Moussa Niakhate on captaining Mainz, scoring against RB Leipzig and more
Moussa Niakhate was named Mainz captain ahead of the 2021/22 season following Danny Latza's departure. It's an honour the Frenchman has taken in his stride as he and Mainz have begun the new campaign in fantastic form.
French defender Niakhate sits down with bundesliga.com to discuss fatherhood, becoming Mainz captain, the club's turnaround under Bo Svensson and playing against Liverpool's Mohamed Salah...
bundesliga.com: Congratulations on becoming a father - how happy does that make you?
Moussa Niakhate: "Thank you very much. It's a huge moment in the life of a man. I'm very happy indeed. A new life has started."
bundesliga.com: Does becoming a father give you even more strength as a person?
Niakhate: "No, it doesn't give you more strength. It's something outside of football in my private life. It has not given me more strength as a footballer. But it's hugely important for me personally."
bundesliga.com: What did our teammates give you as a present for becoming a father? And how happy are they for you?
Niakhate: "Everyone is happy when this happens. These are my colleagues, I'm close to them. So they're all very happy. We always get each other little presents whenever anyone becomes a father - be it a player, a coach or a member of staff. We have a tradition where you are gifted a shirt with the name of the baby on the back and the father's number."
bundesliga.com: You have now become the official club captain - why were you chosen for this role?
Niakhate: "Why? You will have to ask the coach, Bo Svensson. It was his decision. He is the coach so it's up to him. I'm very happy to have been given this honour. To be the captain of Mainz, it's truly an honour for me."
bundesliga.com: What is the deal with you and Leipzig? You always seem to find the back of the net against them.
Niakhate: "No, there's no special story. It's funny. That's football. Football is full of magic and unbelievable moments. Sometimes there are strange things like this, clubs that you often score against. Leipzig, and Gulacsi, is the club I have scored the most Bundesliga goals against."
bundesliga.com: Since Svensson arrived in Mainz, the team has been picking up good results. You have made a good start to the Bundesliga season too. How do you explain this good run of results?
Niakhate: "We were in a very difficult situation when Bo Svensson arrived back in January. He was intelligent in the way he came into the club. He was very calm and serene. He had his way of thinking and a desire to work hard. The players responded very well to what he was saying. We didn't have time to think too much, we just listened to the coach. And the results followed. Everyone is giving 100 percent. And when you give 100 percent in training and in every game, the results come."
bundesliga.com: What are your objectives for the season?
Niakhate: "I don't know yet what our objectives are. It's not my job to determine the club's objectives. I simply give my all in every game. And make sure we're not in the same situation that we found ourselves in last year. We need to start the league well and then take it game by game."
Watch: Niakhate scored the only goal in a big win over Leipzig on MD1!
bundesliga.com: What did Bo Svensson mean when he said you perform as though you want to stay at Mainz forever?
Niakhate: "I don't know. You will have to ask him. I think he said that a while ago, while we were in pre-season and the transfer window was open. He means that I give my all in training every single day. There are always rumours and big clubs that are interested in me. He knows football and he was being professional. There are certain players who may ease off in training somewhat if they know there are other clubs interested in them and become a bit less serious. Despite all the noise around me last summer, I remained totally focused. I gave 100 percent in every training session, I played every day with a smile on my face. I think that's what he was saying."
bundesliga.com: You played Liverpool in a pre-season friendly and apparently Mo Salah didn't enjoy playing against you. Why was that?
Niakhate: "It was a great game. I enjoyed playing against such a big club. They have some great players like Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. It was a good duel between us. It was hard-fought, but that's what I like about football. No, there was no ill-feeling at all. We spoke after the game and laughed together, said thank you. It's true that we went up against each other a lot during the game. But I wanted to show what I was capable of against big players like Mo Salah."
bundesliga.com: Your good performances are being noticed. How proud are you to be so well regarded in the Bundesliga?
Niakhate: "I'm pleased that my hard work in training and in matches is seen and appreciated. Like you said, the fact that these big clubs are interested in me proves that I'm doing well. I'm very demanding of myself and I want to do better all the time. I know I can keep improving - I still have a lot to show the world of football."
bundesliga.com: Who is the best centre-back in the Bundesliga in your opinion?
Niakhate: "I wouldn't name just one player. There are lots of good centre-backs at the big clubs like Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Leipzig or Wolfsburg. It would be difficult for me to name just one."
bundesliga.com: And what about you?
Niakhate: "I would never say myself, that's for sure. I don't know who the best defender is. But it's certainly true that there are a lot of good centre-backs here in the Bundesliga."
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