Darmstadt - SV Darmstadt 98 are the surprise-package of the season so far, thanks in no small part to the heroics of goalkeeper Christian Mathenia.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Mathenia talks about his team’s fairytale rise ahead of the biggest test of them all as FC Bayern München come to town on Matchday 5.
bundesliga.com: Christian Mathenia, after four games you are still unbeaten and have only conceded three goals, the same as table-toppers Borussia Dortmund. Do you have to keep pinching yourself?
Christian Mathenia: A lot of hard work went into those results.
bundesliga.com:Or is the team so confident that you’re not that surprised?
Mathenia: We could never have dreamed that things would go so well but we saw in the opening match against Hannover 96 that we can hold our own in the top flight. We're obviously delighted with the results so far, not least because you can notice our game developing.
'Dirk Schuster is pivotal'
bundesliga.com: It’s no longer surprising that under coach Dirk Schuster, players that failed elsewhere find a new lease of life at Darmstadt. Konstantin Rausch is a case in point at the moment. How does Schuster do it?
Mathenia: It’s true that many of our players had no part to play at their former clubs or were free agents. Having experienced the darker side of professional football is something that bonds us and keeps our feet on the ground. Dirk Schuster is a pivotal figure at Darmstadt. He doesn’t just work passionately and conscientiously on the training pitch, but also in his role as sporting director. Since he’s been at the club, things have continuously got better. I don’t think it would have been possible to go from facing relegation to the fourth division all the way to the Bundesliga in just two years without him.
bundesliga.com: Rausch is the only player in the squad to have tasted victory over Bayern. You will probably have to face a barrage of attacks on Matchday 5...
Mathenia: That’s what I have to expect against a world-class team (laughs). If they perform to the best of their abilities then it will be very difficult for us. We only have a chance if we catch Bayern on an off-day and we're at our best. Realistically we go into the game as rank outsiders. But we haven’t got anything to lose and the club, the fans and the city have been waiting 33 years to see this fixture take place again. I'm really looking forward to it.
bundesliga.com: Can the respect that teams should have for every opponent turn into paralysing fear against Bayern?
Mathenia: Not at all. In sport you should always respect your opponent, but fear would be totally misplaced. I know the lads and as soon as the game kicks off, any nerves will disappear. Everyone is focused on their job. We want to enjoy the game and give everything physically possible - as we did last season. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen on Saturday.
'A childhood dream'
bundesliga.com: You’ve made the step from the fourth division to the Bundesliga in the space of just one year...
Mathenia: From the fourth division to the top flight in such a short space of time was a huge step that doesn't happen every day. Although I played for Mainz reserves in the regional league, I was able to train with the first team regularly and gather a lot of experience. Nevertheless the move to the first-team squad of a Bundesliga club was very important for my development. [Playing in] The Bundesliga is a dream I’ve had since childhood.
bundesliga.com: Your father apparently drove you to training with the Mainz youth team and then slept in the car…
Mathenia: My father is a long-distance haulage driver and worked a lot of night shifts. I was still a kid and didn’t know how to get to training in Mainz, as my parents lived a fair distance away in Bad Kreuznach. My father used the time while I was training to grab a couple of hours sleep before work. My family and friends played a massive role in my success. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. The time I had out with a hand injury was very difficult and my family and friends helped me a lot.
'I feel right at home'
bundesliga.com: You broke bones in both hands. How did that happen?
Mathenia: In both cases it was a fracture. I felt I had to grit my teeth and play through the pain rather than go to the doctor. My wrists had already been fractured but I carried on playing for six months until I couldn’t stand the pain. But I’ve learnt from it and I let the doctor look at the smallest complaints now instead of carrying an injury around with me.
bundesliga.com: You describe yourself as old-fashioned. In what way?
Mathenia: Take our stadium, for example, which is nowhere near the standard of the other arenas in the Bundesliga. I’m not the kind of person who needs to train and play in luxurious surroundings. I actually feel right at home at the 'Bölle' [Stadion am Böllenfalltor] and I like its old-fashioned charm.