Following a disrupted pre-season, Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes is looking to the future. Having had a groin operation before the summer break, the 29-year-old defender is close to a return to full training. In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the Germany international discusses the team’s pre-season trip to China, another fresh start for Schalke and the goals for the coming campaign.
bundesliga.com: How is your fitness at the moment?
Höwedes: I’m not yet particularly fit. I couldn’t do too much over the break - I had to get over my injury after all. Almost two weeks ago I got back to training and prepared myself accordingly. So far though I haven’t been able to take part in any work on the pitch – I’m missing that of course. That’s how you get fully match fit.
bundesliga.com: This is your first trip to China. What is your first impression?
Höwedes: It’s a completely different culture – a completely different life on the other side of the world. There are a lot of high-rise buildings and there is a very muggy climate... At the airport I was surprised that so many Schalke fans were there to welcome us. That was really nice for us. That’s why we’re glad that we’re here and we will use the time well.
bundesliga.com: On trips like this there is always the worry that the exertion could outweigh the benefits. What do you think?
Höwedes: The hope is of course that we will grow closer together as a team on such a trip. That is probably not the only reason that we have flown here. But if that is a side effect of the trip, then it will have been well worth it.
Watch: See the goals from Schalke's 3-2 win over Besiktas in China.
bundesliga.com: You also have a few new arrivals in the team. Has anyone already stood out for you?
Höwedes: Since I haven’t yet been able to train with them, I haven’t noticed too much. But I obviously followed the game against Paderborn and took a look at some training sessions every now and then – our new arrivals have already done some great things. But I don’t want to judge them because I haven’t been with the boys on the pitch yet.
bundesliga.com: How much are you looking forward to being able to get involved again? There has been a new coach at Schalke since the summer, after all...
Höwedes: I’m really looking forward to it because the lads have already been talking about how interesting the training was, how enthusiastically the new coach has handled them and the energy he has brought to the team. They are full of anticipation and enthusiastic about the training and the tactical ideas. We hope we can put them in place. We have to make up for last season.
bundesliga.com: What would that involve then? What are the main objectives for Schalke?
Höwedes: Anything better than 10th place (laughs). You’re always determined to play on an international level as well. That would mean finishing in sixth place at least. But we also know that we have major competition in the Bundesliga. It’s becoming more even in the middle of the table. Behind Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and probably RB Leipzig, there are several teams that can be a surprise package and hurt the biggest sides. That would be desirable for the Bundesliga. And why should that not be Schalke?
bundesliga.com: Only being a surprise package for a season – that would not suffice for Schalke, would it?
Höwedes: No. It’s certainly not our aim to be a dark horse and create a stir for a short period. It’s about sustainability, which is what we want at Schalke. As a result we’re investing in a lot of young players who have potential. In addition, Domenico Tedesco is a young manager who wants to achieve a lot with us through his dynamism and his carefree attitude. That’s what we’ll be working on together from now on.
bundesliga.com: Do you see this summer as a completely fresh start or does more need to happen at Schalke before you can establish yourselves higher up the table again?
Höwedes: It honestly annoys me to have to be talking about a fresh start every year. In the last few years we’ve always had a new boss and a lot of new players. The situation now is how it is - and we’re very satisfied at the moment because the coach is making an excellent impression. We’re now all called upon to make the best of the situation and to draw the appropriate lessons from the past few months. We have to demonstrate our footballing qualities again and show the whole of Germany that we don’t belong in 10th place.
bundesliga.com: Have you set any personal goals for the coming season?
Höwedes: Staying healthy is the be-all and end-all. I realised that last year when I could finally finish a full season again. I would also like to do that next season as well. If we are successful as a team on top of that, that would be very nice. And if I was also fit enough to go to the World Cup in Russia next summer then that would be fantastic.
bundesliga.com: You have been with Schalke’s first team since 2007 and have experienced some highlights. What especially has stuck in your mind?
Höwedes: We had some magnificent years at Schalke – great successes with the DFB Cup win (in 2011) and games like against Inter Milan in the Champions League (when they won 7-3 on aggregate in the 2011 quarter-finals). The last-16 battle at Real Madrid (in 2015) has stayed in my memory, when we were on the verge of knocking them out at the Bernabeu. We already had some great moments and we’re yearning to have such times again. It’s up to us to find our way back to that level of strength.
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