title at all costs this year. Have you dealt with this from the beginning on?
Hummels: Theoretically, you deal with this every year. Honestly, we weren’t acting really clever before in the matches against Osnabrück and Offenbach. Against Osnabrück, we were a bit unlucky when Barletta scored with an overhead kick. And against Offenbach we were caught by their tiresome play, played really badly and deserved to be eliminated. Because of that it was clear to us that we must behave differently. Especially now that we’re one of the best teams in Germany and are perceived accordingly. That’s why we didn’t want to make fools of ourselves again but achieve something in a competition in that you theoretically have to win seven games only.
schwatzgelb.de: What are your memories of 2008, of the whole atmosphere in Berlin and the Olympiastadion?
Hummels: Since the atmosphere was so great, I have only bad memories. The running-in into the stadium is a cool moment, of course. Both teams enter, the music is played, the whole stadium shakes. This atmosphere is incredibly intense because there are 30.000 or 40.000 of our supporters and of Bayern equally and because of that everything is much louder than during a usual league match. To have to sit on the bench and watch the game really hurt back then. For this reason I have hoped for another chance to take to the field in Berlin and then actually play for the team.
schwatzgelb.de: Which future prospects do you see for Borussia Dortmund, also with you in the team, for the coming years?
Hummels: First of all, I think that as a player, it is a pleasure to come respectively stay here. It is the whole package that counts, as Mario said. The team is strong, we’re always kicking, and it is really fun to be part of this. And of course we’ve got the biggest stadium in Germany with probably the best atmosphere. Thus, there aren’t many other clubs that could offer an alternative to this.
schwatzgelb.de: What do you want to achieve with Borussia?
Hummels: At the moment it would be nice if we could stay first in the league (laughs). Forecasting is difficult. Nevertheless: Having this kind of potential, the goal of the team should be to establish itself in the long run. Maybe not as a direct opponent of Bayern – that’s difficult for every team – but definitely as one of the best three of four teams in Germany. Let’s see if this works out. The Champions League helps to earn enough money to have this kind of a team. If the qualification for the Champions League is not achieved for two years in a row, it will be difficult for the club to bind good players.
schwatzgelb.de: For a long time, there was progress with hardly any stagnation to be noticed in the club. Do you think that titles are really important to continue this way of success?
Hummels: You don’t have to win titles, but for such a good team as we are, it hast to be at least a goal. In the end, titles will always be the relevant benchmark, they are important for your image. For myself, the way that you play football is almost more important, but if you look at Leverkusen for example, you see that they’ve played extraordinary football during the last five years, but as they’ve never won a title, nobody really takes them seriously. For me, it is not a catastrophe not winning a trophy, as long as we still play good football. Before winning the championship with the long ball and ten fortuitous goals per game, I’d rather prefer to be second with a system for playing that is build to be successful in the long run.
schwatzgelb.de: I’m asking you this because Juergen Klopp recently complained at a press conference that he had the impression to be almost obliged to apologize that you only had won a game 1:0.
Hummels: We have a very relaxed attitude towards this. Nobody assumed that we’ll be 15 points ahead of Bayern. Looking at the teams, one has to say that it is a quality to be ahead with eight points three days of play before the league finishes.
schwatzgelb.de: Even though after Nuri’s departure one thought that he could have stayed and advance at the BVB, his decision to leave was still comprehensible. Borussia Dortmund is a club standing on a firm basement. Many players’ contracts were extended for a lot of years. Is there a logic next step coming after Borussia Dortmund for a player like you?
Hummels: I never did this classic form of career planning. I was always of the opinion that I can’t even know what will be happening next summer. So how can I tell what will happen in four years? Forecasting more than the next two or three months is highly speculative. The day-to-day routine, injuries, luck, misfortune, the whole environment – all of this can change so much. After you’ve lost five games in a row, for example, the situation for us could be a completely changed one. I don’t think this is going to happen, and even if: At the moment everything adds up to this team being very successful at least for the next couple of years.
schwatzgelb.de: You’ve said that you’re not really planning your career long-term. What was it like when FC Bayern lent you to the BVB in winter 2008?
Hummels: Back then, of course my idea was that I’d return to Bayern afterwards. But after three or four months already, I thought “Well, maybe not” and after half a year, I thought “To stay here is the better decision”. And this is exactly what I mean when I say that everything can change and that for this reason I can’t and won’t forecast for myself.
schwatzgelb.de: Which reasons made you change your mind?
Hummels: I found a totally different situation in Dortmund. In Munich, I was a young player and because of that understandably wasn’t taken seriously. I was allowed to join practice twice or three times a week. But every Friday, I’d go to the coach and ask him: “Amateurs or the professional team’s bench?” I had to ask this myself because no one would have told me in personal otherwise. (laughs) That was a bit weird, really. At some point, I realized that I had no chance to even become a candidate for the defense. Two or three of the central defenders were injured once, and instead of employing me, someone who originally played on the right side was drawn to the middle. It was completely different in Dortmund: Here, I am taken seriously, here I have the chance to play, and in addition for a pretty good team. It began to show quite soon then that the 13th rank with coach Thomas Doll won’t be the future standard for the BVB.
schwatzgelb.de: When did you realize this?
Hummels: When Juergen Klopp became our coach. Before that, we really didn’t play well, but all of a sudden we were a completely new team with more viability and quality. It was that moment when I realized that we can build something new, and that is something that I think is beautiful in general.
schwatzgelb.de: You’ve come here from Upper Bavaria. Dortmund has the image of a typical city of the Ruhr area. How do you like it here?
Hummels: Well, I was born in Bergisch Gladbach. (laughs) Of course, Dortmund is not the most beautiful city in Germany. Especially as a football player, you have to pay much attention to regeneration and your body, and here in Dortmund I can do lots of things to relax. For example, I can meet the other boys of the team and just hang around. I guess that there might be German cities that are more beautiful. But if you know where the beautiful districts of the city are, you can arrange yourself with every city and enjoy living in it.
schwatzgelb.de: We have the impression that you players do incredibly much together even when you’re not on the pitch.
Hummels: Of course we’re not all best friends, but that’s not the point. It is more about the fact that there are a lot of players in the team who get along with a lot of other players. Everyone gets along with everyone else – and that’s what makes us a bit special in a way. For example, I hang out with five to seven of the boys on a regular basis. Serious problems might occur every three years in this team.
In the second part of the interview, Mats talks about Facebook, the national squad, his most intensive moments as a Borussia Dortmund player as well as he comments supporter issues like "Kein Zwanni" or pyrotechnics. Further you will hear what really pushes him before and during a game.