'I'm rarely practicing free kicks'bundesliga.com: Are you keeping statistics? Junuzovic: No, but it’s easy enough to notice. Against Hertha I put my effort just over and onto the roof of the net, I put one over against Schalke and there was too much of a distance to score against Wolfsburg. The other four went in though… bundesliga.com: Are free-kicks for you like penalties are for some other players? Junuzovic: The first one against SC Paderborn 07 gave me some peace of mind. Then during the game against Hannover I knew that it would go in. With every goal, your confidence just gets higher.
bundesliga.com: At Bremen, you take all the set-pieces, but in the Austrian national team you have to take turns with Bayern's David Alaba (l.). How do you decide between you who shoots?
Junuzovic: There are no difficulties; he’s left-footed and I’m right-footed. It’s well divided!
bundesliga.com: Is it true that you hardly ever practise free kicks in training?
Junuzovic: During the season I rarely do, but in pre-season I devote a lot of time to it. In a game itself, I'll take seven or eight corners or free kicks, which is training enough. As a kid, I constantly played football with my dad. Free kicks were a big part of that.
bundesliga.com: Interestingly, you take a good set-piece on the Playstation as well. Have you tried that yourself?
Junuzovic: (Laughing.) No, I can’t play as myself; that feels too weird. But I do, in fact, play a lot of Playstation.
bundesliga.com: On the field, you’re now only three away from the record set by Mario Basler in the 1995/96 season of seven free-kick goals. Is that number achievable for you?
Junuzovic: He [Basler] said in an interview recently that he trusts me to do that. That’s a big honour. Over years and years, he scored a huge number of free kicks and was a genuine legend who achieved so much. I don’t want to compare myself with him. If I'm honest, I don’t think I’ll manage to break his record, but then again, anything can happen in football. If I don’t score, like against SC Freiburg last week, and we win 1-0, then I’m still just as happy.
'I'm feeling very comfortable at Werder'
bundesliga.com: At Werder you have established a high status. After you signed a contract extensions, sporting director Thomas Eichin spoke of the effect of your decision. Can you become a Werder legend like Basler?
Junuzovic: That’s for others to judge. Primarily, I extended my contract because I feel very, very comfortable in the team. I enjoy the recognition and the club's development is really pleasing. I would like to be a part of this going forward and I took the decision independent of our good run of results. Even if the hard times come back again, I belong here, which I like. To me, it’s important to play and take on responsibility. I’m not the type of person who enjoys changing all the time.
bundesliga.com: When Clemens Fritz doesn’t play, you wear the captain’s armband. Are you on of the team’s leaders?
Junuzovic: I’m one of the older guys and I can call on a lot of experience. I’ve played internationally and have lots of games under my belt at that level. In Austria, I made over 200 top-flight appearances, experienced a club going bankrupt, a relegation battle, and a title race. That helps me to convey to the younger players that it’s not always comparable to a catastrophe when things are going badly.
bundesliga.com: One of the key words you used there was 'catastrophe'. On Matchday 16, Bremen were bottom of the league, and since then you’ve moved to within touching distance of the UEFA Europa League qualification positions. From the outside, such a turnaround is almost incomprehensible…
Junuzovic: Absolutely. As a fan, you might wonder why we didn’t have this confidence, which we’re now playing with, before. In part, I think we were scared of failure. You can see it with teams like Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart, how much it plays with your mind, and that was exactly the same with us. After nine games, we hadn’t picked up a win and only had four points. After the change of coaches, we won and with that the enjoyment returned. The new coaching team have done a lot right, they’ve given us a sense of fun, it’s relaxed in training, and both are things we have taken into games with us. With the successes, our confidence has only increased, and at the basis of that was our footballing abilities coming to light. Nobody believed in us back then. These experiences, though, are worth their weight in gold and have strengthened us. However, no one is celebrating or thinking of Europe just yet.
'We'll stay up if we beat Bayern'
bundesliga.com: If you beat Bayern on Saturday, you’ll have 36 points. With that, you certainly won’t have to worry about relegation any more…
Junuzovic: (Laughing.) If we beat Bayern, then let me be the first to say that we’ll certainly have nothing more to do with relegation. We have a lot of respect for Bayern. When we played them during the Hinrunde, we didn’t even have a shot on goal and lost 6-0. We can’t be scared. Back then, we were under huge pressure, but today, our situation is completely different. The stadium will be sold out, we’ll have the fans behind us and perhaps, after playing in the UEFA Champions League, Bayern will be arriving a bit tired. With positivity, anything is possible, and we believe in our chances of winning. Nevertheless, Bayern are on a different level. It’s a game from which we’ll learn a lot.
bundesliga.com: How frustrating is it that Di Santo (l.) is suspended?
Junuzovic: It’s tough, but on the other hand, he’ll at least be available to play teams who we really need to win against. Now, others have the chance to prove themselves. The lads have been waiting impatiently for that.
bundesliga.com: Eichin is really trying to extend Di Santo’s contract. Is it important for the club to tie him down to a long-term deal?
Junuzovic: Franco is an exceptional striker who can score a goal from anywhere, just as he showed again against Freiburg. He has everything that you need as a striker: a robust body, a good technique and speed. He’s always relaxed and positive, he laughs every day - and I can’t understand a word he says! (Laughing.) He’s always there in tough times and his positive nature is very important for the team spirit. I can therefore understand completely that the club is going to extreme lengths to make sure he stays.
bundesliga.com: Despite your current form, you have said that European qualification would be too early for Werder. Why is that?
Junuzovic: Everyone wants to play in the Champions League or the Europa League, and obviously we’re trying to end the season as well as possible. But, we have a very, very young team, and most of the players are only in their first or second Bundesliga season. Not too long ago, we were prime candidates for relegation and then a few months later we’re suddenly Europa League hopefuls. There seems to me to be something missing in between. We’re on the right track, but we’re not yet ready to compete at a continental level. Those in charge and we as a team see it like that, and I think the fans acknowledge that as well.
bundesliga.com: Despite that, Bremen are very much in the mix for a Europa League place. In the summer, you’re getting married, which could crown a perfect season…
Junuzovic: (Laughing.) That sounds like a dream. But unfortunately, football doesn’t deal in requests like that. The wedding is already organised. As soon as we cannot theoretically be relegated any more, we’ll set some new targets. Until then, our only goal remains survival.
Zlatko Junuzovic was speaking to Felix Seaman-Höschele