To say it has been a whirlwind year for Schalke's Alexander Nübel would be a massive understatement. The 22-year-old has gone from prospect to first-choice goalkeeper and club captain in the space of nine months.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the Schalke shot-stopper opens up about his shock in being named the club's No.1 and then captain just six months later, and how he only became a goalkeeper as a teenager...
bundesliga.com: We have heard that you are a bit of a dressing room joker?
Alexander Nübel: "Not jokes as such but I sometimes explain things with a hint of irony! I think, for new people, it can be a bit hard to recognise the sarcasm but the people who know me well realise it's often irony."
bundesliga.com: Who understands your humour the best within the squad?
Nübel: "I get on especially well with our goalkeepers. We have a special relationship and anyone who has known me for a long time knows me inside out."
bundesliga.com: How happy are you with Schalke’s start of the season?
Nübel: "Relatively. I think we were given a tough start facing Gladbach and Bayern. It's never easy to face Gladbach. We got a 0-0 draw from a place where we've struggled to pick up points in the past. At home against Bayern, I think we could've got something from the game if we'd have played with a bit more courage. Otherwise, last weekend against Hertha, it was great to get a 3-0 win on the board."
Watch: Nübel kept a clean sheet on the opening day!
bundesliga.com: What has changed under David Wagner at Schalke?
Nübel: "Intensive, high pressing which we could implement better in the next few weeks. Sure, a new head coach brings new ideas and everyone has a clean slate to play their way into contention. I think you always get an upturn when a new coach comes in as everyone wants to prove their worth. Also, it gives a new opportunity to those who it hasn't worked out for in the last 18 months. I think the biggest plus is that we're all playing stress-free and for the love of the game."
bundesliga.com: It’s been almost a year since you became Schalke’s number one. Were you surprised to have become a key part of the team so quickly?
Nübel: "I just came back from my winter holiday like normal and started training. In the middle of our preparations, I had some discussions with the head coach and he said I was doing very well and that myself and Ralf Fährmann were performing at the same level. He told me he'd decide who would play in goal two days before the first game back. That meant I was even more motivated as I'd never had that sort of fight for one place before. Ralf Fährmann has had a number of exceptional seasons in goal for Schalke over the years so I'd never had much of a look in. He was always clearly the number one over me and that was totally deserved because of his performances. But then, we had two weeks where we were performing on a level playing field and the head coach ultimately opted to start me. I was ecstatic and a bit surprised to be honest but, all in all, I was just over the moon."
bundesliga.com: Was coming into the side tough due to the pressure on the club or did you just relish the occasion?
Nübel: "I looked forward to every game. The pressure was always on, especially given the situation. I was just excited to make my debut and enjoy every minute of it."
bundesliga.com: Was Ralf Fährmann a role model for you? What did you learn from him?
Nübel: "Definitely. His performances in training were phenomenal. Since 2015 when we started trained together, I think there were probably two days in that entire time where he didn't give 100 per cent. That's unbelievable. Every session he would train with an enthusiasm I'd never seen before. As a person, he's a fantastic guy. I've learnt a lot from him about goalkeeping. I don't think there are many better shot-stoppers around. I've witnessed first-hand how much of a quality goalkeeper he is. I've picked up a lot from him."
bundesliga.com: How did you feel emotionally when you became first-choice over Ralf?
Nübel: "It was a strange feeling as we had a close relationship but he acted very professionally. We were doing some video analysis with the goalkeeping coach before the game and he told he would support me the same way I had done with him over the years. That helped me a lot and gave me courage. It meant I went into the first game against Wolfsburg feeling at ease."
bundesliga.com: Was it a surprise for you to become Schalke captain this summer?
Nübel: "It was the exact same in the summer. I came back from the U21 European Championships and didn't ever think I would be captain. Of course, I was taken aback initially but also very happy to have been chosen. I found it was an honour and then I quickly made it clear that I wanted to take up the role!"
bundesliga.com: Did you know what was to be expected of you in the role?
Nübel: "Of course, you know about the usual jobs but I think if things come up in future I will just have to learn through experience. For now, everything has been going well. We have an experienced squad so we're able to manage things together."
bundesliga.com: What makes a good goalkeeper in today’s game?
Nübel: "Being a good goalkeeper. That's my main role as I said before. Being able to use your feet is also important in today's game but it depends on what team you play for and their style. Some teams more "kick and rush" football, whereas others prefer to build from the back. That means either you'll need to play pinpoint long balls or be comfortable playing short passes. That's something becoming ever more important. You also have to be brave when coming to collect crosses. You can also be a help to the team mentally by providing security and an option on the ball at the back. They're some of the key factors in being a good goalkeeper."
bundesliga.com: Do you aim to be part of the national team?
Nübel: "Yeah, I said that in the summer you don't have to worry about the goalkeeper position in Germany with an exceptional goalkeeper like Manuel Neuer between the sticks. And, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen as number two who is a world-class goalkeeper in his own right. Bernd Leno plays for Arsenal too. There's a lot to choose from!"
bundesliga.com: Why did you decide to become a goalkeeper?
Nübel: "I moved to Paderborn from a small village aged nine. I played outfield there until I was 14. When I was 13/14, I played in goal occasionally. Then, the head coach at the time thought it'd be best for me to pick a specific position. Then I was able to go to goalkeeper training and, in Paderborn, there was one goalkeeping coach in the whole club. Once a week all the goalkeepers in the academy would train with him and we'd train sometimes with the first team. I had a great time training with him so I decided to be a goalkeeper permanently. I think it was the right decision!"
bundesliga.com: Do you miss playing outfield?
Nübel: "When you play outfield it requires a different mindset. Playing in goal is completely different to anywhere else on the pitch. You have fewer physical battles with your opponent - only really when challenging for an aerial ball. I miss those outfield battles but I love my job being in goal and am delighted to have become a goalkeeper."
bundesliga.com: How has the role of the goalkeeper changed?
Nübel: "Yeah, of course, there was a time where goalkeepers only played 'hoof football' but I still think the most important thing for a goalkeeper is keeping the ball out of the net. It's all well and good making passes but you have to be able to make saves. That's our main role."
bundesliga.com: What are your goals with Schalke this season?
Nübel: "Play more attractive football than last season. We want to take each game as it comes and emotionally connect with the fans as they push us to the next level and can ensure that we can intimidate anyone at home. We want the fans to look forward to each game as much as we do."
bundesliga.com: Is everything back to normal at Schalke now?
Nübel: "We know we weren't great last season and the table showed that. However, I don't think it was as bleak as it was portrayed in the media at the time. Now it's a new season. We have fresh aims and hopes. We've started tidily and want to push on from here."
bundesliga.com: What is and isn’t working well so far in your eyes for Schalke?
Nübel: "I think we worked well defensively as a unit, we pressed from the front and fought for every 50-50. I think going forward we could play in a more attractive manner with the ball but we have time over the international break to work on that so we can go to Paderborn on Sunday and put in a good performance."
Watch: Schalke enjoyed a 3-0 win over Hertha Berlin on MD3!
bundesliga.com: Back in your hometown!
Nübel: "True. I'm looking forward to it a lot."
bundesliga.com: Are you already trying to organize tickets for old friends and relatives?
Nübel: "My family, definitely. I'm going to try and get my hands on as many tickets as possible for the Paderborn fixture so my friends and colleagues from my old village can come."
bundesliga.com: What are you expecting from the game?
Nübel: "I think Paderborn are a tricky opponent, particularly going forward. They are a strong attacking unit and they've scored in every game they've played this season. However, defensively, I think we'll be presented with opportunities to score. So, even though it'll be tough, I think it'll be a good game. I'm particularly looking forward to it as Paderborn is where I'm from originally."