After breaking the Bundesliga record for assists by a defender with 12 in the 2017/18 season, Augsburg's Philipp Max proved himself to be one of the German top flight's best crossers of the ball.
Now, though, Augsburg have a new free-kick king in Max, and the 26-year-old sat down with bundesliga.com to talk about his unique technique, not idolising any set-piece takers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Augsburg's season so far...
bundesliga.com: What are your thoughts on Augsburg’s season so far?
Philipp Max: "This summer, the club experienced the most drastic change in its history. There were a lot of new players that joined and a lot of players that left; some that were here for a very long time and achieved great things. We felt this change especially towards the beginning of the season. There were some very late additions to the squad so it took us a while to settle into the new environment. During the last couple of weeks, it's been clear that our relationship with each other has grown. Getting to know each other is often underestimated due to it being 'just football', however, we're all human. Building up the trust has taken some time but I think we've shown that we're on the right track, are able to compete and are constantly improving."
bundesliga.com: You had a difficult start but in Paderborn, you were finally able to get your elusive first win. Are you on the right path now?
Max: "I think so! The games pre-Paderborn were all against teams deserving of European competitions. The match against Paderborn was one where we were forced to show our true potential. We knew we had to win that match. We managed to, with a good goalkeeper and an overall positive team performance. We're on the right path."
bundesliga.com: You were the one to score the winning goal in Paderborn with an amazing free-kick! How did it feel to see the ball in the back of the net?
Max: "For the last several years Johnny Schmid would take the free-kicks, regardless of the position, because he was just so good at it. I set myself the goal to score a free-kick as well. It was great to be able to help the team in that way, especially during such an important match against Paderborn. You can tell as soon as the ball leaves your foot whether it'll be a good one or not. Of course, luck plays a part as well, but I was extremely pleased! I think I was the only one to notice it had gone in at first because not everyone had come to celebrate. There was a problem with the wall and the situation had to be reviewed. It was still an incredible feeling."
bundesliga.com: The ball hit the camera behind the goal and sprang back out – a lot of people thought it had not gone in. How did you experience the moment?
Max: "There's a split second where you think the referee whistled for some reason or other; that maybe something was wrong although I was unaware of what that could be. It was a bit weird but then we forgot about it after the first couple of seconds."
Watch: Max's outstanding winner against Paderborn!
bundesliga.com: It was your second direct free-kick in the Bundesliga. Are we going to see any more?
Max: "When you score once, you obviously want to continue. The first free-kick goal I scored was in Frankfurt where the ball missed everyone and flew in. I want to stay on it and try to bag several more goals.”
bundesliga.com: How often do you train your free-kick technique?
Max: "I do practice in training but only when we have time and I feel up to it. We practice hard in terms of set-pieces even though we've not had a lot of luck in that department. This made the goal against Paderborn all the more special because we won it thanks to a set-piece goal. We take turns to train set-pieces and yes, I often place the ball down and have a couple goes myself."
bundesliga.com: Do you have an idol in terms of free-kick technique?
Max: "I wouldn't say I did because everyone is unique. I try to make the ball go straight for goal: direct and with pace. I think that's important, regardless of it being a corner-kick or a free-kick. I try to do my own thing."
bundesliga.com: Last year you managed to score four goals. Do you want to score the same amount this season, or do you prioritise team success?
Max: "Definitely. Being successful together is the most important thing. That's what is taught here. Obviously, you try to help the team if you can but I'm not one that would say "this year I'll score five goals and give six assists". I try to do my best and if I ever get in the situation where I can place the ball into the back of the net, I'm pleased for the entire team and not just for myself. I think that's what this team is about."
bundesliga.com: You have had a new coach since April, Martin Schmidt. How would you describe his coaching philosophy?
Max: "When he first started, it was quite the change. Every coach has his own philosophy and methods of training. We used to be a very movement-orientated team with high press and quick ball recovery. We also used to play out from the back which hasn't really changed. We wanted to go back to the way Augsburg played when they first got into the Bundesliga: Narrow and compact. Invite the opponent in and then be quick to counter with the pace that we have going forward. That was one aspect of the change that we saw at the start: to switch from the 'power football' that we kept implementing to a more defense-focused strategy. That was the main change in the system. We have the ability to be able to stay compact but we're also capable of pressing forward. Everyone has their own style of play. We're getting used to it. We've managed to clinch two clean sheets in the last two weeks so I think we're on the right path."
bundesliga.com: How would you describe Martin Schmidt? What kind of leader is he?
Max: "He's an open and communicative person who likes to throw in some jokes now and again but also likes to allow us to play with freedom. He likes to play clean football but also wants us to find times where we let the ball flow. Otherwise, he's a very comfortable person. He's very open to everyone."
Watch: Augsburg's fantastic 4-0 win over Hertha on MD12!
bundesliga.com: There are some exciting games ahead of you. Especially this Saturday against Cologne. What kind of game awaits you there?
Max: "With the new coach, it'll be different trying to play there. It'll be a cauldron in Cologne, a place Augsburg has played often enough. The fans are felt like the 12th man of their team, as the saying goes. It's going to be a close game again. We have to keep the match at eye-level, stay focused and positive and try to leave with the three points."
bundesliga.com: After Cologne, you have a match against Mainz and before the winter-break, against Düsseldorf as well. Is the pressure the highest in these types of matches? Or is there a sense of extra motivation present due to knowing that these are the games that you have a better chance of winning?
Max: "Since I've been playing here we've been in various situations. Obviously, there's a certain amount of pressure on us to win at home. The fans want to see us win against the teams that are fighting at the bottom. We don't put pressure on ourselves. We try to play our game and are aware that we can challenge any opponent, regardless of who they are. If we perform well and we have a good day I'm confident we're able to get results. If we all manage to stay focused, I'm sure we can finish the year on a positive note."
bundesliga.com: How confident are you that Augsburg will be able to play in the Bundesliga again next season?
Max: "Very. We've played a third of the games. There are still so many games left to be played. We know there are still very important games coming up against opponents challenging to stay up as well and if we manage to get the results, I'm confident we can make Augsburg stay in the Bundesliga for a 10th year in a row."
bundesliga.com: In the footballing world, superstitions are common. How do you feel about this topic? What kind of rituals do you have? What do they mean to you and how important are they to you?
Max: "I try to avoid superstitions because I believe they have a powerful effect; I'm quite the believer. However, I still cannot avoid making the sign of the cross or entering the field with my right foot first. Apart from that, nothing special."
bundesliga.com: What do you do apart from football in your free time and why?
Max: "I spend a lot of time with my family. I enjoy being at home, not that I don't like being out and about in my city. We enjoy going out for dinner, we like taking the dog out for walks. Otherwise, I also enjoy reading. I try to educate myself further and work with my mind. I think I’m doing well."
bundesliga.com: Who is the most famous person you follow on Instagram and why?
Max: "That would have to be Cristiano Ronaldo. He probably has the most followers on Instagram. I think he's a machine if not the best player in the world so I'm naturally interested in what he gets up to during the day."