They may be propping up the Bundesliga table over the winter break, but there is a buoyant mood among the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim players as they prepare for the season's restart in the South African sun.
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Far from a gentle run-out to stretch their legs after the festive hiatus, Huub Stevens’ men have been breaking a sweat in temperatures approaching 40°C in their attempts to reach peak fitness ahead of Matchday 18’s home game with Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Among those straining every sinew to get into optimum shape is Sebastian Rudy. The versatile midfielder's 165 league appearances make him the club’s longest-serving current player, and he represented Germany as recently as last June. However, he started just nine of 17 league games in the Hinrunde and is now determined to re-establish himself in the side.
'I'm on the right path'
“I need to work even harder,” said the 25-year-old. “There are always things you can work on, but the things I need to improve most are my all-round game and being more consistent. I want to prove that I’m needed in the team and I think I’m on the right path to doing that.”
Hoffenheim’s position in the is indeed precarious, but the shoots of recovery after a poor start to the season have been evident. With five points from their last four games and five clean sheets from seven matches, Rudy and his team-mates are now intent on continuing that improvement when the action resumes. “We all want to get away from the relegation places and that’s why it’s important to show that desire here in training.”
As well as preparing for their return to action and promoting Germany's top flight as part of the Bundesliga World Tour, the trip has offered the club the ideal opportunity to engage with fans and local communities.
To that end, scout and Head of International Relations Lutz Pfannenstiel was extended a warm welcome indeed when visiting a school in Pella, close to the team’s training base in Rustenburg. The 42-year-old met dozens of excited schoolchildren and presented them with Hoffenheim shirts ahead of the team’s friendly with South African top-division side Platinum Stars on Tuesday.