After making his senior Germany debut, Freiburg defender Robin Koch admits it still has not yet sunk in that he has represented his country on the biggest stage.
bundesliga.com caught up with the latest Germany debutant to ask how he found out about his call-up, what it meant to him and how he sees both his and Freiburg's future...
bundesliga.com: Robin Koch, you've been busy – a U21 EURO final, part of the leading pack in the Bundesliga, and a call up [to the Germany squad] from Jogi Löw. Do you ever have to pinch yourself?
Robin Koch: "Yes, it's not really sunk in yet because everything has moved so quickly. Being called up to the national team and then making my debut was the fulfilment of one of my biggest dreams. There's not much time to reflect on it all. You're fully focused on the match and try to block everything else out. Then you return, and you're straight back into the Bundesliga. You're busy straight away. It's difficult at the moment to fully perceive what's happened, but I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can. Perhaps with a bit of distance, it will sink in."
bundesliga.com: Has playing in the Bundesliga become normal for you, or is it still a dream every single day?
Koch: "Yes, of course. That's for sure, as I've said on many occasions. It's an honour to play at the highest level in Germany. That's why you have to concentrate immediately upon your return – you have to be 100% focused. You always have to give your best, otherwise you'll come up short in this league. In that sense, I got straight back to work as soon as I returned from the national team."
bundesliga.com: What were your thoughts when the national team coach called? Were you worried that it might be someone trying to play a prank on you?
Koch: "I actually missed two calls from him because I had a doctor’s appointment. Then Christian Streich called me, so I called back. I thought it had to be real because our manager had also called. He only calls for special reasons – as was the case. I was surprised when he told me about the call-up, and very happy."
Koch: "I have to say, I was relatively relaxed before the game – and also during the game. Perhaps because everything happened so quickly. I found out about the call-up and the next morning I was travelling to join up with the team. There was only the final training session, and I didn't assume I'd be playing. Then the manager came to me in the afternoon and told me I was starting. The game was the next day, so there wasn’t much time to think about it. Maybe that was a good thing – as I said, I was relatively relaxed before the game."
bundesliga.com: The coach was pleased with your performance. What further opportunities might there by under Jogi Löw?
Koch: "He also told me after the game that he was very pleased with my performance. That's nice to hear, of course, and it's great to get that kind of feedback. Despite that, I'm focused on the league again now – we've got some difficult challenges ahead of us. You have to focus on those and everything else will reveal itself in time."
bundesliga.com: This is all underpinned by Freiburg’s exceptional start to the season. Do you think Freiburg can keep the pace with the leading group? With the exception of Dortmund, you still have to face all the top teams.
Koch: "We're all aware of that. That was the case from the beginning. Of course the media may be spinning it in a different way, but everyone at the club knows what our aim is for the season. Despite that, when the schedule was released, we knew that the supposedly easier opponents, our direct competitors in the bottom third of the table, were up first. We knew that we had to pick up points because after that we had matches against the supposedly bigger or stronger teams. In that sense, it's good that we've got the points on the board, but we can't rest on our laurels. The aim for the coming weeks is to make sure we pick up as many points as possible. That will allow us to continue to approach matches with the same level of confidence that we have now. That may ease some of the pressure on us."
bundesliga.com: The daunting schedule starts on Saturday against RB Leipzig. What do you have that Leipzig don't?
Koch: "I don’t know the situation in Leipzig’s squad, but one of our strengths is our team spirit and togetherness. Regardless of the size of the squad this season or of how many of the boys are not playing, we're still very tight-knit as a group. You can see that on the pitch, particularly when we play at home with the fans behind us. This cohesion is one of our big strengths."
bundesliga.com: Why is Freiburg such an attractive destination for young players? How important are the opportunities for development here? What sets the club apart?
Koch: "It's true that the young players here are trusted by the manager and by everyone at the club. Because of the faith that's placed in young players, some of the guys have progressed really well. Another factor is that we have a relatively calm atmosphere here. We're not as involved with the media compared to some other clubs. That distance is managed well, and particularly the young boys are kept out of the spotlight. This combination means that we have an atmosphere that can be extremely good for the development of young players."
bundesliga.com: Your father Harry made 220 Bundesliga appearances for Kaiserslautern. He won the league and the DFB Cup, played in the Champions League. He remains an idol at Kaiserslautern today. How much did he inspire you as a footballer?
Koch: "Particularly in terms of his mentality and his determination that he has or had, he's a huge role model for me, yes. I was also a big Ronaldinho fan growing up, because I used to play in a more attacking position. In terms of football, I aligned myself with Ronaldinho rather than my dad. That was probably a good idea. But as I got older, I started to really look up to his incredible determination and mentality that he showed on the pitch. He's certainly a role model for me."
bundesliga.com: However, you have one more international cap than him. Who's the better player? Is this something you discuss at all?
Koch: "I have already managed something he never did. But in every other way he's still ahead of me. In that sense, I've a long way to go to catch up. It's also special for him to see his son make his international debut. He's certainly proud of me. I can use that against him, but he has some strong counter arguments."