Dortmund - Having been at Borussia Dortmund for more than six years, few have a connection as close to the five-time Bundesliga champions as Mats Hummels.
In an exclusive in-depth interview with the "International Bundesliga Magazine", the 25-year-old 2014 FIFA World Cup winner spoke of the ties that go much deeper than the usual relationship between a professional football club and a player, describing what he has at Dortmund as “truly unique”.
Bundesliga Magazine:Mats Hummels, it’s hard to believe, but you have been at Borussia Dortmund for longer than manager Jürgen Klopp.
Mats Hummels: It’s true, it’s now been six and a half years. I came in the winter of 2007. But in half a season under Klopp’s predecessor, Thomas Doll, I didn’t feature much. Ottmar Hitzfeld also didn’t really need me at FC Bayern München before, that’s why I was loaned to BVB. Then Jürgen Klinsmann took over at Munich, and he didn’t want me either. At the same time, Jürgen Klopp became head coach at Dortmund. Suddenly, I was a regular starter. That’s how it goes in football. Players will only play if they fit into the boss’ concept. You have to accept that. That’s also a reason to take care that you don’t leave a well-working set-up unless you really have to.
Bundesliga Magazine: Now you’re the captain of the side, a World Cup winner with Germany and even women’s magazines want to interview you and do photo shoots, especially.
Hummels: Everything is more extreme after an event like the World Cup. You play five or six games and it seems you’re in a different league in terms of attention and recognition. It’s remarkable, but it was lively before as well. If the media reports were to be believed, I’ve been negotiating with everybody and signed pre-contract agreements with Barcelona and at other places. There’s never been an ounce of truth in that. I never negotiated or spoke about a transfer. I have no idea who makes these things up.
Bundesliga Magazine: Many players are deliberately vague when it comes to their future, feeding speculation. You are, by contrast, one of the few who take a clear stance. You said, for example, that it was more important to win a trophy at Dortmund than to collect lots of silverware elsewhere. What do you mean by that?
Hummels: People often speak about the Dortmund “project” in that context but I don’t really like that word. It’s too unemotional and sounds so technical. I’ve been here for six and a half years and it’s simply more exciting and more difficult to win trophies as an underdog. Everybody can win things with 25 superstars in the squad. At BVB, every single player has more responsibility but also more opportunity. It’s difficult to win trophies with Dortmund, but it’s always possible. And when it happens, the feeling is simply indescribable.
Bundesliga Magazine: Still, not many players decide to follow that particular path.
Hummels: But there are some, and they are all really great players. Paolo Maldini of AC Milan, for example, or Steven Gerrard. I would have been so happy for him if he had won the championship with Liverpool. Messi always plays for Barcelona, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller will perhaps play in Munich forever.
Bundesliga Magazine: Do you feel like the boss of this Dortmund team now?
Hummels: There is no boss in our team. I would never see myself that way. We are all equals. You have to earn recognition from your peers anew, every single day. You can always see how others perceive you in the behaviour of your team-mates. You sense if your standing diminishes in training or during the game. Then you have to make sure that you change that again.
Bundesliga Magazine: How would you define the responsibilities of a leading player?
Hummels: It’s about direction, sometimes. Or communication with your team-mates. But it’s simple things as well: taking the ball and doing something with it, rather than passing it to a team-mate who might not be so confident or playing well at that very moment. You have to be tenacious, do positive things with the ball or without it, you have to have an immediate impact. That’s how I would define that.
Bundesliga Magazine: You grew up in Munich and started your footballing education there. Dortmund is a much smaller city in comparison. How does that feel?
Hummels: It’s true, Dortmund has less than half the population of Munich and it doesn’t feel like a metropolis. But when matchday comes, nothing but football matters in Dortmund. That’s very special. People here are positively crazy about football. We, the players, are the same. And by the way: Dortmund is really nice apart from that as well, much more beautiful than I used to think.
Bundesliga Magazine: Your parents come from Hamm, near Dortmund. Does that explain your emotional connection to the place?
Hummels: They’re from this region and we have family here as well. But I can’t say that’s the reason for this special connection. Those emotions come from the team itself. We have an incredibly cool and talented team here: Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Nuri Sahin, all the others. When we won the championship for a second time in 2012, each one of us could have gone wherever we wanted. But I thought: No, what we have here is something truly unique. I’m happy that I felt this way. You don’t often find a team where people are really friends with each other. If you’ve got the chance to play at such a high level with your mates, you have to hold on to that for as long as possible.
Bundesliga Magazine: It all sounds very romantic. But don’t you think some BVB players see things a little differently?
Hummels: I understand if somebody says their time to play professional football is limited. But here in Dortmund I honestly feel that we’re a band of friends who are successful together - and that’s important to many. We always integrate new arrivals really well. We take them everywhere, consciously. Henrikh Mkhitaryan already speaks good German. That’s also part of the strength of our group - taking everybody on board immediately.
Bundesliga Magazine: But Dortmund will still mean something different to players like Mkhitaryan or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, as opposed to a German player, won’t it?
Hummels: In the end, I think it’s not just about winning ten championships but also about playing fantastic football. Players and teams who played wonderfully stick in the memory and, as a matter of fact, we can win everything with this team, truly everything. That’s the amazing thing.
Bundesliga Magazine: Borussia Dortmund have recently raised fresh capital to the tune of about €140m with a new share issue to three strategic investors. How do you view that development?
Hummels: It’s important to narrow the gap to the really big and financially strong clubs a little. It won’t be possible to reach the same level - not while I’m playing, at least - but it’s a big target. Dortmund can achieve that, too, I believe.
Bundesliga Magazine: The Bundesliga’s standing has taken a giant leap forward in the last five years, not least because of the rapid rise of BVB. Do you feel that German football has gained in recognition?
Hummels: Absolutely. You see that everywhere. I was on holiday in the south of France this summer - you feel immediately that there’s much more interest and also knowledge about German football now. The national team still probably has the biggest impact in that respect but the club teams are now following suit, due to their good performances in the Champions league.
Bundesliga Magazine: Your coach, Jürgen Klopp, recently said that he didn’t mind whether the Premier League had the best players - for him, the Bundesliga was the best competition in the world.
Hummels: It’s true, definitely. Almost every single game is sold out. It’s always a madhouse, regardless of where we’re playing. Mainz, Augsburg, Freiburg - it’s not just the big stadiums. These clubs all do fantastic work and it’s really hard to win anywhere. Almost all clubs keep improving all the time. It’s a wonderful league. The 18th-placed team can beat the league leaders on a good day. But unfortunately, the 18th-placed team could only beat the second-placed team last season, not the first (laughs).
Bundesliga Magazine: So you are not tempted by Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United?
Hummels: It’s nice to hear that big clubs like that are interested in you. I take that as a compliment. But it doesn’t influence me in any way otherwise. We earn enough here in Dortmund.
Bundesliga Magazine: But you could earn more abroad. Perhaps two or three times as much.
Hummels: There will always be someone who can pay more than BVB. But Dortmund have made a lot of progress during my time here, the wages are not at the level they were six years ago. In any case: I believe that it’s enough for me. If one day I start thinking about playing abroad, money won’t be the reason. But I don’t even think about that at the moment. We still have so much further to go here.
Interview by Freddie Röckenhaus
This interview was originally published in the International Bundesliga Magazine