Hoffenheim defender Benjamin Hübner is part of a Bundesliga footballing family with his father, Bruno, the sporting director at Eintracht Frankfurt and his younger brother, Florian at Union Berlin.
After a year which saw him go from the high of playing in the UEFA Champions League to the low of not knowing whether he could continue his playing career due to injury, 30-year-old Hübner sat down with bundesliga.com to discuss a wide range of topics.
bundesliga.com: A few things have changed both structurally and in terms of personnel since Julian Nagelsmann left the role as Hoffenheim's head coach. What is it like at the new Hoffenheim?
Benjamin Hübner: "I wouldn't say it's a new club, but a few things have changed. The new coach has brought a lot with him. We play in a very disciplined way, especially in defence. We have become better at winning back possession. He demands discipline every day and the team has also changed a little because we've had a few young players join us. We have a lot of character in the team and these are the main things that have changed."
Watch: Hübner scored the winner for Hoffenheim in Berlin!
bundesliga.com: As an experienced player, how much do you get involved in discussions about ideas, tactics, and philosophy?
Hübner: "It depends on the coach and how much he lets you contribute. He's somebody who wants to get everybody on board, even before the season started, and he has a clear idea of what football he wants us to play. This means that you don't have to say too much as a player and the core of the team has already been very well-trained in the last few years. He often listens to the team and speaks to me or Kevin Vogt or someone else. He has a clear idea himself, but it's also important as a coach to keep everybody involved and to do what the team wants. It's definitely a cooperation."
bundesliga.com: What style of play characterises Hoffenheim under the new coach, Alfred Schreuder?
Hübner: "We want to play very dominant football and the aim is for us to have the ball and to make the opposition run. We want to let the ball run until gaps emerge and then we need to take advantage of these opportunities. We want to be very compact and disciplined in defence and when we win the ball, we want to go quickly on the attack. It's a very multifaceted approach."
bundesliga.com: Schreuder has made some surprises with putting players in different positions: Robert Skov as a left-back, Kevin Akpoguma as an attacking winger. Are you worried that you might end up playing in goal?
Hübner: "I'm not too worried and I don't think it'd be a very good option because Oliver Baumann does a very good job. Although when I was younger, I did sometimes play in goal, so maybe I'm another option! The coach tries out new things and the latest one was with Akpoguma because he's unbelievably physical and athletic. It's a surprise for the opposition, and it's also to do with the players we have available. It makes us a little unpredictable."
bundesliga.com: The next Bundesliga game for Hoffenheim is against your former coach, Julian Nagelsmann, and RB Leipzig. What are you expecting from the game?
Hübner: "People are saying that he knows us all, but we're always trying out something new and he knows that. Maybe we'll think of something different again for this game. It'll definitely be an interesting game for us because we know him very well. It's important that we approach the game like any other."
bundesliga.com: How do you set up against a Nagelsmann team? He knows a lot about Hoffenheim, but the players know exactly how he thinks tactically.
Hübner: "I spoke to him a little about it last year and he's already laid great foundations at Leipzig and made them into one of the strongest pressing teams. It was important for him to get them having more possession and that's what we've to prepare for. Things don't change too much as a defender because you always come up against different types of forwards and it's important that you adapt. You defend differently against a physically strong forward than against someone who's quick, like Timo Werner. This is the only thing you adapt in your game and otherwise, things don't change too much as a defender."
bundesliga.com: Will Timo Werner, who is in great form at the moment, pose the biggest challenge to you?
Hübner: "The best thing to do is to stay tight to him and not give him enough room to accelerate. He's often shown how difficult it is to stop him when he's running at you at pace. No forward likes it when you play very physically, and we should do this in any case because they're also a strong team and we need to match them."
bundesliga.com: How has your role as centre-back changed now that you are far more involved in the structure of the game than before?
Hübner: "This is the biggest change because you essentially take on the role of playmaker and, as a centre-back, you're responsible for building up the play. It may have been down to the team I was playing for but when I started out, the focus was on defence and we just played long balls forward. Nowadays, a lot more is required of centre-backs and clubs are looking for players who're good on the ball. Centre-backs are much quicker now and athleticism plays a much larger role. Personally, I wish there was not as much of an emphasis on being an athletic centre-back and instead more on whether someone can read situations and can be robust in challenges. Nowadays, it's more about being clever and I wish it was more about the action. I like it a bit more old school, although this development of centre-backs is also not a bad thing."
bundesliga.com: You were out for a long time last season with a head injury. How did this period shape you?
Hübner: "It shaped me less as a professional and more as a person because you learn to appreciate things. There are days when you aren't in the mood for training, but if you suddenly can't train and don't know how things are going to turn out, then you're just thankful to be healthy again. You realise that it's the only thing that's important in life and as a professional footballer. I was lucky that I came back well and that I'm stable now. There are definitely careers where you can't just jump right back in after a long injury, so I'm just thankful. You learn where your priorities lie and that it's just football. Your health is always your first priority, and it's a great privilege to be able to play football. You learn to appreciate it even more that you're able to live this dream."
bundesliga.com: At this time it was not clear whether you would be able to continue with your career. How did you cope with this?
Hübner: "It was difficult because it's not a situation that occurs too often. Muscle injuries always happen, and you know what to expect. You have an x-ray and you can see if a bone is broken and how long you will be out for. It was a bit more difficult for me because I initially thought I'd only be out for one or two weeks and then it rose to four and then even longer. I got a little nervous and tried several things to make it better. In the end, two things helped me, but I don't speak too much about them. The most important factor was just giving it time and then things got better."
bundesliga.com: Your father is the sporting director at Frankfurt and your brother plays for Union Berlin. What is life like in your footballing family?
Hübner: "We're now all in the Bundesliga and football has always been a big deal in our family, even when we were younger. We watch each other's games, analyse them, and are sometimes quite critical. It's clear that you just want the best for your family, although it's a little different when you play against each other because you're more focused on yourself. Football was always the topic of conversation for us and I can't imagine it any other way."
bundesliga.com: The first Bundesliga game between the Hübner brothers is coming up soon. Are you looking forward to it?
Hübner: "We played against each other in the second division. It's quite enjoyable because our positions mean that we're never really up against each other. Set pieces will definitely be an issue because we'll see each other then and it'd be good if we weren't directly against one another. I usually defend the space, but it'd be tough if my brother scored a header against me. I can't imagine that would happen, but I'd be happy for him if we still won the game."
bundesliga.com: Were you a role model for your younger brother? Both of you are defenders and worked your way up through the leagues.
Hübner: "I'm not sure if I was a role model, you'd have to ask him. I went my way and he went his own way. He had to choose a different path and had to first establish himself in the second division. He's become a player who can definitely play in the Bundesliga and he's won promotion twice. If any teams in the second division want to get promoted, they should definitely buy my brother! Unfortunately, he has a little knock, so I'm not sure if we'll play against each other in the game. I'm sure that he'll play when he's fit again because he was one of the most important players in the defence when Union Berlin gained promotion last season."
bundesliga.com: How are the games against your father’s team, Frankfurt?
Hübner: "This is the most difficult game for me in the whole season. He works at the club and it's the region where I grew up. I know a lot of Frankfurt fans, including a lot of my friends, which doesn't make it any easier. I block this out for the game, but the first few games against my father were definitely tougher for me. It's almost normal for me now because I've played against him several times, but it's still one of the hardest games of the season."
bundesliga.com: Did you have a role model as a footballer?
Hübner: "My father is my role model. I can't really judge his footballing ability, but it was more in terms of how he is as a person and what he has done in his life. He played in the Bundesliga, which at that time was unimaginable for me. He then had to cut his career short due to injury, but he still worked his way up in the footballing world. He's a role model for me in football and as a person. I've heard so many good things about him as a footballer and it seems that he didn't have any weaknesses at all. He was big, very robust, good in the air, and people said that he scored a goal from every cross. It seems he was a very good, classic centre-forward."
bundesliga.com: What can Hoffenheim achieve this season?
Hübner: "We don't know that easier, but we hope to climb as high up the table as possible. We're coming up against a lot of tough opponents and it's crazy in the Bundesliga at the moment because you never know how the games are going to finish. We hope that we keep developing like in the last few games and that we can build on our good run of wins. We lost recently, but we still want to build on what we have done so far. Sadly, we can't predict exactly where this will lead us."