Despite being only 27, Amin Younes has experienced more in his career so far than most footballers could dream of. From growing up at Borussia Mönchengladbach to winning the Confederations Cup with Germany, playing for Ajax, Napoli and overcoming career-threatening injury.
Sitting down for an in-depth interview with bundesliga.com, Younes discusses the mentality needed to succeed in football, how in-love with Diego Maradona Naples is and why he believes playing football on the streets is the best way to learn the game...
bundesliga.com: Although you've already been back for a couple of weeks, we can still say welcome back to the Bundesliga, Amin! What is it about the competition and the league that you've missed most in the six years since your time with Borussia Mönchengladbach?
Amin Younes: "Mostly, I missed the stadiums and the fans, which unfortunately we don't have at the moment. That's what I've missed most, the atmosphere in the Bundesliga is really great, which is not the case abroad, although in Amsterdam we had a good fan culture and great stadium, also in Napoli. But Germany is somehow more special. I missed the whole Bundesliga atmosphere, you can discuss a lot of things about the Bundesliga but it's simply a great league, the overall quality is very high."
bundesliga.com: You're on a two-year loan from Napoli with an option to buy for Eintracht. Fredi Bobic was enthused that you agreed to a large wage reduction for the loan. He has very publicly thanked you and it has shown your strong character because a move like this nowadays is so rare. Why did you decide to go down this route?
Younes: "What I have to add to that is for me it's not particularly special, rather something normal because everything fit with Frankfurt. It was incredibly uncomplicated, we held great talks and it went hand in hand. You have to look at it in relative terms, I'm not coming here saying, 'please let me play, I'll forgo lots of money'. Everything fit, the talks with Fredi and the coach and at that point you have to say, hey, everyone is making sacrifices here to make it work and I'll do that gladly. When I'm convinced of this, then it's worth it for me to make concessions because I know I'll get something in return with a good team here, a great atmosphere, a nice style of football and an opportunity to grow as a footballer. That's more important to me than the financial aspect because I'm convinced that when I'm happy, the financial side will take care of itself and of course, we cannot forget that I'm not playing here for nothing."
bundesliga.com: Game time - that has been a buzzword in your career, you always seemed to move in search of it. It began with the move from Gladbach to Kaiserslautern and continued since. When did you say to yourself that's enough, I don't need a change?
Younes: "Yeah, for me, I've come from Napoli to play and to do what I love, to be on the pitch and enjoy myself. I know I have to be patient as I haven't played a lot in the past and the club is giving me time to get settled. I've had a good start with time on the pitch, which I was happy with and now I have to keep it going. The positive test result set me back a bit which is a pity as I was in good form and felt good. I know people from earlier, from the youth national teams, the national team with Confederations Cup and so on, and coming back to a familiar setting in Germany, certain things make me feel more comfortable and from that, I hope to find joy in playing football. That being said, I'm giving myself some time, the club as well, though that shouldn't be too long. You play football to win, score goals and give assists, that's my job. But for me, I want to enjoy myself in training, stay healthy and injury-free then get into a rhythm, which is important. I've trained enough over the past two years, I want to get some games and when games aren't going so well to still get that trust, that's important. When you haven't played so much in recent times, you have to bite the bullet and realise that things aren't going so well now but to get the feel for these situations in games, to get into the game, dribble the ball and hang in there."
bundesliga.com: You're a guy who can decide a game with a single move. You love dribbling, tight spaces, one-on-ones. You see that as soon as you're given the ball, you blossom. On the other hand, does that mean you're difficult to deal with when things don't go your way?
Younes: "Yeah, that's the case. Nowadays, being a bit older and more mature, it's not so extreme, you can deal with it better but you have hit the nail on the head there. I was or am that kind of guy, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's my passion to have the ball at my feet more than my opponent, to get into a flow with teammates, that's why I love football and I'm also the kind of guy who does it for the fans as well. It's a sport with a large audience and there's nothing better than when you walk down the street and people say 'hey, it's fun to watch you play', that is one of the sweetest feelings you can have."
bundesliga.com: You played with Ajax, winning the Dutch title and reaching the Europa League final. You won the Italian cup with Napoli. What have these five seasons abroad at top-level football given you?
Younes: "An awful lot. It's a bit like you said, there are difficult times where you have to fight through certain situations on your own. It was very important to get out of my comfort zone, out of my bubble and familiar Mönchengladbach, where you know everyone and they pat you on the back throughout your youth career and tell you what a great talent you are. It's important to get away from that and go somewhere like Lautern, Ajax or Napoli, where you learn about the hardships of life, where you're told the truth or cruel things are said, to get through that and become stronger from it, personally and as an athlete. They mean a lot to me, they've made me who I am today. I always try to make sense of it and reflect on it but it's an interesting topic as the last five or six years have been with a different mentality, different language. You have to take a lot from it, watch yourself but also not be afraid, to go in with your head held high and say I'll manage this, it's not so easy. In Ajax, I played where not many Germans have, where a special style of football is played and the same with Napoli. That was an interesting and huge challenge. I really enjoyed it and it helped me grow as a person and a player."
bundesliga.com: Speaking of Napoli. Those who have seen the famous scenes of Maradona at the club can see what football means to them. What is your impression of the fans' spirit at Napoli and how present is Maradona at the club 30 years later? Are there pictures, statues, murals at the club, the stadium or dressing rooms?
Younes: "Yeah, definitely. You speak only of the training centre, the stadium, dressing rooms, he was in every restaurant, café with photos and his jerseys, really. The city and its people celebrated him non-stop. You cannot forget that he won two Scudettos for Napoli, which is the last time they won it. He left his mark on the city. I was too young to see him play, but when you're at the club, the same can be said about Cruyff, at the club which he made great and meant so much to, you learn about him from a whole new perspective. I saw him once there, yeah."
bundesliga.com: You've played at every underage level for Germany with 45 games from U16 to U21, already an excellent player at a young age. What do you think of German youth development, in comparison to clubs in other countries and leagues such as Holland and Italy?
Younes: "I don't want to be negative, because there is great work being done with youth teams. We're in a big country and there is a lot of competition. Beginning with the regional selection and the various tournaments you play in, followed by the first national team matches at under 15, it means something to be there because you had to get through a lot against the many in this country to be among the best in your age group. What I think the difference is abroad is the free, street football is lacking a bit. We're great in a system and doing well when it's described to us but doing the unexpected, things that make people go wow, that could be done more but must be done earlier. In Amsterdam, I lived in a place called IJburg and within walking distance was three small football pitches, Johan Cruyff pitches they call them in Holland, in cages, and you see kids playing non-stop - and they have something, the technique, they're trying things and for me, that's where the football education begins. Then they come into clubs and don't have to be taught to control the ball, maybe that's what's missing a bit in Germany and I would wish for.
"I think that is the basis of football. When you're seven or eight, you go out and play against 10 or 11-year-olds and battle through it, that's brilliant training, for me. There's no referee out there, you simply have to push through, all in all, you can lay the groundwork, you can try things without a coach shouting on the sidelines. Later, you can teach things like how to stand, how to defend, but teaching someone how to do stepovers at full speed is a bit more difficult, I'd say. That's the effect I'm talking about when you see a kid do something that makes you go wow, he's good. Nevertheless, we have great players in Germany, we don't need to worry about that, I think. That's perhaps what the French, the Brazilians or the Dutch have on us at the moment. I find it good. I think that older and more experienced players need to be there, you can learn a lot from them. But again, I think it's good that young players get a chance, to develop and bring a breath of fresh air into football, they bring dynamism, athleticism. When we played Stuttgart, it comes to my mind because they're a young team, it was a great game and finished 2-2. There may have been some mistakes but I was impressed by how they played. There were one or two French players there, on the wings and the left-back, who play very well. Raw and carefree, we have that too and I think it's going more in that direction and I personally find that very good."
Younes: "There is a lot of creativity there and it's a lot of fun. I myself am not at the end of my development, I've taken a lot on board. I'm 27 now although I feel like I've been around longer and I'm learning things. I'm an advocate for that kind of football with Daichi, Aymon or Filip, who attack with speed and tempo, which does bring errors but when you see that losing the ball isn't negative as everyone gets after it, it's a great feeling and I hope it will keep me feeling young and not get old too soon."
bundesliga.com: Your teammate Daichi Kamada has played a brilliant season so far, including five assists. What has impressed you most about him since getting to know him?
Younes: "In general, I'm impressed by his calm nature. He's a very polite and nice young man, who is very calm on the pitch, takes control and does great things. He has game intelligence, does smart and clever things on the pitch, makes the right decisions at the right time. As a person, a very good guy and A1 as a player. It's fun to play with him because you know when playing with him that the ball will come to you cleanly. He's a very good player."
bundesliga.com: You've already had an eventful career behind you. Firstly, 14 years with Gladbach and the German youth teams. Everything was running smoothly, but then: some club changes paired with great successes as well as longing for more playing time and occasionally a huge transfer dispute: Ajax, Napoli and Wolfsburg also played a role. Then a torn Achilles tendon, which means the end of a career for many players. Then again, great success with the national team. A pure rollercoaster. If you look at your career so far, how satisfied are you? And what do you wish for the future?
Younes: "From the outside, it appears exactly as you've described it but I don't experience that myself. I'm someone who knows what he wants, has certain principles and I communicate that clearly with the club. For me, it's important that I go through my career knowing that people got on well with me as a person, that's more important than anything else. There are people in football with whom that doesn't fit, then there are ups and downs like you said, but for me, this was a period which was difficult for me, mentally, but thankfully I have a good family, great brothers and parents, which make me feel at home.
"In a business which is another world for normal people, I have the other world where I can transport myself to and take a step back from football. That has given me plenty of strength and helped me. I'll give everything to be a better footballer and to take on every challenge but there are certain things I won't do because of who I am. People may say what they like, but I'm sure of myself. Football is no simple thing, it requires a lot of mental strength and I'm happy with everything I've experienced, also with 'Lautern, I've worked with plenty of good coaches, learned a lot and they were great times, all in all, and later I can say, I experienced it all."
bundesliga.com: Even away from the football pitch, you're a totally engaged person. Among other things, you're campaigning for a youth project that deals with basic education and literacy. Why are you so committed to this cause?
Younes: "Yeah, in the press conference I had alone with Mark, together with Orienthelfer, who came from Munich - I also work closely with them, doing a lot in Lebanon, where my father comes from. For me, there are more important things away from football. We have the privilege - if you want to call it that - my brothers are not footballers but are also privileged with their apartments and good jobs. Nevertheless, I get to do my hobby, my passion and I'm thankful for that but there are more important things, such as education. It's funny when parents with young children ask me what they can do better, they should go to school and get a proper education, that's the most important thing and that's what I tell my brothers. Football has nothing to do with cleverness, it's all about passion and occasionally you need to have some luck or things have to fall in place. How many guys have I played with who have incredible talent but have not made it?
"Guys who you would think, yeah, they 100 percent have to make it, but don't and are then stuck. I find that a pity when you put all your eggs into one basket. I have that experience too. I don't know what I would've done if I didn't make it, I would have done something, certainly, but I don't know what. It wasn't in my interest, which is why I say that education is essential because you have more security. Absolutely, it's not on one's radar. I started with Gladbach and is a very interesting thing. I didn't have it on my radar that the numbers were so high. But you have to look at it positively that there are people so engaged with it. I'm trying to play my part and don't just want to be used as a figure who just plays football, I'd like to be more involved after my career ends. I'm glad there are so many involved and I'm happy to help. I believe there are a lot more people who do more than me, of course, my status can help bring attention which I'm glad to do but I think I'd like to do a lot more when my career ends."
bundesliga.com: Are you superstitious?
Younes: "No. Religious, yes, but not superstitious."
bundesliga.com: Do you have a pre-match ritual?
Younes: "I start with everything on the right, but that has more to do with religion, I would say. But I don't get spooked if I begin with the left and say to the coach I can't play because I stepped on the pitch with my left foot. Not that, but I do try to begin with everything on the right."
bundesliga.com: Who is your best friend in the team?
Younes: "I would say in the time I've been here, Jetro Willems, I get on very well with him. At first, I was at a hotel and he was too, so we often ran into each other."
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