A model professional and a mainstay of the VfL Wolfsburg side, defender Naldo has played every minute of the Bundesliga season so far.
On Matchday 13, the Brazilian-born centre-half who recently became a German citizen will line up against his former club SV Werder Bremen, for whom he made over 250 Bundesliga appearances in a seven-year spell. In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Naldo looks back on his time in Bremen and ahead to what the future holds for him at the Volkswagen Arena.
bundesliga.com: On Saturday, you face your former club SV Werder Bremen. After over three years at Wolfsburg, has this become a game like any other?
Naldo: No, not at all. Werder are still a special club to me, so games against them are always special, regardless of how often we play them. I played for the club and lived in Bremen for seven years and my family and I always felt at home there. You don't forget that. The club, the city and the people will always have a place in my heart.
bundesliga.com: This is an important game for you as it’s your 20th match of the season, which means your contract – due to expire in the summer – will be automatically renewed for another year.
Naldo: That’s correct. The important thing for me is that the both parties [player and club] are happy with my performances. That’s the only way it can work. For my part, I’m really happy in Wolfsburg and I’d like to stay at the club a good while yet.
bundesliga.com: You’d find very few people who would be unhappy with what you’ve done so far during your time at Wolfsburg…
Naldo: Obviously I hope that’s the case, and I think Klaus Allofs [Wolfsburg sporting director] sees it that way too. I’ve tried to settle in here from day one and I’m especially grateful to my teammates Marcel Schäfer and Diego Benaglio for helping me to integrate so well here. They made it a lot easier for me. I enjoy being out on the pitch with the team every single day, and I love it when fans stop me in the street or after training to ask me for a photo.
bundesliga.com: You’ve played every minute of every competitive game this season. Are you getting better as you get older?
Naldo: Exactly (laughs). But honestly, it would be fantastic if I could maintain the level I’m playing at. I’ve played 19 games season so far, which isn’t bad at all, and although I’m 33 I feel younger. My body’s performing well although I do have to take care of myself every day. I do a lot of work with the fitness coach, make sure I have enough time to recharge my batteries and get enough sleep. When you have two games in a week like we do now, that’s massively important. I’ve been a professional footballer for almost 15 years and if I can avoid serious injuries like the knee injury a few years back, maybe I’ll play for a couple more years.
bundesliga.com: Your compatriot Ze Roberto is 41 and still playing in Brazil’s top flight with an engine that most 20-year-olds can only dream of….
Naldo: Ze Roberto is a phenomenon and a role model for all young players. I think even now he still runs more than a lot of much younger players. He’s still playing at a high standard in Brazil and you’re right, he looks great!
bundesliga.com: Wolfsburg are third in the league, eight points behind Dortmund and 13 behind leaders Bayern. Is Julian Draxler right when he says your performances don’t feel like those of a team third in the table?
Naldo: Yes. We’ve not quite managed to string good performances together over a period of weeks yet. We’ve played well in a few games this season but we’ve also had some terrible ones like PSV away [lost 2-0] and Mainz away [lost 2-0]. The positive thing is that we’re still third, despite not being consistent. But we can’t rest on that. We need to keep our feet on the ground and show against Werder that we want to put things right going forward.
bundesliga.com: Have the departures of Kevin De Bruyne and Ivan Perisic been harder to deal with than you thought?
Naldo: They both played a big part in our success in the last few seasons, but people shouldn't forget that they needed some time to find their feet before they started showing how good they were. Even without them, we have a lot of quality in our squad this season. Julian Draxler is still a young player with fantastic ability who can decide a game on his own. I have no doubt he’ll start doing what he’s capable of soon, and the same goes for Andre Schürrle. He’s also not quite completely found his rhythm yet but I think he’ll be a big help to us. They’re two players in a team that has quality in every position, and that’s important. We don’t want to be dependent on one or two players.
bundesliga.com: The team apparently had a meeting without the coach [Dieter Hecking] and Allofs recently. What was this about?
Naldo: We had a meeting, yes. I should first point out that the criticism we received from Klaus Allofs and Dieter Hecking in the last few weeks was totally justified. We just had a meeting among the players where everyone had the chance to put his own opinion forward. That brought us closer together, but now we need to follow up those words with action.
Naldo was speaking to Andreas Kötter.