Veteran midfielder Gonzalo Castro is hoping his experience can make a telling difference as Arminia Bielefeld battle to stay in the Bundesliga. - © Hahne /Eibner-Pressefoto via images/Eibner
Veteran midfielder Gonzalo Castro is hoping his experience can make a telling difference as Arminia Bielefeld battle to stay in the Bundesliga. - © Hahne /Eibner-Pressefoto via images/Eibner

Arminia Bielefeld's Gonzalo Castro: "I'm not ready to be written off"


Without a club since leaving VfB Stuttgart last summer, Gonzalo Castro signed up to help Arminia Bielefeld's survival fight in December. The veteran midfielder got a vital goal on his home debut, and has promised - in an exclusive interview with - that he has much more to give.

The 34-year-old joined Bielefeld for the second half of the season, and scored a glorious left-footed equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Greuther Fürth on Matchday 19. Capped five times by Germany in the past, the former Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund player details how tough it was to be without a club, and what he can bring to the relegation fight. How did it feel when Bielefeld got in touch?

Gonzalo Castro: "I was pretty happy that Bielefeld called me before Christmas. Things moved pretty quickly then, but I had always had hope for half a year. I had done a lot of thinking, but it turned out positively." You were without a team and kept yourself fit by training with Viktoria Köln. How tough was this for you mentally?

Castro: "It's not easy, especially when you're fit - and match-fit at that - to keep yourself at that level of fitness. It impacts your motivation a bit. I did a few things with a fitness trainer and started a programme at Viktoria, so the time would go a bit quicker and more productively. Otherwise you get tired and sluggish, especially training alone. You don't get self-doubt but you wonder why it isn't working out.

Watch: Castro's goal against Fürth

"Football is heading towards younger players in these corona times. Teams are saying they'd prefer a 19-year-old than a 35-year-old - 19-year-olds represent more value when they start. I accepted all that but I still didn't realise it would be that difficult to find something that interested me. I had my family who I saw every day for around five months, which was great. That wasn't always possible in the past few years because I was away playing football and then didn't have enough holiday time." How have your first impressions been at Bielefeld?  

Castro: "Good. It’s a bit smaller. A bit more cosy and out of the way but the lads have made a great impression on me. The atmosphere has been super and it was great to meet them on December 28th. I had the chance to get to know them a bit. It wasn't such a long time before the first game. The first game was then what I expected it to be like."

Gonzalo Castro (r.) won the last of his five caps for Germany in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualifier against Wales in November 2007. - imago sportfotodienst/imago sportfotodienst Bielefeld head coach Frank Kramer thinks that with your experience you can help the younger players and become their leader. What can the younger players be taught?

Castro: "You can give them tips, whether they take them on board or not. It's like with children - you can say 100 times 'don't do that' but if they're going to do it anyway to gain their own experience then they'll do it. It's the same here. If they have got any questions they can always ask, or if they need any tips - in the game or off the pitch - then I'll always give advice. In the end though, they will decide. They have to grow up quickly. I can try and bring some calm into some potentially difficult situations though." How can you help Arminia to stay in this league?

Castro: "They have developed a level of calmness off the pitch. They've been well managed over the years so not much can impact them from outside - from the press. That's good. You need that mindset when you're in a relegation battle. I can help the team in a lot of situations in the games when something off the cuff happens. A lot of players are here for only their second season and don't have a lot of experience. I think I can help the young players more on the pitch than off it." Your new team are currently on a good run. What have you noticed about Arminia in the last few weeks?

Castro: "I watched the last two games before the winter break in more detail to see what was happening before I signed here... you can see the quality that some players have, and generally as a team too. They showed that in the last two games before the break and also in the last 30 or 40 minutes in the second half in [the 2-2 draw in] Freiburg. You saw the strength, the morale in the team. That's a good basis to prepare for the next games."

Watch: Castro on his time out Where will Arminia finish at the end of the season?

Castro: "I'd be happy with 15th." There's a certain amount of responsibility and expectation on your shoulders. Does this spur you on or weigh you down?

Castro: "It spurs me on to prove to myself that - with what I’ve achieved - I have a certain pressure on me. It's been like that for the last few years. When you play football to a certain level you have that pressure from everyone. From the coach, from the fans, the media, teammates who are competing with you. I'm used to it and I find it good for my own motivation to grow and to be more successful with the team." What has been your best moment as a professional footballer?

Castro: “There are two or three. The cup win with Borussia Dortmund [in 2017] - that was one of the big ones. My first game at 17 years old in Hannover. My first Champions League game with Leverkusen at home to Liverpool. They are three things which I'll always remember." What has been your most difficult moment in football? Was it the phase you have just been through?

Castro: "That's been one of the most difficult phases, yes. If it had happened when I was 23 though, you're then more nervous. You'd think about it a lot more. At 34 you're calmer. You've experienced a lot, and if you have to stop playing now, then you do. Of course it was an unfamiliar situation though."

Gonzalo Castro lifted the DFB Cup with Borussia Dortmund after playing in their 2-1 final win over Eintracht Frankfurt in May 2017. - Thomas Bielefeld/imago/Thomas Bielefeld You turn 35 in June. What do you still want to achieve?

Castro: "I just want to prove that I'm not too old and not ready to be written off. I want to maintain my level in the Bundesliga and - of course - avoid relegation with Arminia. Personally I want to stay fit, force my way into the team and help them from the start of games." You play against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday. What are you expecting?

Castro: "Eintracht have got a new coach - they've had a bit of upheaval. [Sporting Director] Fredi Bobic has gone to Hertha Berlin... but you can see the quality they've got, and the huge impact they make as a team. If they can develop that, if they can get [Filip] Kostic into the game, defend well, they can start a huge push, bringing the fans along with them… it will be a very difficult away game. We'll approach it in the same way as every other game. We'll put more emphasis on the counter attack, make sure we play the ball forward quickly when we have possession. But we have to make sure we don't get affected by the pressure that Frankfurt can put us under. We need to be careful of that."