Dubai - Much was expected of Swiss international when he joined Borussia Mönchengladbach last summer from boyhood club FC Basel 1893. However, after a promising start with the Foals, the 20-year-old found himself on the bench towards the winter break and is now determined to make amends in the New Year.
Speaking from his club's winter training camp in Dubai, where Gladbach are warming up for the Bundesliga restart as part of a long-term international marketing campaign by the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga and Dubai Sports Channel, the midfielder gave a refreshingly honest interview on his experiences in the Bundesliga thus far.
Question: Granit Xhaka, what are your aims for the second half of the season?
Granit Xhaka: My goal is to win back a place in the starting eleven. The pack is being reshuffled during our preparations. Everyone has the chance to prove himself here at the training camp and everyone wants to be in the first team, which is normal. At the end of the day, though, it's up to the coach to decide who plays.
Question: How would you summarise your first half of the season at Gladbach?
Xhaka: Expectations of me were very high. Maybe that's why I put myself under a bit too much pressure at the beginning. I wanted to prove to everyone that it wasn't a mistake to bring me in. But when you want too much, you don't usually achieve much. I started the first eight Bundesliga games and then I was out of the team. After that the side settled down and played well. To be honest, if I'd been coach I wouldn't have changed the team again either. I accepted that, but as I said before the cards are being reshuffled now. I hope I can convince the coach of my qualities in the second half of the season.
Question: What was it like for you not to be first choice for the first time in your career?
Xhaka: Everything was perfect for me for two years in Basel. I was very successful there, we won the double and reached the last 16 of the Champions League. Maybe subconsciously you start to think that it'll continue like that without having to work for it, but after eight games all of a sudden I was out. I thought it would only be for two or three matches but it kept on going. Every player is disappointed when they're not playing.
Question: Does a period like that make a young player stronger?
Xhaka: For me personally, yes. When you experience something like that you need to get back on your feet and start from scratch. I see it all as an important learning curve, so it's not a negative thing. I'm just trying to push myself even more and in every training session I want to show the coach that I'm ready and that he can count on me. This training camp is a challenge for every player. I'm going to give everything in the eight days we have here and if I get the chance to play, I want to make the most of it.
Question: What have you learned from your first six months in Germany?
Xhaka: I know I've made mistakes and sometimes I've talked about things too openly or directly. That wasn't good and I've learned from that. However, I'd like to emphasise that I never said anything negative about Borussia or my team-mates. I respect every player and have stood up in front of the whole team and explained that I didn't mean certain statements in the way they were presented in the newspapers. The lads believed me because they know that I'm an honest guy. That's all been resolved and it's in the past now. That's why I don't want to look back on last year too much. It's 2013 now and it's like a new beginning for me.
Question: Off the pitch, what aims have you set yourself for the year?
Xhaka: I'm a laid back guy who likes to have fun and I've always got a joke up my sleeve. That's the way I am and I can't change that overnight. Nevertheless, I know exactly what I can and can't do. I intend on speaking to journalists differently. I'll continue to be honest, but I'll formulate certain things in a different way.