Borna Sosa's pinpoint deliveries from the left have made VfB Stuttgart a serious force in the German top flight - and now he plans to get even better.
The 23-year-old - who created nine league goals in 2020/21 - started the 2021/22 campaign with a goal and an assist in a DFB Cup win at BFC Dynamo. He then followed up with a hat-trick of assists in the 5-1 Matchday 1 victory over Greuther Fürth.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the Croatian explains why he's started the season so well, the positive influence American head coach Pellegrino Matarazzo has had, and how Stuttgart can cope with their injury problems.
Watch: Sosa made three goals on Matchday 1
bundesliga.com: You managed one goal and four assists in your first two games of the season. You've set the bar high…
Borna Sosa: "I'm just trying to give my best every single game and hopefully the assists will come - and the goals as well. I'm very happy about the goal I scored because last season I didn't score any, so it means a lot to me."
bundesliga.com: What are the reasons behind your good start to the season?
Sosa: "The good thing about not going to the European Championships was that I had a lot of days free. It was the first time in a while that I had five weeks free in the summer. This helped me to reach the highest possible preparation in the summer and come back to the club really well prepared and well rested. Normally there's the national team, then you only have a break of two or two-and-a-half weeks and it's hard to recharge completely. This summer was the first time and I felt really good when I came back. I had this good feeling from the beginning, and I started the season well."
bundesliga.com: What targets have you set yourself for this season?
Sosa: "For me at the beginning the goal was to try to score goals. I did that in the first game, and I want to be more dangerous in the box when we are attacking. This is something I've been practising with the coach. He was showing me some movements, where I have to be, when I have to be there, and this is one of the things I will try to improve this season."
bundesliga.com: Stuttgart have performed well in the Bundesliga despite some setbacks with injuries. Why is that?
Sosa: "Last season we had a really young team, and we also have that this season - maybe even younger. This winning feeling also comes from the coach because he wants us to always be positive, whatever happens on the field. If we concede three goals or if we score three goals, we should always try to go forward - always try to score one more. This is something we show in every single training session. Training is very competitive, and we have a lot of exercises that need this competitive spirit. We've built this over the last year and this year as well, it’s something which pushes us forward as a team. We have a lot of players who, when they come off the bench, they give everything. They want to score goals, they want to be active. That's something that really represents us as a team. In my opinion it's really hard to play against us because you never know what can happen in the game. This is a good thing for us."
bundesliga.com: How much are you enjoying playing for Stuttgart?
Sosa: "It's fun to play because you know you go to play the game and try to win the game. If you lose the game and you gave everything nobody can say anything to you because you tried to give your best and you tried to win the game. Of course, sometimes you don't win, but the most important thing is to give everything to try and win. I don't like when you play a type of game when you go back and wait, and they have 80 percent possession and they beat you in the end. Then you have a feeling of 'what would happen if we took some responsibility? If we attack maybe something different will happen.' This is the game we always play. This is why it's fun to play. You always have a chance of winning the game. Sometimes you miss it, sometimes you take it but the most important thing is that you try to win."
bundesliga.com: What targets have the club set themselves after finishing ninth last season?
Sosa: "We don't want to get carried away now because of last season. In the end, it was the first Bundesliga season for us as a team. This year Nicolas Gonzalez left, Gonzalo Castro left, some guys left the team who were very important players for us. The most important thing is still to be stable in the league and not to have anything to do with the lower part of the table. This is very important for us, especially as a young team. Then we will try to reach some maybe bigger achievements than last season, but the beginning of our goal is to be stable in the league, for everybody in the club."
bundesliga.com: Stuttgart Sporting Director Sven Mislintat sees Matarazzo as a future Champions League coach. What's your experience of him?
Sosa: "As a coach, the really good thing that he has is this spirit for winning, this spirit that he's not afraid to try something against good opponents. Against every opponent. He's bleeding in young players and this is really important in modern football. I personally and everybody in the world has seen a million times that some clubs don't succeed because they think some players who played well three years ago will still play well. This is not the way it is in football. He is always looking at the situation in the moment. This is really important because the players who are playing best in that moment should play. He always brings us a positive spirit, he tries to give us this feeling that whatever happens, play on… This is what he has been trying to teach us in the last few years and I think he has succeeded. This is now, for me as a player, a big plus in my career because I always look at the positives. Even when we lose the game, I try to only take the positives out of it, from every training session, from everything.
"One of the most important things for me about him is that he understands the human, not only in a footballing way but also out of football… He understands there is a life next to football. He presented this to us and now it's easy for us because we know when we work, we work. When we don't work, we can have fun. This is really important for us and for me personally as well. He's like a father to you and like a coach to you. You can speak to him about everything, and he will help you in any way he can. This is something we appreciate as a team, and we try to give everything every day in training. This is a really good thing about him."
Watch: Learn why Sosa enjoys playing under Matarazzo
bundesliga.com: Is he trying to implement a winning mentality alongside his positive mindset?
Sosa: "Yes, this is something which needs more years to bring into the team. Bayern Munich are the biggest club in Germany and they are a club who have been doing this for many years. They developed a team made up of winning mentalities. They have always bought players who already had a winning mentality.
"This is a bit different at Stuttgart because here, you have to teach this mentality to some young players who didn't have this before. I had this because I came from [Dinamo] Zagreb and they are a team who wanted to win every single game. This is something I have in myself, but some players don't have this because they didn't grow up at a certain level. That's why he's really trying to reach this goal but it's not such an easy job. It needs more time but we’re on a good path - I’m 100 percent sure about this."
bundesliga.com: How much has it had an effect on your game, the fact that important players like Gregor Kobel, Gonzalez, and Castro left the club in summer and some top performers - like Silas, Mangala, Kalajdzic and Sankoh - have picked up serious injuries?
Sosa: "You always know good players will be a miss to the team. They are the kind of players who can decide a game alone sometimes. You always miss this kind of player. We always try to play with the system we have, with the players we have. You always have to believe in the players who replace them. I think it's really hard to replace Nicolas Gonzalez, Silas, and Sasa at the moment but, as we saw, Hamadi [Al Ghaddioui] did a really good job.
This is something that's really important, that the payers who are coming in as replacements do their best and try to show the best performances they can. Of course for us it's a big strength and a big sign that, even though we are missing those kinds of players, we have really started the season well. This is really optimistic because when they come back, we will be even stronger."
bundesliga.com: How has your communication been with the Croatia national team coach? Were your performances at the start of this season decisive for him?
Sosa: "Most definitely. We were talking before the first DFB cup game and he told me he had a plan to invite me to the national team and that he would watch the next two games. Then the next two games went as they did, and this is one of the reasons as well of course. I’m happy the situation went for me this time, everything is going in a good way for me. The beginning of the season, a call up for the national team, it's a good start to the season. It cannot be better, I don't think!"