Following the highs of their brilliant conclusion to last season’s Bundesliga – in which they finished fifth – the Billy Goats have endured a sluggish start to their 2017/18 campaign. Losing to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hamburg and Augsburg may have dented morale among Peter Stöger’s men, yet with away games at Arsenal and Bundesliga high-flyers Borussia Dortmund, Die Geißböcke must quickly refocus.
“We have to be far more consistent, both in defence and in the attacking third,” Hector told bundesliga.com. “We conceded goals too easily [in our opening games] by making stupid mistakes at times. We [also] lacked the final touch in front of goal. That’s what we will need to work on,” the 27-year-old continued. “However, I know our team and our attitude and we always give 100 per cent. When you have a solid mindset, usually the rest comes by itself.”
Watch: Hector has played a key role in Cologne's rise to the European stage
In what are generally happy times for the Carnival Club, a return to European competition for the first time in 25 years has the city buzzing. Facing English Premier League giants Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on 14 September will signal Cologne’s first big European encounter since a UEFA Cup loss against Celtic in 1992. “We are all very excited, especially when you hear close friends or fans in the city express their anticipation,” Hector explained.
“[Arsenal] are a team who regularly played in the Champions League in the last few years and I believe most of the time they managed to get through the group stages [of that tournament] too. They have different ambitions in their league compared to us. They always want to challenge for the title so this will certainly be a great test,” Hector said.
Yet despite the thrill of coming up against his international team-mate, Arsenal’s Mesut Özil (to whom Hector provided a goal assist in Germany’s recent 6-0 FIFA World Cup qualifying win against Norway), the Saarbrücken-native insists that the Bundesliga is where Cologne will look to excel once again this season. “The Bundesliga is our priority; we want to play a decent season,” he explained. “Of course the Europa League is something special, but it’s more like a bonus for us.”
Often used in midfield by coach Stöger at Cologne yet fielded at left-back by Joachim Löw for Germany, Hector’s regularly high level of performance and impressive versatility reportedly led to recent offers from teams like Barcelona, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Yet it is in the city by the River Rhine that the Hector – at Cologne since 2010 – feels at home, playing for a club he says he is indebted to. “I just feel completely welcome here,” the recent FIFA Confederations Cup winner admitted. “I was welcomed extremely well from the first day I got here. I turned professional here, so I owe the club to a certain extent. In the last few years we’ve had a functioning squad and in combination with our coaching staff it’s worked out really well. That’s the reason I chose to stay at the club.”
A 100th Bundesliga appearance on Matchday 2 came against the same club Hector began his top-flight adventure against in 2014, Hamburg. It is now his stated aim not only to help keep Cologne in the top-flight, but challenging in the upper half of the Bundesliga table on a regular basis.
“We know that we played an extraordinarily good season when finishing in fifth place last time and we know it won’t get easier now that we are also involved in the Europa League; we will get fewer breaks, since we are also playing midweek games this season,” he said.
“It’s something we have to get used to. We are certainly ambitious, but realistic at the same time. We’ve established ourselves in the Bundesliga over the last three years and consistently improved both in terms of the standings and our points haul. We want to get to a point where Cologne are no longer relegation candidates, but instead competing in the upper regions of the standings.” With the team’s loyal servant on board, the Billy Goats have every chance of achieving that aim.