Shinji, Asia and the 'Yellow and Black Army'
Neven thank you for your time. How are you finding the Asian tour so far?
There were people camping out in front of the hotels (in Japan) and it just shows us how important we are for the people here
It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun as well. For me it’s very unique because it’s my first time on a tour like this with a club team.
It’s a very hasty schedule to be honest. We landed (on Wednesday from Japan) and we had 15 minutes to change and get onto the pitch for a training session and then we had another half an hour after that to shower and then come to dinner.
So it’s very hasty, but what keeps us going is the motivation because we had a game in Japan and I don’t know how many fans came out, but the stadium was definitely sold out. The crowds were really going wild. There were people camping out in front of the hotels and it just shows us how important we are for the people here.
To see that is something that as a football player gives you the feeling of being worthy and we’re definitely enjoying this. We’ll continue to enjoy it while it lasts because as soon as it’s back home it’s that feeling we’re used to, which is a great feeling, but this is something unique.
Dortmund's 'Yellow and Black Army' seems to be very strong in this part of the world. Has the hugely positive reaction towards the club in Asia come as a surprise?
It’s been a huge surprise. As we landed in Tokyo we had about a thousand fans waiting for us outside. I don’t know how long they were waiting, but they were still so excited and full of energy and everybody just wanted to get a simple autograph.
We can’t just sign autographs, we’re also here to play some football, but it’s just amazing to see how much it means to the people, so we’re definitely surprised about that in a very positive way.
Last season was a big disappointment for Dortmund, starting the year terribly and finishing seventh, failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2010. How difficult was that for the club to endure?
It was a terrible first half of the season. We were trying hard. I remember going to the pitch thinking ‘today is going to be the day that we’re going to turn it around’ and this went on for a couple of weeks and then a couple of months and then finally the winter break came.
I think the winter break was crucial for us to come together as a team, to work together as a team, and after that we showed part of what we can do. I don’t think it was the maximum that we played out, but it was definitely a big step up.
It’s a tough situation to go to the pitch knowing you’re in last place. It was definitely something new for us and in the beginning we had trouble coping with it, but in the second half of the season we definitely picked up and managed to make some history.
I heard that no team ever reached such a high place in the table after being last place after the first half of the season. So we did some good there, but in the end it’s nothing that we’re too proud of. We’re not going to celebrate wildly because we ended up in seventh place.