Dennis Aogo was one of the driving forces behind FC Schalke 04's powerful start to the season. As his and his side's performances have ebbed a little of late, however, the gap to the top two has begun to widen.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Aogo gave an honest assessment of his and Schalke's season so far, while looking ahead to this weekend's mouthwatering clash with FC Bayern München and analysing the talents of Leroy Sane...
bundesliga.com: Dennis Aogo, FC Schalke 04 made a very good start to the season, but there have been some struggles of late. What has been the team's reaction to this situation?
Dennis Aogo: We don't feel we're in any kind of crisis. I think it's a combination of reasons, really. We made a very good start to the season because the new coach brought a lot of energy with him and was able to pass this positivity onto the team. We have to be honest, though, and admit that we had a bit of luck on our side in one or two games. Injuries, suspensions and the increased quality of our opponents in recent weeks have put our good start into perspective. That's not to say we haven't been self-critical – we know all too well that we need to perform better to get back to where we were a few weeks ago.
bundesliga.com: When you are part of a team, all pulling in the same direction, do you not discuss problems, then?
Aogo: Football is a sport in which you sometimes go through rough patches. In those times, you try to play to your strengths and hide the weaknesses. It's like having a competition for places in the team – you want to show the rival for your place that certain things don't get to you and that you are strong psychologically. It's very rare that you reveal your weaknesses to others in football.
bundesliga.com: When things were going really well for Schalke at the start of the season, you praised the way the coach was interacting with the team. What's your impression of the way he is dealing with the current situation?
Aogo: Nothing at all has changed with regards to the very good impression I had of him. Andre Breitenreiter (r.) is a very emotional and honest coach. The fact that one or two things he has said have come back to bite him like is down to his open and honest manner. He's direct and stands by what he says, and this makes him fit in perfectly with the emotional nature of the people in and around the club. I think his authentic nature makes him a great fit at Schalke.
'We want to take a chance which nobody is giving us'
bundesliga.com: Schalke's next opponents are FC Bayern München, who are currently in outstanding form. Is there anything which can still make you confident for this game?
Aogo: Bayern are almost always outstanding, but right now they are in a condition which means they are practically unbeatable. It makes no difference whether they are playing at home or away. That said, we're intending to take a chance which nobody outside of Schalke is giving us.
bundesliga.com: You're an experienced player with over 270 Bundesliga appearances. Is it nevertheless new to you, Bayern's current domination?
Aogo: Absolutely. The most interesting thing about it is that Bayern are the only team where even I, with many years in the game, cannot put my finger on what the coach is actually doing. With any other team, you can realise within a few minutes what system and ideas the coach has. With Bayern, I can be sitting in front of the television asking myself 'what is Guardiola going to do next?' He has players popping up in completely different positions, or making runs which are totally atypical to what you expect from them. And there he is on the touchline, waving his arms around every few minutes calling out to the players. You do ask yourself 'what on earth is he telling them now?' To be totally honest, that or rather the result of what he is doing is very impressive, even to a player who has been around a while like me.
bundesliga.com: What is also impressive is the extraordinary development of Leroy Sane (l.). What could the pitfalls be for a player with his potential?
Aogo: I don't think that, had I been as good as Leroy is today, I would have been able to deal with all of the hype he is getting. I was nowhere near as good as him, so what advice can I give? Maybe I can say this: Leroy still has his feet on the ground, he's very humble and doesn't waste too much time thinking about his situation. He's open to criticism too and he knows that it's important to develop this hunger and not to lose it. That will determine in the end whether he makes it to the very top and stays there for a long time. But only he can know what is necessary to get there and what he needs from those around him.
bundesliga.com: You were also regarded as one of the biggest talents around, and you've gone on to have a good career. Your contract runs until 2017, when you will be 30. Do you get the feeling that things are slowly fading away?
Aogo: Yes, especially when you see Leroy and it makes you think that it was not that long ago that I was a young, aspiring player. In actual fact, it's already 11 years since I made my Bundesliga debut, so I'm closer to the end of my career than I am to the start of it. That's starting to shock me a little, and I ask myself 'where has all the time gone?' You start to think even more about the end of your career and what you could do in the next stage of your life, although that of course happens without me ever losing my focus or ambition as a Schalke player.
Dennis Aogo was speaking to Andreas Kötter.