Schalke's Ozan Kabak: "I want to be a top player like Virgil van Dijk"
The Royal Blues' teenage centre-back star has made a flying start to life at the Veltins-Arena after finally making it onto the pitch after injury, and he has big plans for the future.
The Galatasaray youth product shot to fame in the Bundesliga last season with VfB Stuttgart, as a rare shining light in an otherwise disappointing season which saw the club relegated in the play-off against Union Berlin.
Now, 19-year-old Kabak is flying high under David Wagner at Schalke and has spoken to bundesliga.com about his start to life in Gelsenkirchen, his desire to be a top player like Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk, and much more...
bundesliga.com: Ozan Kabak, you didn't have the easiest start to life at Schalke, but things are starting to brighten up, aren't they?
Ozan Kabak: "Yes, I started this season with some injuries. I was out for around two months, and when I returned to the squad they said they already had two or three good centre-backs: Salif [Sane], Benji [Stambouli] and also Mati [Nastasic]. I got my chance last week and I scored. I'm very happy about it. Everything is good for me now. I hope we're going to keep playing like this."
bundesliga.com: How does it feel to finally be back on the football pitch?
Kabak: "Great. It feels great to be on the pitch, to be playing football and to be winning with the team, because I hadn't played since May. My last match was with Stuttgart against Union Berlin. I'm very happy to be back out there."
bundesliga.com: You must have received a lot of support from your new team?
"Yes, definitely. My coach, my teammates and the staff have been very good to me. They always support me, they always speak positively with me, and I appreciate that."
bundesliga.com: It must have been the stuff of dreams, scoring on your first Bundesliga start for Schalke?
Kabak: "It was a very special moment for me because we were 2-1 down, and it was pretty late in the game, around the 75th minute. The cross came in and I got my head to it. I scored and I'm very happy that we won, and for my goal also."
Watch: Kabak's first Schalke goal in a dramatic win over Augsburg!
bundesliga.com: For those who might not have seen you play, what would you say are your biggest strengths?
Kabak: "I would say my heading ability is good, because I scored a lot with my head before, at Galatasaray. I have good physicality, like pace and jumping. I hope I can show these qualities to the fans in the next match."
bundesliga.com: But you have more strengths as a defender?
Kabak: "Yeah, of course, I'm a defender, not an attacking player. Of course, I have defensive talents as well."
bundesliga.com: You're still only 19 and you want to improve...
Kabak: "Of course, I'm not 100 per cent right now. I need to work a lot because the Bundesliga level is so high, especially physically, I think it's so high. That's why I need to work on my pace, my power maybe, and my injuries."
bundesliga.com: As you've returned to full fitness, others around you have got injured. Perfect timing for you, or not the ideal situation?
Kabak: "Firstly, I’m very sorry for them, because Salif and Benji did a very good job over the last ten games and now they're out for several months. I'm sorry for them, but it's the football we have to concentrate on. That's why me and Mati, or sometimes West [McKennie], we play together in central defence and try to protect our goal. That's our job."
bundesliga.com: There's a lot of responsibility on you now to help Schalke build on their recent form...
Kabak: "It's a possibility for me to be a leader in defence, but also we have Mati and Basti [Oczipka] at the back. It doesn't matter who's doing the leading, the most important thing is to protect our goal, avoid conceding and get the wins."
bundesliga.com: Schalke have made a great start to the season with many of the same players of the past few years. What has been the difference?
Kabak: "Yeah, we have pretty much the same players from recent years, but I think the difference is the coach and the staff. We we work very well together. There's a real sense of friendship in our team as well, and that affects our games and how we play. That's why I think we're a better team right now."
bundesliga.com: What are the key differences in David Wagner's coaching style?
Kabak: "We always talk with him. He's very sensitive with me, and he has a good relationship with all of the players and staff. There are some guys who always talk with you. He's a nice guy outside of football. I can say he's a good person. He also has a positive mentality about football, he worked in the Premier League before and you can see his qualities. I think we're in a good way, and our aim is to play in the Champions League with him next season."
bundesliga.com: How has life been at Schalke so far?
Kabak: "Like I said, in our team, there's a very good relationship. It affects our football of course - you can see on the pitch when someone loses the ball, the other guys trying to help him. I think that's the most important thing for a team. We also have five Turkish guys in the team, which is very good for me! We talk a lot, we spend a lot of time together off the pitch. They're helping me improve my German too. Yeah, they're good guys. Everyone knows German, everyone knows English, so we can understand each other well."
bundesliga.com: At 19, you still have your whole footballing future ahead of you. What are your biggest goals?
Kabak: "My personal aim is to become a top defender in maybe two or three years, like Virgil van Dijk. He's my idol, I really like him."
bundesliga.com: What is it about Virgil van Dijk that you admire?
Kabak: "As a footballer? I like his style and how he plays, so I can say he's my football idol."
bundesliga.com: Schalke fans are some of the loudest in the Bundesliga. How have you found their support so far?
Kabak: "Yeah, of course, they're great. Every match, every single match, even away games, they come to the stadium, and there are more than 60,000 of them when we're at home. It's a very cool feeling. Everywhere is blue!"
Watch: Kabak's top tackles for VfB Stuttgart!
bundesliga.com: Are the fans one of the main reasons you came to the Bundesliga?
Kabak: "I have a couple of reasons for playing here. Before I came to Stuttgart, I watched the Bundesliga and I thought 'this is the league for me', because there's good quality, a high physical level and so many top players. I think the Bundesliga is one of the best leagues in Europe."
bundesliga.com: How are you getting on with German?
Kabak: "I have German lessons three times a week. So I can understand sentences, I can speak with some friends who don't know English. I'm improving my German step-by-step, every day, so maybe I can even talk with you!"
bundesliga.com: Football is often seen as a superstitious game. Do you have any special rituals?
Kabak: "I pray before the game, that's it. It's very important for me - I do it every time."
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