Ahead of this weekend's hotly-anticipated clash with Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach's Ibrahima Traore has spoken exclusively to bundesliga.com on the reasons for Gladbach’s inconsistent form, the level playing field in the Bundesliga and the current stars of the league.
Traore is back in action for Gladbach following a long injury layoff, yet despite his return, the winger has been unable to give the Foals that needed push towards the finish line. They continue to linger in the pack chasing Europa League places and that is something Traore, who turned 29 on Friday, is keen to change on Matchday 30.
bundesliga.com: Ibrahima Traore, Borussia Mönchengladbach have been one of the form teams since the winter break. However, you seem to be mixing wins with defeats with unfortunate regularity. What’s the reason behind that?
Ibrahima Traore: It kind of reflects our season as a whole. We played well at stages in the first half of the season, both in the Champions League and Bundesliga, but then had some less impressive performances at times. Without a doubt the second half of the season has been much better, but we’ve had setbacks here too, like against Hoffenheim. It was a great game to watch as we provided a great deal of entertainment there. But in the end, Hoffenheim won and we didn't.
bundesliga.com: Some experts talk about a "top-four allergy" for Borussia because you’ve failed to beat any side in the top four yet…
Traore: People can write that because it’s a fact that we've still failed to beat a top-four side this season. Does that mean we're not as good as Hoffenheim, Leipzig etc? Maybe, because they’ve been ahead of us in the table all season. You've got to be honest with yourself there too. But I'd never question the quality in our team, and I don't believe teams look forward to facing us. We can be tough for any opponents.
bundesliga.com: You have one more chance to claim a scalp over a top-four side on Saturday against Borussia Dortmund…
Traore: Top four or not, that doesn't interest us. What matters is that we win the game. It goes without saying that Dortmund are an amazing team with top, top players who play at the highest level. We have to be completely ready if we want to compete against them, but we're at home and there's still a chance for us to achieve something big this season.
Watch: Hoffenheim 5-3 Gladbach - match highlights
bundesliga.com: Many of the teams chasing a Europa League spot are currently making life difficult for themselves. Is the Bundesliga a more level playing field than in recent years?
Traore: I think so. The Bundesliga feels more balanced than ever before. Some of the clubs you expected to push for Europe at the start of this season have had problems. On the other hand, few people would’ve ever thought Leipzig would have such an amazing debut campaign in the Bundesliga. People also wouldn’t have counted on Hoffenheim playing as they have, but the fact that those two teams sit where they are right now is no accident.
bundesliga.com: You personally are having a very good season, even with the long injury layoff. Are you pleased with how it’s gone?
Traore: It’s tough for me to judge this season because I have, like you said, missed almost six months of action. It’s tough to find consistency, but I still believe that I’ve had good performances and been able to help the team out. Now I simply wish to remain free from injuries for a long time and want to show what I can do over an entire season.
"Football should be a way of bringing joy to people." - Ibrahima Traore
bundesliga.com: You've been with Gladbach for almost three years and have a contract that runs until 2018. What do you believe 2018 has in store for the Bundesliga and for Borussia Mönchengladbach in particular?
Traore: The level playing field in the Bundesliga is already something I've said stands out about the league, and I think that will be even more the case next season. That's when the teams that have failed to achieve their goals this campaign will attack again and look to put last season right. The battle for European places should be even more exciting than now.
bundesliga.com: Everyone can see your ability, and there was a statistic not too long ago that you complete the fourth-most dribbles in Europe's top five leagues behind players such as Neymar and Messi. Is dribbling becoming harder at a time when defenders are becoming technically stronger?
Traore: Dribbling isn't easy. Everyone knows that (laughs). But no, seriously, dribbling is my game. A good run always looks good, but it has to lead somewhere too. To dribble just for the sake of it is not what it's about and not my thing. As for whether it's become more difficult, I think so because the level in football in general has increased, which makes it even harder to get past an opponent with the ball.
Watch: Take a look around Gladbach's imposing Borussia Park:
bundesliga.com: Which Bundesliga player are you most impressed by right now?
Traore: Ousmane Dembele has shown in the Bundesliga this season that he is a fantastic player and an excellent dribbler. The same can be said for my international team-mate with Guinea Naby Keita. What’s so striking about him is that dribblers are normally players who play out wide, but Naby plays through the middle. Even then, he's tough to stop, he dribbles and slaloms his way successfully through the opponent’s defensive ranks. It’s a real special quality.
bundesliga.com: You labelled the world of professional football as a “totally transparent dream world.” Can this dream world also become one of nightmares?
Traore: First of all, I'd like to put the phrase "dream world" into perspective. All of us, the players and the fans, love football and will always want it in our lives. Football should be a way of bringing joy to people. A week ago in Dortmund, we all realised that at the end of the day, we are all people with the same fears in life. An event like that makes us all equal.