Doha - Having bagged seven goals in 16 league appearances during the first half of the campaign, FC Schalke 04's striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is hoping to kick on after the Royal Blues' mid-season training camp in Doha and help the club qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stages for the fourth successive time.
bundesliga.com heard what the 31-year-old had to say about their training camp in in the Qatari capital, Schalke's progress under Roberto Di Matteo and Manuel Neuer's chances of winning the FIFA Ballon D'Or award.
bundesliga.com: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, how are you enjoying the training camp so far?
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar: Training camps are always fun because you work very hard, but you can feel it in your legs. The muscles are starting to get a little sore. That’s always the case, though, even if you do a lot of running between Christmas and the training camp. If you do different exercises during the training camp, it gives your body and the muscles a bit of rest. We’re looking forward to being able to start the second half of the season in peak physical condition.
bundesliga.com: Do your muscles ache more now than they did when you were 22?
Huntelaar: No, there’s no difference really. When I was 22 I went running even less frequently than I do now, so the pain in the muscles has always been the same.
bundesliga.com: What made you decide to extend your contract with the club?
Huntelaar: The key point is that Schalke is a great club and I’m really happy here. There are some great aspects to life here, I live in Holland and play for a great club. The fans are brilliant, the stadium is always full and they always sell out their away allocation. When you play in front of so many people, you want to enjoy yourself and achieve something. That’s the most important thing.
bundesliga.com: Do you see yourself as a proper 'Schalker' now?
Huntelaar: I’m not a product of the Schalke youth academy. There are players here who have been at the club from a very young age. I grew up in Holland and they don’t talk too much about Schalke there, apart from in Enschede because of the links between the two clubs. In my first year I had to get to know the club and the people here. When you’ve been here for a while you start to realise how things work - and I was happy with what I saw.
bundesliga.com: What sort of impact has Roberto Di Matteo had since his appointment as head coach?
Huntelaar: We were in a worse position in the table before his arrival and I think we’ve become a lot more solid as a team. We had a difficult start and had a lot of tough matches against teams that are usually near the top of the table, but we improved and we're now in a very good position. We’re not far off a Champions League place, which is our objective. If we have a good second half of the season, we can achieve that aim.
bundesliga.com: What can Schalke achieve this season, bearing in mind the number of injuries at the club?
Huntelaar: The potential is there, even though we have a lot of injuries. We shouldn't be using that as an excuse, though. We have a good squad and we’ve shown that recently when we’ve come back [from losing positions]. We’re full of confidence going into the second half of the campaign.
bundesliga.com: How do you rate Manuel Neuer’s chances of winning the Ballon d’Or?
Huntelaar: It’s strange because the goalkeeper is usually the lone wolf in a team. They're still important, though, and ‘Manu’ has shown how important he is for his team. He was practically an outfield player during the World Cup - he was the Beckenbauer of the team. His performances helped Germany reach the latter stages and I wouldn’t begrudge him the award. You can have a good time with him, he’s a good bloke. I hope he wins, but he’s up against some pretty stiff competition. Let’s see what happens.
Interview by Luca Blass