How excited are you about the World Cup kicking off?
It’s exciting just to be talking about the World Cup. It’s the biggest stage a footballer can reach. And for the fans as well.
What are you most looking forward to?
Not many players get to play in a World Cup – it’s a special honour to participate. And I’m looking forward to getting to know South Africa better and meeting the best teams in the world with the best players.
Germany is regarded as a tournament team…
And we want to prove it again. We have a lot of respect for our group opponents, but the goal is to get through as the top team in our group. After that, the dream is to win the World Cup.
Who are the favourites?
Spain, of course, and Brazil, Argentina and Germany. But there are many teams that are strong and can get far.
You won the under-21 title with Germany. Do those experiences help now you’re on an even bigger stage?
In the under-21 tournament we faced a lot of players from the Premier League or Spain, some of whom we’ll meet again now – and some of the Spanish guys have won Euro 2008 already, so it’s going to be very exiting to see how they do this time. As far as the experience of the under 21 games are concerned, I think it does help, though it’s certainly a different level.
There are quite a few young players in the German team. How is the feeling going away for such a long time together?
Your first international tournament is one of the things you never forget in your life. It is a new chapter and something you can keep as a secret wish, but it is not guaranteed. Everyone has special feelings about internationals. For me, I will never forget my first game for Germany. And I feel lucky because 10 years ago, younger players did not have the same options as they have today. The attitude regarding youngsters seems to have changed in general. Young players get more responsibility.
Why do you think that is?
Young players have proved they can handle the pressure and that they are mature enough to play. Some clubs had to look to their youngsters due to money problems and the education has been improved a lot. I think it’s great to have guys like Jerome Boateng, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Marko Marin and Sami Khedira.
You have Turkish roots, but you were born in Gelsenkirchen. Were you tempted to play for Turkey?
I am third generation in Germany: my father grew up here. Turkey will always be a special country for me but I did not doubt my decision to play for Germany – ever. I started to play for Germany in the youth teams.
You left Schalke when you were very young. Did that help you grow up?
It was really hard for me to leave my hometown, Gelsenkirchen. All of a sudden I was without my family and my friends were hundreds of miles away. Today I’m proud that I did it, and that I made it. I think it did help me. There are some things you have to do on your own and learn to make decisions.
Today people compare you with Juve’s Diego and even Maradona. Did you expect that things would go that fast?
Well, I knew what I could do on the pitch from the junior games. What I was missing was the goals. That works much better today. That people speak about me and the big names is an honour, but I think I have a fair bit to go. One day I want to be among the best but today I am just 21.
Which players did you want to be when you were growing up?
My Idol was Zinedine Zidane. He was the most perfect player. His technique, shooting and headers, his ability to read games and boss them was fantastic.
Interview: June 2010.
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Nick Moore is a freelance journalist based on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. He wrote his first FourFourTwo feature in 2001 about Gerard Houllier's cup-treble-winning Liverpool side, and has continued to ink his witty words for the mag ever since. Nick has produced FFT's 'Ask A Silly Question' interview for 16 years, once getting Peter Crouch to confess that he dreams about being a dwarf.
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