Amadou Haidara has already spent more minutes on the pitch in the Bundesliga for RB Leipzig this season than he did in all of 2019/20, and he's done it in seven fewer games.
bundesliga.com sits down with the 22-year-old Malian midfielder to discuss his progression in the team, feeling the trust of Julian Nagelsmann, his struggle to find African food in Germany and his friendship with Hoffenheim's Diadie Samassekou.
bundesliga.com: How would you assess the current level of the team?
Amadou Haidara: "We're all happy with our current progression. We have to keep going like we are now and win matches in order to progress."
bundesliga.com: Why do you think RB Leipzig have been so successful with Julian Nagelsmann as head coach and what do you consider his main strength as a coach?
Haidara: "First of all, he's a young coach. Someone with a lot of experience. We're a young team so we make sure to listen to the coach. Because he's a demanding coach who shows us how we can progress. We need to keep listening to him and working hard so that we can win matches and move up in the table."
bundesliga.com: What are your expectations of the clash against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday?
Haidara: "We all know that it'll be a difficult match on Saturday. We're second in the table and they're third. They beat us at home last year. We have to give our all to win the game on Saturday. It'll be very difficult but we have to fight and win the match."
bundesliga.com: How do you rate Leipzig's chances of winning the league this season?
Haidara: "It's true that Bayern are a good team. We're also a very good team. We have to keep working hard and build on our start to the season. We won against Stuttgart last weekend and were first in the table before their win on Sunday. We have to keep working hard in preparation for the match on Saturday. It's a difficult match, we need to make sure we win to get the points. Why not take back first place?"
bundesliga.com: Who are your main competitors in the title race this season?
Haidara: "It'll be very difficult this season as there are lots of strong teams. We have to keep working hard. We're concentrated only on ourselves. We're not interested in seeing what the teams around us are doing or not doing. We want to keep going and win our matches - in order to qualify for the Champions League in the first instance. And after that, we'll see."
bundesliga.com: You are good friends with Hoffenheim midfielder Diadie Samassekou. How would you describe your friendship with him?
Haidara: "Yes, Diadie Samassekou and I are friends. We've known each other for a long time, we advanced through the academy together. And then we met up again at Salzburg and now we're both in the Bundesliga. He's someone I admire very much; he's a big brother to me. He helped me a lot when I arrived at Salzburg. We have close connections; we're two Malians. We're always in close contact and we speak a lot - it's always a pleasure to see him on the pitch."
bundesliga.com: What is it like to play against Diadie Samassekou. What kind of player is he?
Haidara: "Yes, he's a good central midfielder. He's very difficult to play against. He defends very well. I enjoyed playing against him on the pitch. Because it has been a long time since we last played together at the same club. It was good fun; I beat him. We discussed it briefly after the game, but then moved onto other things."
bundesliga.com: How did you adjust to life in Europe?
Haidara: "At the start, it was a bit difficult. I left my family and everyone behind. It wasn't straight forward. But it was my decision to come to Europe. I found lots of very honest people here who have helped me and who have allowed me to progress, like Samassekou. He was at Salzburg. We speak the same language, and he helped me to integrate within the group."
bundesliga.com: And how did Samassekou manage the transition to Europe?
Haidara: "I think it was a bit difficult for him because he was the only Malian to come to Austria. But there were lots of people at Salzburg who helped him to integrate. And ultimately he fully integrated within the group."
bundesliga.com: How much have you benefitted from the philosophy of RB Leipzig?
Haidara: "It's a club that helps young players to develop. They help younger players to progress and improve. That's something I like very much. That's why I chose to come to RB Leipzig. It's a good environment for young players. I'm happy to be here."
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bundesliga.com: What advice would you give to young players in a similar position to you?
Haidara: "You have to work hard. It's true that your ability plays a role but you have to work hard in order to progress. Always listen to the coach and work hard. It pays off."
bundesliga.com: What is different about life here in Germany? What is it that you miss the most about home?
Haidara: "I like the Bundesliga very much. It's a very strong league - one of the biggest in the world. It's a real pleasure to play here. I like the mentality here and how the people are. It's very enjoyable being here."
bundesliga.com: What do you like about living in Germany and what helps you to get through difficult periods?
Haidara: "It's normal to miss your home country. But I have lots of friends here, and we often meet after training to eat together and talk. That helps with missing your country."
bundesliga.com: Who were your role models amongst African players?
Haidara: "My role model in African football was Yaya Toure. He was a central midfielder I liked a lot. We both started at the same academy. He was a big brother who came to Europe. I followed his progress closely and my coaches spoke to me about him. He was a very good player; I liked him very much."
bundesliga.com: What is it that you miss most when you think about Mali?
Haidara: "First of all, my family. And then the food. It's difficult to find the food here in Germany. When I go there on holiday, I see my family first and then I find the food."
bundesliga.com: How would you assess the level of quality in the Mali national team at the moment?
Haidara: "We're a very young team. We've qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations. That was our objective and we achieved it. Now our aim is to qualify for the World Cup. We have the heart to achieve qualification. We have to work hard now to make this dream come true."
bundesliga.com: Did you think you would be competing with Bayern Munich at this stage of the season?
Haidara: "We were capable. We saw last season that we did some great things. We're continuing our development. We have to keep working hard - the season is long. We have to keep working and winning matches so that we're able to qualify for the Champions League. And why not aim for the title too?"
bundesliga.com: As Leipzig continue their progression, the gap to the big European clubs appears to be getting smaller and smaller. Do you think that Leipzig are looked upon as a big club across Europe? And if not, what are they missing to reach this level?
Haidara: "Yes, that's true, the perception has changed. If you look at last season, we reached the semi-final. And this year we have qualified for the last 16. That changes things a bit. But we need to keep working hard and winning matches. We're facing a big team in the last 16 [Liverpool] and so we must keep working hard. That applies to the league as well."
bundesliga.com: Is the game this weekend against Dortmund an opportunity for Leipzig to underline their quality in the eyes of European observers?
Haidara: "Yes, the match on Saturday is very important. If we win, we extend the gap between ourselves and Dortmund. It's a huge match, we have to fight in order to get the win. It'll be difficult but we have to work hard in order to do so. We have the heart to get the win on Saturday."
bundesliga.com: In a personal sense, you have started two thirds of games this season. Has this clear backing by the coach helped you to develop as a player?
Haidara: "The trust placed in me by the coach has helped me a lot. Even though I didn't play that much last season I continued to work hard and ensured I stayed strong mentally. Today, that is paying off. I have to keep working hard. It's true that it wasn't easy at the beginning. I kept working hard in the knowledge that I'd get my chance one day to show the coach that he could trust me. And now he has belief in me and is putting me out on the pitch. Sometimes I play in defensive midfield, sometimes I play box-to-box. He knows that I can play in different positions, and he backs me. That shows that I have improved. But I have to keep progressing."