Having established himself as one of the most consistent Bundesliga keepers in recent seasons, Ralf Fährmann is unquestionably one of the first names on the FC Schalke 04 teamsheet.
Talking exclusively to bundesliga.com ahead of the Royal Blues' Friday night clash with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the 27-year-old opened up about how the first half of the season has gone under new head coach Andre Breitenreiter, his close connection with the club and the new generation of Schalke superstars.
bundesliga.com: Ralf Fährmann, the game against Hoffenheim has yet to be played, but what have you made of the first half of the season so far?
Ralf Fährmann: I reckon 'patchy' could be the right way to describe our season thus far. It's not too surprising based on the fact that we underwent a big upheaval, one which won't have reached its conclusion before the start of the second half of the season either. We did have a great start to the season, but suffered little setbacks after that, despite always having a good go at it. The bottom line for me is that if we execute what the head coach is asking of us out on the pitch, then we win. If for some reason we're not able to produce that type of reaction, then we run into problems. We've got room to improve, but we also know what we're capable.
bundesliga.com: What has head coach Andre Breitenreiter brought to the table in a sporting sense at Schalke?
Fährmann: The head coach has brought the ‘Schalke feeling’ back in our home games and made an effort to make sure that the fans once again enjoy coming to the stadium. The best thing to point to as evidence of that is that the fans in our main grandstand have been back on their feet and vocally supporting us throughout matches. That hadn't been the case in recent seasons. The credit goes to the coach, who is letting us play a style of football that on the one hand the fans can get behind, but on the other hand means they're more accepting when it doesn't come off.
bundesliga.com: If we want to discuss the Schalke phenomenon, you're the ideal person to talk to. It's extraordinary to think that you moved to the Ruhrpott at the early age of 14…
Fährmann: My biggest idol when I was growing up was Frank Rost, whom I admired even when he was at Werder Bremen. Later, I was able to witness his training sessions at Schalke and when I finally made it to the stadium I was gripped by the ‘Schalke virus’. You've got to imagine that, as a youngster coming from Chemnitz [in East Germany], where there's not a lot of access to the Bundesliga, to then be in this outstanding stadium – it was overwhelming! My biggest dream was to play at least once in the VELTINS Arena. I trained hard to ensure that happened. I've got a few games under my belt now, and I hope that there are more to come [laughs].
bundesliga.com: Your contract runs until 2020, which suggests that this is much more than a business relationship.
Fährmann: Definitely! It may sound strange for a player nowadays to come out and say that he stands behind his club 100 per cent and is willing to pledge his loyalty to the team, but that's exactly how it is for me! I've gone through a lot of highs and lows with Schalke, which allows me to treasure what I have here. I'm proud of the standing I have built for myself within the squad and, for me, there's nothing nicer than playing for this club. I've bought myself a house nearby in Recklinghausen, my fiancé comes from Herne and all my friends live here as well. That's why it's been clear to me for a long time that I would be making a life for myself in the Ruhr district. That my contract runs until 2020 gives me hope that I can still achieve a lot with this team and play my part in contributing to that success.
bundesliga.com: You're currently playing at a very high level and are considered to be amongst the best goalkeepers in the Bundesliga.
Fährmann: It has been great for me to remain injury-free for such an extended period of time, which has allowed me to continually gain experience. I've profited from that experience and am pleased to be able give back to the team.
bundesliga.com: Although you're still just 27 years of age, you're one of the most experienced players in the Schalke ranks. What do you make of the young guns like Leroy Sane, Max Meyer or Leon Goretzka?
Fährmann: It's weird to say, but sometimes I feel really old. I made the step up to the first team when I was 18 and, back then, I was a real rookie. Lots of the young guys, like Max Meyer, already have 30 Bundesliga matches under their belt. Without question that also comes down to the fantastic work done at the youth academy level, where the players are developed to compete at the highest level. Nevertheless, you can't expect these lads to produce top performances week-in, week-out. They need time and they've got to be given that time.
bundesliga.com: Are the youngsters more assertive than they were back in your day?
Fährmann: Most certainly. Take Julian Draxler, who's playing for Wolfsburg now. With him you still get the feeling that he's been playing in the Bundesliga for ten years already. He's very mature and plays with great confidence. But besides that, the players coming through the ranks have a lot more self-confidence and, from the first day they kick a ball with us, play with great ease. I remember that Benedikt Höwedes and I had to go through a pretty tough school. That meant that there was the odd hard challenge put in on the training ground [laughs]. That doesn't happen in the same way anymore. You still have to compliment the players, however, because most of them handle the hype superbly and when one of the younger players gets a bit too big for his boots, then the older players are there to keep them in check.
bundesliga.com: Huub Stevens definitely fits the 'old school' moniker and he'll be in town with Hoffenheim in your final game before the winter break…
Fährmann: Huub Stevens knows Schalke inside and out and I think that we'll come up against a very defensively sound side. Hoffenheim have had a rough time of it in the first half of the season, but they still boast a brutal amount of individual quality and the win over Hannover last weekend will have given them a timely boost. I'm convinced that we'll once again give it everything we have and will have to be firing on all cylinders if we want to keep the points in Schalke.
Interview by Andreas Kötter