Cologne - FC Schalke 04’s 3-0 win at SV Werder Bremen was near enough a perfect start to 2015/16 for the Gelsenkirchen club.
After the disappointment of last season, when the team were criticised by their own supporters for a laboured and pedestrian brand of football, the Royal Blues’ start to 2015/16 has fuelled fresh optimism of a return to the excitement and emotion that Schalke teams of recent years have delivered. Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting for one believes that the positive feeling about the place is justified.
Fresh from his goal at the Weserstadion last weekend, the 26-year-old spoke exclusively to bundesliga.com about how well the team have taken to new coach Andre Breitenreiter’s ideas and why playing the right kind of football is the key to keeping the fans on side.
bundesliga.com: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, it wasn’t long ago that the love affair between Schalke and the supporters seemed to have hit the rocks, and then suddenly things seem perfect again [after Matchday 1’s win at Bremen]. How do you cope with those changing emotions?
Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting: Football these days is such a huge spectacle that emotion becomes even more pronounced. Schalke is a special club with special emotions, and things can go slightly wrong a little quicker here, but if you’ve been a professional for long enough, you know that that’s part and parcel of the business, that you can cope with it and that things can change. We’ve started this season well and we’re playing attractive football again. That has to be our primary goal and how we’ll get the fans on side permanently.
bundesliga.com: Do you take a season like 2014/15 with you into this year’s pre-season, or do you block it out of your mind?
Choupo-Moting: Doubting ourselves too much wouldn’t help anyone, but there’s no doubt that you can learn from the bad times and draw on them going forward. As I said, though, as a professional, you know how quickly things can change. Personally, I didn’t take the experiences of last season with me into pre-season. I was always sure that better times would come and that we’d play better football. We have a new coach who expressly refuses to focus on the past. We’re concentrating on what we want to achieve, and that seems to be doing us good right now.
bundesliga.com: There’s a feeling now that Schalke are a team on the pitch once again, one that actually celebrates together after the game…
Choupo-Moting: A large part of that is down to the coach. The dancing and celebrating we did after the game shows that we’re building a homogenous team. We all get on well and have a laugh with one another, and that’s the only way you’re going to work hard together and be successful. There’ll obviously be times when things don’t go so well, and that’s when we’ll need to stand together, making sure we always remember that we’ve already shown what we can do. That’s how success will become a mentality.
bundesliga.com: Andre Breitenreiter appears to have sung all the right notes since arriving. How exactly is a coach able bring players onto his side immediately?
Choupo-Moting: It’s the way he speaks with us. He’s spelled out very clearly what we can improve, which is basically that we need to be more compact as a unit and need to be in slightly better physical condition. But he also has this laid-back attitude. It started at our pre-season training camp when he’d reward us if he was especially pleased with how we trained by giving us an afternoon off, for example. Basically it comes down to this: Mr Breitenreiter is an authentic guy, and the fact he’s also true to his word makes us even more ambitious, even in those training sessions that might be less fun.
bundesliga.com: Apart from the coach, what else is different about the club this season?
Choupo-Moting: We all know that last season wasn’t good enough and was a tough year, and we all know that we need to work hard if we want to be successful again. Last season, teams we were expected to beat were able to dominate us, and that shouldn’t happen to Schalke. This season, it looks like all of us are enjoying themselves again, and everyone takes very seriously how he deals with his team-mates.
bundesliga.com: Schalke are a club with certain ambitions. Is not playing in the UEFA Champions League this season a failure for the club?
Choupo-Moting: No, not at all. The most important competition for us is the Bundesliga, and I also think it’s a very positive thing to be competing in the Europa League this season – representing Germany in Europe is always nice. In terms of the Champions League, a few teams have improved so that qualifying is now more difficult, but the teams in it this season deserve to be there. If you’re not consistent, then you’ll have a hard time getting into the Champions League. That’ something you just have to except.
bundesliga.com: How long can Schalke’s newfound strength be sustained?
Choupo-Moting: I think it’s still a bit too early to assess that properly. As I’ve said, you can always have setbacks, but the fact that we’ve not only won the last few matches convincingly but also dominated them is a very good sign. We’ve got a great spirit among the team, and even neutrals are saying things like, “Take note: this is a different Schalke to last season.” Starting well in the Bundesliga is important, so yes, I feel good about where we can go.
bundesliga.com: On Saturday you welcome a newly-promoted side in SV Darmstadt 98 to the Veltins Arena. Is it an advantage that your coach knows what it’s like for a newly-promoted side [having led SC Paderborn 07 into the Bundesliga in 2014]?
Choupo-Moting: That can certainly help us and I think he’ll transmit that across to us. Darmstadt will give it 110 per cent. Every game is a massive game for them, especially at the start of the season, and they’ll leave their hearts out the pitch to get a result. But we’re playing at home and we’re Schalke 04, and we need to let them feel that. We need to stamp our mark on the game - that needs to be our mentality. But we won’t underestimate anyone. Any side that played that consistently in Bundesliga 2 to now be in the Bundesliga have already achieved something very impressive.
Interview by Andreas Kötter