Enjoying career-best form for ever-improving Augsburg, Ermedin Demirović tells bundesliga.com he's ready to spearhead the Bavarian derby fight against record champions Bayern Munich on Saturday...
Ermedin Demirović: "We give everything at home in front of our fans. We’re a team that’s very awkward to face, that’s very physical, gets stuck into every challenge. And I think if we manage again to make things tough for Bayern, to stop them getting into a flow, stop them creating one-v-ones, that they can't dribble at us, then it’s tough for any opponent here at home. That will be the first goal, to annoy the opponent and then obviously also add what we’re doing well at the moment, which is our play with the ball. The coach has helped us there a lot in a short space of time. We’re managing to play through opponents now. We need to manage that as well at the weekend. We know Bayern are very good at the back, very good up front, so we all have to go to our limits. If we manage that, then it’ll be tough. And we obviously also need some luck."
bundesliga.com: You’re yet to score a goal against Bayern. Would a goal against Manuel Neuer and the mighty Bayern be particularly special?
Demirović: "Definitely. That’s the first objective in every game against Bayern. I’ve been trying, and will try again. I hope it works out this time. And it’d also be good if we get all three points. But I’d be just as pleased regardless of who scores. Like against every team, work hard and let’s see what comes of it."
Demirović: "We’ve mostly changed the tactics. Last season we were very focused on man-v-man, one-v-one across the pitch. Now, for example, in defence it’s simpler because they just stay back and defend. I think a defender feels better with that. And as a person he’s a super coach, talks a lot, places a lot of value on details and little things that we’re obviously doing better. We’re running a lot more, we’ve closed the gaps, we’re better in our challenges, we’re more compact as a block – all things we just weren’t doing well in the games prior. The coach imparted that well on the team with his more relaxed but still strict manner. I think everyone’s following the coach right now. That’s also a reason why things are going so well."
bundesliga.com: What’s your personal contact like with the coach? What tasks or requirements does he have of you?
Demirović: "Not just in terms of me, I think he’s identical with everyone. He doesn’t highlight that someone’s playing, someone’s not playing. He’s open to listening to everyone. With me, obviously we talk after every game. I also think he talks with every player about the game, but obviously also with me. He makes it clear to me what was good, what was maybe missing in that game. Even if we win, there are moments where he says we still could’ve done that better and things would’ve then gone even better. And as captain, the requirements are what every coach would make, like the fact that I lead from the front at times where it’s difficult. Highlighting the Stuttgart game, where we realised in the game that we had so little chance of winning, but he still wanted me to lead from the front as captain and try to take the team with me so we could maybe get back in it with a goal. I try to implement that the best I can on the pitch."
bundesliga.com: You were named club captain in the summer. What does this role mean to you and what value do you place on the role?
Demirović: "For me as captain, but also last year when I wasn’t captain, the feeling of being a team is very important, because I firmly believe a team can only work when you have every player on board. No matter your own quality, you can’t win a game yourself as an individual. That’s why it was always important to me that the team is 100 percent a team, a big family. And now even more so as captain. I try to ensure that every player feels involved, whether they speak German, English or whatever. You can communicate with hand gestures if needed. I’m someone who tries to deal with things in a relaxed way, that people can make mistakes sometimes, that people can make jokes towards me, but everyone should feel that they’re part of the team, whether you play, are on the bench or not even in the squad. That’s important to me, whether captain or not. Only that the team is successful. And when the team does well, then you do well as an individual player as well. That’s all feasible but not so easy to fulfil."
bundesliga.com: "You’ve already surpassed your output from last season with eight goals and six assists this term. Why are things going so well for you? What’s changed?"
Demirović: "I’m a worker. The team is playing better right now, which is obviously key. I’ve changed my game to a style where I collect the ball more, which I probably didn’t do that much at the start of last season because I didn’t have the confidence for it. Now I have the confidence and receive the backing of all the players, the coach, even people in the club offices – you’re even backed by them. And that’s a key point, knowing as a player on the pitch that you can make mistakes. Those are things that are going well. I also lose the ball a lot in games, but I know that they’re all behind me and know the next one will be better, the one after that will be better. I think that’s why things are going so well at the moment."
bundesliga.com: You have as many goals as Leroy Sané and as many assists as Thomas Müller and Jeremie Frimpong. What would the 10-year-old Ermedin have said if he was competing on a par with those big names in the Bundesliga?
Demirović: "I think he would’ve been lost for words. No idea… You probably couldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams that your name would be up there alongside a Sané or Müller. You couldn’t have dreamt of even being on one of those lists because they’re such big names, such big players who you would’ve liked to meet as a kid. Now you’re on a list with them and sort of fighting for goal records or whatever. As a little kid, I probably would’ve told everyone they were lying to me. I couldn’t have believed it."
Watch: Ermedin Demirović scored twice in a win over Mainz on Matchday 5
bundesliga.com: Going back to your beginnings in football, how did it all start for you? Where did you get your footballing ability?
Demirović: "I’ve always had a ball with me as far back as I can remember as a little kid. We used to go out a lot with my parents, often in the park. We lived near Hamburg’s stadium, so we’d hear every goal that was cheered even when we weren’t in the stadium. You get into it as a little kid because you play a lot of football, are out a lot, in the stadium a lot. It then becomes a hobby. My dad coached me a lot. I have a brother who’s two years younger who I also played with a lot. So, there was only football with us. Now my mum and my fiancée are all football mad even if they sometimes don’t have an idea of what’s going on. It feels like we watch every match. It’s a hobby that’s become a job for me. I still love football as much as I did as a little kid, which is why I’m enjoying it so much right now."
bundesliga.com: What are your memories of your time at Hamburg? How did the move to RB Leipzig’s academy come about?
Demirović: "I still remember it. When I think about HSV, having been a fan as a kid and then getting to pull on the shirt myself. I spent about 10 years there, had lots of very good years, made many friends. I’ve still got a connection with HSV, watch their games, but there were obviously also darker times. I never got the feeling I could make it there at HSV. I’d often hear from lots of coaches and the people in charge that I wouldn’t make it, am too slow, little things like my weight. That I wouldn’t be a football player. I heard that so often, it was said so often. Then there was one coach, Daniel Petrowsky, who took me on just because he’d seen me in a school team. He said he’d take me into the U16s. There was then a moment where things started to click as a player, as a striker I kept scoring goals. The coach who backed you said, ‘you can do it, you’re good, you’re not that bad. Obviously, there’s little things you can change, but you can always do that when you’re young. And at 15-16 you’re still a young boy for me who should still just be having fun playing football’. He took me on, and that year went so well that I got an offer from RB Leipzig. I never could’ve imagined as a 16-year-old to move away from home because we were such a close family. It still feels like my mum cries now when I leave the house. It was a tough step, but I did it because I felt like the offer from HSV was only like, ‘we’re just giving it to you because you’ve had a good season’. There was no feeling they were giving it because they had a long-term plan. It was just a good season, and we need to offer two years for the squad. But for me it was clear from the first day after the Leipzig offer that I’d go, no matter how tough it is. You need to leave your comfort zone to try something new. I think that was key for my career so far."
bundesliga.com: What role have family played in your footballing development in general?
Demirović: "Extremely important. We’re a close family. That was a key reason for even staying in football. I always had the support of my parents, my brother, and now for the last six and a half years from my fiancée. They support everything. We talk after every game, get on the phone, talk, chat about the game and what was good or not. It’s very important to me. I don’t think I’d take a step in my career without having spoken with them before. I want to stick with that because I believe family are the people who really only want the best for you. There are no other interests, just you. That’s why it’s so important to me that we’re always in touch. And I can only stress that I’m extremely grateful to my parents that they were there for me so much, because without them I probably never would’ve made it."
bundesliga.com: It hasn’t been easy for you to get this far. Can you talk us through the years you spent abroad up to your arrival at Freiburg. What were the challenges?
Demirović: "I got an offer from Spain, spoke with people who wanted to take me to Spain. That was right for me at that age. The Spanish league, Deportivo Alaves – it obviously all sounded nice. And it was nice. It was an experience that’s defined me as a person and also as a player. You learn a lot, including the culture from Spain, France, all the countries and the different styles of play that you can bring together as a player. But at the same time, it was obviously tough as an 18-year-old to go to Spain, when you find out you’re not eligible to play because the paperwork wasn’t done for whatever reason, which you can’t resolve alone as an 18-year-old. You don’t speak the language and there isn’t much English spoken there. I also wasn’t the best at English at school, but you’re then forced to talk, which you manage because you reach a point where you say that no matter if you make mistakes, you just have to be able to have a conversation. There were obviously tough days where you thought you never should’ve taken the step, because sitting at home as an 18-year-old and not playing, feeling like you’ve not got any friends – that’s not easy. But then family came into play again. They spent more time with me. It felt like they were living with me. They tried to make it as easy as possible for me. With each club, I just tried to make it back to Germany, to Switzerland, a German-speaking country, which helped me as a person."
bundesliga.com: How did you end up coming back to Germany?
Demirović: "I came via St. Gallen in the year after… I’ve no idea now. I had so many loan spells. But it was definitely after St. Gallen. It was the last day of the transfer window. I probably never would’ve thought 10 days earlier that I’d ever end up in Switzerland. I would’ve turned it down, preferring to stay in Spain. But it’s turned out it was the best decision of my life to go to Switzerland. There was a coach who played the RB way, who knew me from Leipzig, Peter Zeidler, who tried to introduce that style of play, who helped me a lot, who also believed a lot in my abilities, who always backed me, gave me playing time from the start. I did it at first because I didn’t have any other option, but it turned out so well, the team was excellent. We were a really young team, all between 18 and 20. It was an extremely young team who had a lot of fun playing. That was then key in many… not many, but some offers from clubs with interest in signing me. And at the time I knew if a Bundesliga club came in, I’d pick the Bundesliga club. I had really good and nice discussions with Freiburg and then quickly decided on Freiburg."
bundesliga.com: What are your personal goals or what can you improve on?
Demirović: "There are a number of things as a striker. Shooting with your left foot, a first touch sitting better sometimes, and above all for me, heading. When I see a Harry Kane, who I look up to, an Edin Dzeko, Zlatan Ibrahimovic – all players who are very dangerous from corners and crosses. I believe I can improve there, that I can be more dangerous from corners and not just from open play, that I’m more robust at headers in the box at crosses. I think that’s goal No.1 as a striker. My intention every day is to work on those things, timing headers, heading direction. Those are the things. I think that’s very important as a striker. If you can’t do it, then you’re lacking a component in your game. I’m trying to improve there."
Demirović: "Definitely. It comes via the national team, where it seems we meet up every month or two. We’ve played a lot of games together. He gives me a lot of advice because he knows full well how hard he had to work to get this far. When I see how much he works on himself, on his body, before and after training, I see how much hard work goes into someone like him. We only see the final product, but there’s so much more to it. Those are things he’s tried to pass on to me. And then in games as well, there’s a lot of things he’s told me, like how to make runs from a cross. Don’t just run in but try to confuse your opponent with two or three runs. You take that with you. And there’s also things where he doesn’t have to say much and you just try to watch and learn from him as a player."
bundesliga.com: Have there been any tips from Dzeko that surprised you?
Demirović: "He’s advised me a bit about strength training because he said you don’t need it. You don’t really need to do a huge workout because he says it’s all a show for him. Strength training in itself is obviously important, but there are things you don’t need to work on. He showed me the workouts and I thought, ‘Come on, I can’t do that. That’s not for me’. But they’re things that have kept his career going so long, playing at this level. It’s something I laugh about because he saw I was doing strength training, came in and said, ‘Stop that, come with me and we’ll do something else’. Things you originally think can’t be serious. But in hindsight you think he was right with what he showed you."
bundesliga.com: Which tips exactly?
Demirović: "Things like stretching exercises. High breathing exercises where I said I don’t need that, stretching myself. I was born pretty rigid. You can’t get much more out of me. He then showed me to stretch so I could get to balls more easily. You can deal with balls more quickly. I quickly realised that with crosses, volleys at hip height. I was pretty rigid but can now deal with them better thanks to things I probably wouldn’t have done before."
bundesliga.com: You will certainly want to compete at your home Euros in Germany this summer. You can still qualify with Bosnia. What would that mean to you and also the country?
Demirović: "So much. I can’t put it into words what I’d give for it as a person, what I’d give to be at these Euros. I was born in Germany. I feel like a German to an extent. I was born here, went to school here. I love Germany, I feel at home here. But then to represent my country, Bosnia, in Germany would be incredible for me. It would mean a lot to Bosnia, who’ve never been at the Euros before. We’re now so close. The country doesn’t have much. It’s not like Germany. It’s very small. We don’t have a lot. There’s still a lot of poverty. But you realise when you meet up with the national team that football is everything for the people who live there. They wait months just to go to the stadium for a qualifier. The tickets aren’t expensive, but they come with the last of their money to be in the stadium. You feel that as a player on the pitch. You just want to give something back to the people, that they have things they can look forward to. I think the Euros would be the biggest thing for probably every player, for me personally, for my family and for the whole of Bosnia."
bundesliga.com: Who do you follow on Instagram that you’d like to meet and why?
Demirović: "Cristiano Ronaldo as a football player. Apart from him, I’d like to meet Khabib [Nurmagomedov] or [Conor] McGregor, an MMA fighter. A boxer as well. I’m just interested to know how you prepare for a fight. You know you’re going to get hit hard. In football it’s little things. Someone catches your foot and it hurts. But how do you deal with knowing you’re up against a boxer? How do you prepare for a fight or combat? I’m interested to know how it looks in other sports."
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