After almost a year out recovering from a cruciate ligament tear, Florian Wirtz is ready to return to Bundesliga action with a Bayer Leverkusen side that started to click under Xabi Alonso before a World Cup that the teenager was devastated to miss.
bundesliga.com: How much are you looking forward to playing in the Bundesliga again?
Wirtz: “This is what I've been working towards for months. I'm very excited for the first game back against Gladbach. I think the whole team are raring to go and for me that feeling is especially strong.”
bundesliga.com: How have you found your time on the sidelines?
Wirtz: “I've been out for 10 months, which is a very long time. If I reflect on it now, it didn’t feel that long. I was amazed at how quickly time passed and how quickly I was able to make progress in my recovery. That made it easier in a way, as you could look back on what you had achieved. I feel fit now and am pleased with how I used the time on the sidelines.”
Watch: Wirtz raring to go again with Leverkusen
bundesliga.com: Do you still feel the injury during certain movements?
Wirtz: “I’m 100 percent fit. I don’t feel it anymore.”
bundesliga.com: How hard was it for you missing out on the World Cup?
Wirtz: “It was sad for me considering the fact I thought I had a good chance of making it to the World Cup about a year ago. But I then realised it wouldn’t be possible. That was my dream - to be part of a World Cup at a young age and to gain that experience. But I didn’t have much time to think about it. I was training hard and just focused on ensuring I made a full recovery. So there wasn’t really enough time for me to reflect on it or get frustrated that I wasn’t at the World Cup.”
bundesliga.com: While you were focusing on your recovery, your teammate Exequiel Palacios won the World Cup with Argentina. How happy are you for him?
Wirtz: “I was supporting Germany, of course. But I was very happy for Pala. To have won two big titles at his relatively young age - it’s great for our team too. There aren’t many Bundesliga teams with a 2022 World Cup winner. It’s great to have a World Cup winner in the squad. We were all very happy for him.”
bundesliga.com: During your recovery, Leverkusen appointed a new head coach. How has that been for you?
Wirtz: “When the new coach came in, he wanted to establish a good relationship with me from the beginning. He wanted to find out how I was doing, so we were in constant contact. But it’s a bit different from being on the pitch where you can talk about other things as well. It helped me to stay close to the team. And I got closer and closer to my return. It helped me to reintegrate into the team.”
bundesliga.com: Xabi Alonso is a big admirer of yours and has often said so publicly. What is your relationship with him?
Wirtz: “He is certainly someone I respect very much. Both because he is the coach and also because of what he achieved in his playing career. Of course it’s the same level of respect as with any other coach, but you know that he is a coach who has been in your position in the past. And who is able to give good advice based on his own experience. So we have a good relationship.”
bundesliga.com: What is your favourite position?
Wirtz: "I'm an attacking player by nature. I like to have my space to be creative, to get forward and to play balls forward. I feel very comfortable in the number 10 position. But I also enjoy playing out wide or further forward as an attacker. I feel I can make use of my strengths in those positions.”
bundesliga.com: Your first game back will be against Gladbach - one of your favourite opponents. In three games against them, you have won three times and set up three goals.
Wirtz: “We want to win every single game, regardless of the opponent. We've already started to prepare for the game and ensure we play with the right mentality and unity out on the pitch. There’s no point paying too much attention to the statistics from past seasons. We didn’t start this season well. And now we need to make sure we give our all in every game. And of course we want to start with a win against Gladbach.”
bundesliga.com: Why is that you have always played so well against Gladbach?
Wirtz: “As a team, we've always been aggressive against Gladbach and made good use of our chances. They have given us space in the past and we've used that with our speed and by being clinical in front of goal. We will try to do the same this time.”
bundesliga.com: What can we expect from Leverkusen in the Rückrunde?
Wirtz: “In my opinion, we need to make sure we perform as well as we can in every game. And really try to win every single game. And then we’ll see where that puts us. We know there are still a lot of points to play for. But we also know that we need to offer more than we have done so far this season.”
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