Ron-Robert Zieler is back in the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart after a season with surprise English Premier League champions Leicester City. Two games and one clean sheet into the new campaign and the former Hannover shot-stopper looks to be conjuring the form of old - and he certainly believes he's in the right place to do so! bundesliga.com sat down for an exclusive interview with the Manchester United academy graduate to get his thoughts on how football in England and Germany compares; Claudio Ranieri's shock sacking at Leicester, and what he thinks Stuttgart can achieve with the arrivals of Holger Badstuber, Dennis Aogo and friends…
bundesliga.com: Ron-Robert Zieler, few German players know the English Premier League as well as you do. How do you think the Bundesliga compares to the English top flight?
Zieler: I think it's a difficult comparison to make. I think football in England is a little bit quicker and more direct, but also a bit more physical. In Germany, the games are much more tactical, and the Bundesliga is an incredibly attractive league. The infrastructure is outstanding.
bundesliga.com: What made you decide to return?
Zieler: The Bundesliga was always an option in the summer of 2016 after I left Hannover. At that time I was keen to see what was on offer from the English champions [Leicester won the Premier League title against the odds in 2015/16]. Now I can say I've played in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Nevertheless, when I was in England I never forgot how much I liked playing in the Bundesliga. I know all the stadiums. The fans' enthusiasm is amazing. Last but not least, the high quality of life in Germany also played a role. I'm delighted that my return worked out.
bundesliga.com: Ranieri was your coach at Leicester. How did you feel when he left in February having won the league the previous season?
Zieler: That was a real shame. But ultimately it's just part of football. Still, I'm always sorry when something like that happens, and with Ranieri it was a bit extreme. In January 2017 he was chosen as FIFA World Coach of the Year for his performances with Leicester, but a few weeks later he had to leave the club? He was only missing a bit of luck to get Leicester out of their negative situation.
bundesliga.com: Ranieri is 65; Stuttgart's coach, Hannes Wolf, meanwhile, is one of the youngest coaches in the Bundesliga at 36. What are your early impressions of him?
Zieler: I have a very positive impression of him. He demands a lot from us and expects our full concentration. He wants 100 per cent from every single player.
bundesliga.com: Stuttgart have experienced players in the squad, like Badstuber, Aogo, Andreas Beck and yourself. Will this guarantee your Bundesliga survival?
Zieler: I think we've found a good mix of young, very talented players who have great potential, and players with a lot of proven Bundesliga experience. Competition for places can animate a team. Team spirit's very important if you want to be successful throughout a season. We also know that the team needs time to gel. If you look at our first two games against Hertha Berlin [a 2-0 loss on Matchday 1] and Mainz [a 1-0 win on Matchday 2], you can see that we're moving in the right direction.
bundesliga.com: Your fellow goalkeeper Mitch Langerak left Stuttgart for Levante last week. How do you feel about that?
Zieler: It was a difficult situation for Mitch. The move to Levante is a new challenge for him. We had a good relationship and always worked well together in training. I wish him the best on his new adventure. I hope he succeeds.
bundesliga.com: You had a similar situation at Leicester, with Kasper Schmeichel the No.1. How does it affect you when the path to the first team is blocked, even if you're playing well in training?
Zieler: There's no question that this was a huge change in circumstance for me. I'd played almost every game possible in six years at Hannover before I moved. However, I knew Leicester would be a big challenge. Most footballers go through this, though. There are always peaks and troughs in a career. I try to carry the positives with me.
bundesliga.com: Do you think Stuttgart can qualify for Europe?
Zieler: I think we should be very careful and take things step by step. The first season after promotion can be quite difficult. We just want to get points as quickly as possible to guarantee our survival. Only then should we let ourselves think about what may lie ahead. The fact is we have some great young players and VfB has all the tools to be a great club. I think we can create a really good story here in the medium term.
Zieler was speaking to Andreas Kötter