Doha - Having guided FC Schalke 04 to the brink of the UEFA Champions League places before the winter break, head coach Roberto Di Matteo is relishing the opportunity of working closely with his squad during the Royal Blues' winter training camp in Doha, Qatar.
The Italian, who replaced Jens Keller in the Schalke hot seat in October, has shared his thoughts on his first 100 days at the Veltins Arena, die Knappen's current injury situation and their hopes of qualifying for Europe's premier club competition once again.
bundesliga.com: Roberto Di Matteo, what have you made of the first few days in Doha?
Roberto Di Matteo: The first couple of sessions have gone very well. It's always possible to improve in all areas of our game. We've put in a lot of hard work during the first three days and the players are feeling the strain a little.
bundesliga.com: What are the conditions like at the Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence?
Di Matteo: The conditions are perfect. The infrastructure is ideal for a training camp and the weather is good, as are the training pitches. There isn't really anything bad to say about the place.
bundesliga.com: Several of your players are still missing through injury...
Di Matteo: Yes, but we've got a lot of players from the Knappenschmiede academy with us. When you've got so many injuries it gives other players the opportunity to show what they can do. It's not ideal, but we've become accustomed to the situation in the last few months. Of course we'd rather have everyone here with us, but we can't change it.
bundesliga.com: What have you made of your first 100 days at Schalke?
Di Matteo: I'm very happy that I've managed to settle so quickly at Schalke and in Germany. The players have been a big help and I'm looking forward to the work ahead. I hope I'll be working with them for many years to come.
bundesliga.com: What makes Schalke such a special place?
Di Matteo: The supporters are very, very passionate, which is great to see. The stadium is also really impressive. I've had a lot of contact with the fans, who want to see plenty of young players from our youth academy in the first team. I like that.
bundesliga.com: Schalke have struggled for consistency so far this season...
Di Matteo: We've collected 18 points from the ten league games since my arrival and we've got a positive goal difference. We've also achieved an element of organisation and stability. The difficult bit was having to make so many changes due to injuries, so a lot of players couldn't play in their preferred positions. Of course we always try to win our games, but we just have to accept that the our opponents were sometimes more clever than us or simply in better form.
bundesliga.com: Are you confident of qualifying for the Champions League again?
Di Matteo: There are a lot of teams challenging for the Champions League places. The table is very tight and the battle [for Europe] is going to be very close.
bundesliga.com: Have you spoken to Pep Guardiola or any other members of the FC Bayern contingent in Doha?
Di Matteo: I haven't yet, but we'll definitely speak to one another if the opportunity arises. There are a lot of teams here at the training camp and it's always nice to speak to your colleagues.
bundesliga.com: How big a blow is the injury to Ralf Fährmann?
Di Matteo: Ralf is one of the more senior figures in the side and breeds confidence, but I'm convinced he’ll be back soon enough. We'll do everything we can over the next three weeks to ensure he's fit for the start of the Rückrunde.
Interview by Luca Blass