• Subotic has helped some 20,000 underprivileged children through his foundation
  • Köln defender hopes to improve access to clean water for those most in need
  • Urges other professional footballers to set up their own social projects

Neven Subotic's footballing abilities have brought joy to Bundesliga fans worldwide, but the big-hearted defender is also helping put a smile on the face of thousands of children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Through the ‘Neven Subotic Foundation’, 1. FC Köln's new signing aims to improve access to fresh water and thereby help underprivileged children fulfil their potential. He told he hopes more professional footballers will get involved in similar projects.

Know your Bundesliga? Take the 2017 Fan Challenge and prove it! You can't help the team right now as you’re injured, but you have already helped a lot of other people. The 'Neven Subotic Foundation' helps provide people in the poorest regions of the world with access to clean water. How do you manage to combine such a demanding project with a professional football career?

Subotic: I don't see a problem. But firstly, let me say that I can help the team now. I can't score goals or stop them, but I can support the boys, encourage them, or simply give them a high-five or a slap on the shoulder when they're going into a game. They're small things, but they can help as I have learned from my own experience. Regarding the foundation, there are enough hours in the day outside of football to take care of children who are only a few hours away by plane, but whose lives are a world away from ours. I delegate a lot of tasks and can count on phenomenal colleagues and specialists, and great volunteers.

When you start to think globally, you quickly begin to become aware of the hardships people endure elsewhere Can you briefly describe what the foundation does exactly?

Subotic: I see it as our duty to help people in the poorest regions of the world, and above all those who suffer the most: the children. I would like to help give them access to clean water, which means building sanitary facilities. We'll soon be going into our fourth year and have built a phenomenal team in this time, which means we can work highly effectively. The Foundation has collected nearly a million euros, which has meant 34 projects helping 20,000 children get access to clean water. That's incredible.

So far, Subotic's organisation has set up 34 projects, helping some 20,000 children. Those of us who merely have to turn the tap on often forget how precious water can be. Clearly, you don't…

Subotic: When you start to think globally, you quickly begin to become aware of the hardships people endure elsewhere. You understand that it's often about the most necessary things, like water. We're lucky to live in a country in which fresh and clean water is always available. I would like everyone to have that, all the more so given the United Nations made that an inalienable right in 2010.

Team of the Hinrunde: You decide! Vote now! Your approach goes beyond more than water as a simple foodstuff…

Subotic: That's right. There's no health without clean water, and without health, there's no chance for education. For example, we would like for children or women to not have to walk for five or six hours to get water, but only 30 minutes. That would give four or five hours every day that these children could invest in education and school. But we're thinking about going further. In school, children need decent sanitary facilities. Only when it is a private space can we avoid girls not going to school because they don't want to go to the toilet out of shame. That is an important aspect. There's evidence that more children go to school when they have adequate sanitary facilities.

I see it as my duty to share the luck that I have had with others who have not had that Why did you get involved in this area?

Subotic: It has always been important for me to really get to know people, and not just scratch the surface of these things. During my time at Mainz, I would go to a children's home every week and play with the kids there. I became aware then just how unique and special every child is and how much potential they have. Just by being there, I gave them more confidence, because a professional footballer was interested in them. That was cool, and suddenly the kids were no longer outsiders in the playground. I was able to see how these children developed over two years.

The Serbia international defender hopes Earth Day will raise awareness of the planet's problems. It's still a long way from Mainz to Ethiopia, though…

Subotic: I got the idea to provide some direct help in this area. My thought was, 'If I'm looking after children in Mainz or in Dortmund, who's looking after the children in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Ethiopia?' I didn't want to limit myself to my nationality, my origins or where I'm living and looked at where the need was greatest on a global level. You then very quickly get to regions on this planet where a lot of people have to survive on less than a euro-a-day.

Subotic has been using his fame to better the lives of others since his days at 1. FSV Mainz 05. Is it because you have a guilty conscience at living such a privileged life that you have become so involved?

Subotic: I don't know whether I can say that I feel guilty. What I can say is that I feel a strong bond with these people, and - as far as it is in my power - try to even things up. Imagine you were born again and could choose in which region you were born. Each one of us would most likely choose just a handful of countries in which life - thanks to the health system, infrastructure, access to education and freedom of thought - is safe and beautiful. Fortune has meant that we live in a region in which these privileges are guaranteed. Many others have not been so lucky, and I see it as my duty to share the luck that I have had with others who have not had that. How does your altruistic mindset sit within a professional team, and how do your colleagues react?

Subotic: It was something new for a lot of the boys, but everyone respects what I do and I really appreciate that.  It is only natural that it takes a little time to understand why I act like this. And I would like more professional footballers to become aware of their social responsibilities and get involved.

Neven Subotic was speaking to Andreas Kötter