Forcing your way into the first team at a club that finished in the top four of the Bundesliga last season is no mean feat - especially for a 19-year-old - but that is precisely what Dennis Geiger has done at Hoffenheim this term.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com ahead of his side's mouth-watering Matchday 14 clash with RB Leipzig, the midfielder discusses his rapid rise into Julian Nagelsmann's side, his club's poor recent form and where he can still improve.
bundesliga.com: Dennis Geiger, you've been a fully-fledged Bundesliga player since the start of this season. Did you always want to be a footballer or did you have other career plans?
Geiger: I only ever wanted to play football to be honest. It's been my aim and my dream to play in the Bundesliga ever since I was a kid. That dream has come true now and I couldn't be happier about it.
bundesliga.com: You scored your first ever Bundesliga goal in mid-September in a home win against Schalke. What went through your mind at that moment?
Geiger: It was just a huge feeling of happiness. I didn't really have time to reflect on it, though, as only 13 minutes had been played and I didn't want to lose focus on the task at hand. The penny only really dropped in the hours and days after the game. For me, there aren't many things better than scoring a goal in the Bundesliga, especially if it's your first one.
Watch: Highlights of Hoffenheim's win over Schalke
bundesliga.com: You have been one of the best players for Hoffenheim this season. How does someone who has not even played a dozen Bundesliga games yet get such self-confidence?
Geiger: I think my strength is that I just want to play football and I don't think about all the other things that might happen in my career. I know what I can do and I don't get particularly nervous before a game.
bundesliga.com: That sounds easier said than done. In practical terms, how do you prevent such thoughts arising?
Geiger: I don't have any rituals I do before a game, like some players have. I just go out on the pitch and try to do my best for the team over 90 minutes. The fact that I'm unburdened in that regard is down to the great faith shown in me.
bundesliga.com: You're now in your ninth year at Hoffenheim, so coach Julian Nagelsmann has known you for a long time now. What role has he played in your development?
Geiger: He's played a massive role. I don't think I'd have had the chance to play straight away under many coaches. I'm very grateful to him for that and I try to justify his faith in me by playing well. It's gone well so far. But I know I can do more and that I can still improve.
bundesliga.com: What would you say are your strengths?
Geiger: I'm calm on the ball and try to read different match situations quickly. I've got a good engine too. But I've still got a long way to go.
bundesliga.com: What do you need to improve on?
Geiger: There's plenty to do. When I'm under pressure on the ball I need to find better solutions in certain situations. In attack, my final ball needs to be better and I need to bulk up a bit to handle defensive work.
bundesliga.com: The two goals you have scored in ten appearances so far are a very good return for a player in your position…
Geiger: I've got a good shot on me. But when I play in a more advanced role I need to get into dangerous positions more frequently than I have done so far. Perhaps I need to believe in myself a bit more and have a go at goal myself, rather than wanting to play the killer pass..
bundesliga.com: While things have been going well for you personally, Hoffenheim have been a bit inconsistent recently. Why is that?
Geiger: This isn't an excuse, but the injuries we've had this season have been crazy at times. On the one hand we had to adapt to playing in the Europa League, which was new for us, but on the other hand we couldn't rotate the squad much because of all the injuries. We just need to believe in the strengths we showed at the start of the season.
bundesliga.com: Your coach has said that "not everybody has done everything they can to win". Do you think Hoffenheim have relied to much on their playing ability and neglected the necessary commitment and fight in recent weeks?
Geiger: Last season was outstanding for the team, so we know we can play good football. We just need to show it on the pitch again. It hasn't always worked in our last few games, and we've only picked up a few points. That needs to change quickly because we need to collect points again.
bundesliga.com: Would you call it a mini crisis at the moment? Or is that the wrong word?
Geiger: Well, we can't sugarcoat the fact that we've only won two of our last 12 games. It's a crisis of results, at least. That said, it'd be wrong to paint everything in a negative light, because not everything's been bad in the last few weeks.
bundesliga.com: What are your personal aims over the next few weeks?
Geiger: I want to do my best in every training session and develop as quickly as possible. And I want to use the game time I get and do well. I don't want to think much further ahead than that.
bundesliga.com: So you're not even thinking about the Germany U-21s, after you missed out on a possible debut due to injury?
Geiger: Yes, I am! It was an honour to be called up and I'd be delighted if coach Stefan Kuntz were to nominate me again in March.
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