“Winning ElClasico would mean everything to us… we want to be the ones to leave with three points in the bag”
Question: So, why don’t we start off talking about ElClásico? It’s, of course, one of the biggest rivalries on the planet, and you have played in so many already. So, tell me what it means to you and how would you define ElClásico?
Answer: Well, ElClásico is always something very special to everybody of us. We are always looking forward to it, but we also know we have something in front, or before, that we want to get in good conditions to the game. And therefore, of course, we want to win every game and then, when it comes to ElClásico, of course, just enjoying and trying to respect everything the coach asks us for us, and win. This is what matters.
Q: And what does it mean to a footballer in general to play in ElClásico? Is it something different compared to other games, whenever you pull on the Barça shirt, does it feel that much more special to you?
A: Well, yes, it’s something very unique. The feeling, as well, as it’s the biggest game right now. So, of course, everybody of us is happy and full of energy when it comes to ElClásico and wants to participate in that. And well, we are privileged that we have such a good game coming up and we, of course, want to enjoy it. It’s very important for all of us.
Q: As it stands right now, both of you are chasing for the league title with a very small margin of points between the two teams. So how do you see this particular game ahead?
A: Well, at the end, the game is also just about 3 points and the situation is as it is. We are very close to each other and, of course, we can …. I just talked about our objective. We make it a small advantage for us and want to be the first ones once again. And hopefully we can keep it up until the very end.
Q: What do you expect of Real Madrid? Is there any particular plan for you to beat them once again?
A: Well, we expect them as always, now, because they are in first place, they really want to show up and be present in their home. I think that the last few times we went there we were lucky and had very good games from our side and we made it very difficult for them to even score. So, this is also the objective for now. We want to be successful in each and every game. It doesn’t matter if it’s in ElClásico or not, but we have to be very aware of that is coming and it’s this is very difficult. They have a good squad and a good team, and it will be a tough game for both of us.
Q: You mentioned what’s coming, especially on the pitch. Players like Garth Bale, Karim Benzema, Eden Hazard… take your pick. Obviously, a lot of fire power is going to be coming your direction. So how do prepare yourself? How do you position yourself in goal whenever you are trying to stop players like them that can come from virtually anywhere or from anyone?
A: Well, first of all, I have also players in front of me who try to avoid that they come that close. Of course, not always it’s possible, as they have a lot of quality. Well, we want to play as always, we want to keep possession, we want to be better than the opponent. Well, it will be tough, but we can stop them. We have great players in our rows, so hopefully they can’t come too close too many times.
Q: This time you’re going to the Bernabéu and obviously it’s quite different to playing at home, in the Camp Nou. It really becomes like playground for Barça, if you like, in the last few years. Wins and draws in both LaLiga and Copa del Rey since April 2016. 9 games in a row without any defeat. And top of that, Real Madrid have not been able to win at home in either of those competitions in a run of 13. It’s a tremendous record that you and your teammates have at the Santiago Bernabéu. Does that ever weigh on your mind? Do you think about it personally? Or does anybody talk about it in the dressing room?
A: No, and it’s good that we are not talking about it, I think. The key for this is teamwork and we know that everything needs to work in very special moments. We need to be there, focused and ready. And this is one of these moments in the season, so we can really make a change in the season. And well, it’s on us. It’s not about somebody else. We know that we have a lot of strength in our rows and, well, I am very confident when it comes to our team, as we have a great team. And this is what is mattering right now. Because we can’t decide what the other team is doing, we can just play as we always do. We go there being confident and trying to win it. We all know that it’s very difficult and it will not be easy. But it’s good that we always keep on concentrating on the moment, and not looking back in the past, because the past is gone, it passed by. And now we are in a new situation, so we just focus on this game, on this stage of the season and try to be successful.
Q: When it comes to this game compared to others, either in LaLiga or other competitions, is the tactical approach or mentality is different in the preparation, whenever the team is getting ready to play against Real Madrid?
A: It shouldn’t be different, but obviously it’s a great game. The focus changes, as well, as you concentrate yourself, everyone wants to perform at the highest level. I think, of course, in these nights, when it comes to the biggest games worldwide, I think everybody wants to succeed somehow and wants to be able to be at 100%. And this is the objective of all of us and, yes, probably it changes sometimes, even if you don’t want to let it happen. But we are all human and it’s known.
Q: So, you already mentioned it, going into some of the biggest games one the planet, watched by tens of millions of people. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be ElClásico, could be against Atlético de Madrid, the Champions League or whatever. But you, on the outside, always look very calm. I don’t know if that’s the case, really, on the inside. But how do you prepare to step into that kind of pressure, that kind of game?
A: Yes, as we talked about before, I try to work at the same rhythm. I try to be always in the best circumstances, therefore I also need my goalkeeper coaches, my teammates to be at 100% and I try to always be professional and on 100%, but for me it doesn’t change if it’s a game against somebody else or Real Madrid or whoever, as for me, the work doesn’t change. And, well, as I said before, sometimes, of course, even if you don’t notice, there are small differences in the preparation which can make a big difference and I try to make it kind of a routine, always being in the same shape, always being professional. It doesn’t matter who we face, and I think, until now, it’s working quite well.
Q: And just a final word on ElClásico. What level of importance does this particular game have for the rest of Barcelona’s league campaign?
A: As we said before, we can really make a change in everything. This would mean everything to us, to win this game as we have it in our hands again. And we are going to go there, play one game, it’s 3 points in the game and we want to be the ones who leave Madrid with 3 points in our bag. And we don’t think about what’s happening in the season or league or whatever. We just want to win this game to be in a best position at the moment. And hopefully we can win there. It will be difficult; it will be tough. But the objective is always the same. Even though we wouldn’t win there, it’s still the same the same objective, being always at 100% and winning all games.
Q: We are going to talk a little bit about the current situation of Barcelona and you, in general. We will start off with Quique Setién. We know that he has not been here for too long, but he has already implemented some changes. So, from your perspective, what have been those changes and what have been the best, for you?
A: Well, every coach has his own ideas, makes small changes to let players he wants to play. And in this way, of course, we try to combine a bit more. We try to combine from the back and, well, we are trying exactly what we are trying to do what he wants us to do, with confidence, with energy, as he always asks us for, and well, I think we are adapting quite good to it, even though at the beginning, of course, as it’s a different kind of philosophy, I would say. But of course, we want to do that, and we are after that and I think it’s working well, so far.
Q: And if I am not mistaken, you also like to play out from the back, you’re very good with your feet and it seems as though it actually suits you, personally, that style of play.
A: Yes, in general, Barça philosophy fits quite well to me. But every coach, as I sais before, has his own image of how he wants to play football. So, I try to adapt myself as well. Now he wants me to participate a bit more and I am doing it. He tries to give the team another solution and I try to help wherever I can, of course, and well, my main work doesn’t change, which is being in the goal, trying to avoid that the opponent scores.
Q: Normally, when I do these interviews with players, the name that comes up as a difficult opponent is Messi. And, obviously, since he’s on your team. Who would you say is the most difficult opponent you’ve faced?
A: Well, there were quite a lot. Now, in league, I said it already a few times against Aduriz and he scored quite a lot of times against me. I don’t want to say that, you know… But well….
Q: He’s retiring this year, so…
A: Yes, yes, it’s good for us, it’s not that good for him. Maybe it is, I don’t know. But it was always very, very tough. But also, I was facing a lot of good strikers, good players, and I am very happy that we are having quite a lot of good guys in our team.
Q: And how do you feel after keeping a clean sheet? How much of a motivation is that for you?
A: Well, it’s very important, of course, because it’s kind of a team performance, as well, and we always try to not concede any goal. But the most important thing is winning the games. It doesn’t matter how. We want to play nice football, attractive football, but sometimes, when they score, people say “they can’t keep a clean sheet”, lately they are scoring us goals in strange situations and sometimes, also, it’s very difficult to avoid them. But we are working on this and we really want to make it happen. We always want to keep a clean sheet, which means a lot to the team, not just to me. And of course, it’s great when we can go home or whatever and we are happy because we defended well and didn’t concede any goal. But at the end, it’s about winning. And as long as we are winning and we are doing good, I am absolutely okay with it.
Q: Winning is something you do quite often in your six seasons here. You’ve already won 13 trophies since you’ve been at the club. Just with Barcelona alone, that doesn’t account for what you’ve done with Germany and obviously the amount of individual you’ve received. How do you maintain that hunger? Is it something natural that comes to a footballer, even though you keep winning and winning and winning? Is it something you maintain, that? Or is it just something that comes naturally as a competitor?
A: I don’t know how it is for others, but I can just talk about my point of view. I am always hungry for new trophies and I really want to always make it happen. And well, as I said before, it’s teamwork; football is about the team. And this is what we need to maintain. If you want to be successful, you are just as strong as the team is. And everybody needs to be aware that everything professional and 100%, to be successful. And at the end of the day, the trophies are what counts, and this is why the hunger doesn’t stop.
Q: Now, the team has had some brilliant performances already this season. You as well, between the sticks have had some fantastic performances as you do every single campaign. But is there anyone that sticks out of your mind or any particular save that you are particularly proud of?
A: No, I don’t have one special save I would say. But I think every save is important. The first point is of course for the team but also individually you try to be at your best and try to show your performances as well. And well, I always try my best. I try to be there. I am working in training, working hard with the coaches towards getting a bit better and to be at the top and well, this is why as I said before, I always want to win trophies, no matter how and I think we are all working hard for it and we really want to make it happen.
Q: You have also managed to provide some assists, which is something not many goalkeepers can say. The first one was for Luis Suárez against Getafe, becoming the first Barcelona goalkeeper in the 21stcentury to have done so. To make an assist, then again with Griezmann, is that something that you are actually intending to do or is that just a wonderful circumstance.
A: Well, I was lucky. No, I think it depends on so many things, on so many details, that the player also sees what I see and that we have the same opinion about things and that they know what I want to do, so, well, it’s also kind of luck. It’s the moment, it’s the detail, it’s well… when I can help somehow, I’m open-minded for everything so… I am very happy that it worked out that well. Two assists are great, it’s nice and now also the things change. We have the teams more aware of it and they try to stop also me playing from the back, so, well, let’s see but it’s not my main objective to do that.
Q: You have already talked extensively about obviously winning, how important it is and everything else, but is there any particular thing that you need to improve on in order to retain that league title by the end of the campaign?
A: Well, as I said before, we always want to keep clean sheets that’s also key to be successful and we know that we have to be a team to be always there on top and this is what we really are trying to do. Then it’s some details sometimes, that everything is working out well, sometimes now, when we talk about the league or the Champions League or whatever, sometimes on just one moment, that moment can change a lot. So, this is why we always want to be prepared and I think we are. And well, we hope for good results and try always to be on top to attack the one who is up on top of the league right now.
Q: Now, just a couple of questions about you away from the pitch, more into your personal life, going all the way back to your origins, when you were a kid and you were starting to play football, from what I could tell you have always been a goal keeper, is that the case?
A: No, I was a field player for like ten years, not ten, until ten years, more or less, so six, seven years I was playing in the field and it was not just only my decision, but it was a coach decision, he said that I should maybe think about being on the goal or change the team. So, I decided to go and play as a goalkeeper and it worked out quite well.
Q: Now, when you came to Barcelona you said that it was your goal to stay here for a long time and to achieve success but apart from that you have also gotten married in Sitges and had your first child not too long ago, so congratulations for that. You seem very well established here, like you have really settled some roots. How do you feel about being in Barcelona?
A: Well, I am feeling very good. Actually, it made a big change in my life. Coming over with my wife and of course, she also has her own life and she is also dedicating a long time to her job so well, we try to make it possible to adapt as fast as possible, to be happy. I feel home where she is and where my son is of course. I am just trying to be the one I always was, and I don’t want to change for anything and I am happy Barcelona allows me to be as I am. I could not be happier for the moment, but as I said before home is where my family is of course.
Q: I imagine when you first arrived here there is quite a big difference coming from the northern part of Europe to the southern part of Europe. What were some of the differences that really stood out for you when you landed here in Barcelona?
A: The language obviously, that was tough at the beginning because you don’t understand everything. It was also not easy to talk English to the people here, but I think it was fine. I almost felt like I brought my translator with me with Ivan Rakitic in this case. Well, he made it really easy for me and also the people, De la Fuente, which is my goalkeeper coach, to make me feel good and happy in the team and try to explain me everything even though he knew that I would not understand everything at the beginning but he had the patience and this helps a lot. It’s on you, when you have to adapt and want to learn the language, but that’s the biggest point, and then the mentality. The mentality is in many terms different to the Germans and well… but now, sometimes when I go back to Germany, I think wow, that’s better in Spain or this is better in Germany or whatever. It’s nice because you have something of everything and yes, it’s also a win in life I would say.
Q: And how long did it take you to learn Spanish and even Catalan in this case, because there’s another language here apart from Spanish…?
A: It did not take too long until I understood the people, but also talking… some accents from South America, they are a bit different and you really have to listen to it at the beginning, but well, it was okay. As the people know that you don’t speak Spanish, they try to speak quite slow. I was also asking to speak a bit slower and well, they really respected me with this and tried to help me learn the language as quick as possible. And well, Catalan is… I started with classes, but it took me like a few hours just with the pronunciation and stuff. But I tried to do it because I know the people also appreciate it and I try to do it for them as well and to adapt myself to the place where my son also got born. I am happy that the people are laughing about it when I speak it and well, it means a lot to me.
Q: And I think that another thing that people also appreciate, especially locals, is the fact that they can spot you on the metro and they can see you around town. It is something quite different to a lot of players of your status and somebody in a big club like Barcelona. How is that interaction, do people actually come up to you and say anything to you if they see you in the street?
A: Well, yes, but it is nice because the people once they saw you already and they see how you are and how you try to behave, I think the people they get a feeling for you. It’s easier for them to say ok, this is the right moment or not and I always have the feeling that the people try to respect also the private life I have. It depends on the situation, when I go to eat or something… but I think the people are really respectful and this makes you feel comfortable and that’s why in my case I go out and do the things I want to do. I don’t want to restrict myself in my private life and well, it helps when people respect that.