Hoffenheim's attacking all-rounder Christoph Baumgartner has enjoyed an outstanding breakthrough season in the Bundesliga in 2019/20, the 20-year-old's emergence as one of the brightest talents in the German top-flight hasn't come without adversity.
Sitting down with bundesliga.com, Austria U21 international Baumgartner discusses his breakthrough season so far for Hoffenheim, how Austria's young talents idolise Bayern Munich's David Alaba and a conversation with Julian Nagelsmann which helped him stay positive about his career after the hardest moment of his life so far...
bundesliga.com: Firstly, what a debut season you are having for Hoffenheim. How does it feel to be in this position?
Christoph Baumgartner: "Of course it's really lovely because it's always been a dream of mine to become a Bundesliga player. It's a really special feeling to play in the Bundesliga. Of course, if you can score some goals or get some assists, then it's even better."
bundesliga.com: You say it's been your dream to play in the Bundesliga. Has it been a long journey from your first dreams about it to where you are now?
Baumgartner: "Yes, of course, it was a long journey. A lot of boys start with this dream to become a Bundesliga player when they're really young, and you have to keep going, even if there are also tough times sometimes. In the end, it pays off and when you reach this goal, then it's the best feeling you can achieve."
bundesliga.com: You were signed by Hoffenheim while you were still in a youth academy back in your home country of Austria. Has it helped you to have gone through more than one academy, which is the classic way of developing?
Baumgartner: "Of course, I was able to learn a lot of things in the two academies. As you said, I think both academies worked really well and it helped me a lot because you get to know different and important things not only for your football career but your personality too, which is also really, really important for your whole life. That's why I think it's really good to have played in two top academies."
bundesliga.com: What's your opinion on your own development? Would you say there was a key experience along the way?
Baumgartner: "I think it's difficult to describe one special situation, but if you can score a lot of goals in your youth in the Austrian Bundesliga, then maybe you realise you have a lot of talent, and a good chance to become a top player. Then, after the move to Germany, it was good to see that I was also one of the best young players in the academy. This helps to build self-confidence, and if you work hard, which is what I did, then perhaps you'll make the jump to the first team."
bundesliga.com: How do you think Austrian football has developed as a whole since you've been involved in it?
Baumgartner: "I think that Austrian football has developed a lot, especially in recent years. We also won the last game against Germany – maybe you remember – so we're not like a small skiing country like we were before. We work really well, especially at youth level, and it's easy for an Austrian guy to come to Germany because you have no language problems and this helps because, for other nationalities, I think it's more difficult if you don't understand the players or the coach. It's a big point which helps us Austrian guys come here to Germany.
bundesliga.com: David Alaba is regarded as the best Austrian player right now. Would you say his career has stood as a template for you and other young players?
Baumgartner: "Of course. I think David Alaba showed the perfect way of doing it. I think he's a world-class player and he showed how a young Austrian guy came here, and then to Bayern. He developed really well for a year at Hoffenheim, and now he's one of the best players in the world."
bundesliga.com: Is David Alaba a role model for you?
Baumgartner: "I think David Alaba is an idol for a lot of young players in Austria because he’s the best-known player. The Bundesliga, in particular, has a really big following in Austria, so everybody watches the Bundesliga. That's why David is an idol for a lot of young players, including myself."
bundesliga.com: Like Alaba, you have already played in several different positions in your career with Hoffenheim so far such as No.10, on the wing and even as a centre-forward. Do you have a preferred position?
Baumgartner: "I think it's a strength of mine that I can play a lot of different positions, but if you ask me what position I prefer, then I'd definitely say the No.10 position. That's also the position I've been playing a lot recently. I feel comfortable there because I don't think I'm a real No.9, with a lot of muscles and power. I'm more a player behind the attacker, helping the guys to come forward and to score goals."
bundesliga.com: You've scored six goals and added two assists this season. What do you prefer most though, scoring or assisting?
Baumgartner: "To be honest, I prefer scoring more, but an assist is of course something really nice. I think every player, or a lot of players at least, would say that scoring is still something more special."
bundesliga.com: This season has been a breakout campaign for you in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim. What have been the most important parts of getting to where you are now?
Baumgartner: "Of course, I had to work really hard to come here and also to stay here. I think it's also easier for good young players to play in a good team because your teammates are better, and then you play better automatically. If you have this quality to play at this high level, then you develop if you train with these top players daily. We have these top players, and when you're on the pitch with them, then you can learn a lot and it's easy for you to play with them."
Watch: Christoph Baumgartner's magic for Hoffenheim!
bundesliga.com: Some people have dubbed you 'The new Andrej Kramaric' while your teammate has been out injured. Would you say that nickname makes sense?
Baumgartner: "No, I'm definitely not a new Kramaric, because I'm not as good. It feels like he's scored 100 goals for Hoffenheim, and in my opinion, he's a world-class player. I'm definitely not an Andrej Kramaric, but I can learn a lot from him. The connection that Andrej and I have is good – we work well together on the pitch, and that helps me and helps him. Still, I'm far away from being Andrej Kramaric."
bundesliga.com: The opportunity to qualify for Europe is still there for you and Hoffenheim. How are you feeling about your chances?
Baumgartner: "I think if we look at the table, then it looks like we aren't too far from Europe, and it's also our target to reach that. We have some really difficult and important games ahead, and we want to win these games. Then, I think it's possible to reach the Europa League."
bundesliga.com: A lot of people might not remember that you actually made your debut in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim last season under Julian Nagelsmann. But in your second game, you were sent off. What lessons did you learn from that?
Baumgartner: "It was maybe a really important moment in my career because I realised that it isn't always easy playing in the Bundesliga, and if you make a mistake – and of course, it was a big mistake – then you have to stand up and keep going. I think the whole club, the whole squad and the new coach helped me a lot to forget this and to just keep going and show the world that you're good and that you can't change this mistake. That was also my mindset – I just wanted to keep going, and I don't think it worked out badly."
Watch: Highlights from Mainz 4-2 Hoffenheim (Baumgartner's red from 00:45)
bundesliga.com: When you think of playing your first few games as a professional, you never imagine getting sent off. How tough was it to process this mistake as a young player?
Baumgartner: "It was one of the worst nights I've ever had – I couldn't sleep, of course. You always think about this situation. It was really unnecessary, and of course also hard, because we were 2-0 in front, and I thought that we could win this game even with one guy less. But yes, we lost, and it was a hard night. As I said, I had to keep going and I think it worked out well."
bundesliga.com: And, of course, since then you've made your breakthrough, but it can't have been easy to move on from straight away?
Baumgartner: "It was really hard. It's not like I could click my fingers and it would just happen. I thought my mistake was an important way to learn, and I focussed on the good things. I spoke to Julian Nagelsmann in the evening and he said that it was bad, of course, but he told me to keep going and keep working like this. He said that I played very well for 40 minutes on the pitch, but this situation can't happen. Still, he said to keep going and you'll have a really good career. I always keep that sentence in mind – keep going and you'll then have a big career. A few days after, when I was back home in Austria with my family, this was the only thing I wanted to keep in mind. Not the red card, but the positive thing."
bundesliga.com: Do you think having that strong mindset was what helped to make it easy for you?
Baumgartner: "No, I think this was the hardest thing for me in my life. There are still harder situations to come in my life. I learned from it, and that's why I think it wasn't good, of course, but at least I developed as a result of it."
bundesliga.com: You mentioned being at home with your family in Austria, and we hear they are also a football-crazy family?
Baumgartner: "Football plays a big role in my family. When I was a small kid and I came home from my own match, we turned on the TV and watched football again. That was just normal in my family. Also, my brother is a professional footballer in Austria. He's under contract in Bochum, so we'll see how he continues his development. But of course, football is a really important part of our lives."