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Mark van Bommel

‘I was a little too aggressive last term’

Mark van Bommel’s impressive CV shows PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Bayern as his last three clubs, although his first season in Munich failed to produce trophy success, a situation the 30-year-old is determined to rectify this term. spoke to the midfield ace about the situation at the club, the new team, and why Ottmar Hitzfeld’s description of him as “our aggressive leader“ is no longer strictly accurate.

Interview: Mark van Bommel Mark, how would you rate the season so far?
Mark van Bommel: “Positively! We’re top of the league and doing well in the UEFA Cup and the DFB Cup. Critics might say we should have a few more points on the board in the league and the UEFA Cup. But in contrast to last season, we’re playing good to very good football. I believe the Allianz Arena crowd has generally gone home happy.“ Despite this, the papers have carried a number of critical reports about the club in recent weeks. How do you explain that?
Van Bommel: “That’s part of Bayern Munich football club. The media and everyone who’s not a Bayern fan are just waiting for things to go wrong for us. As soon as something happens, the stories appear.“ How do you deal with that as a player? Stop reading the papers?
Van Bommel: “Obviously, you register it and maybe have a think about it, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to the players. You’re always under pressure when you play for Bayern. And if things go wrong, you know the whole country’s watching, so you can’t afford an off day. Actually, it can help you maintain concentration." So against that background, Thursday’s trip to Braga won’t be a problem.
Van Bommel: “Careful, they’re not a bad team. They beat Hammarby 4-0 at home in the eliminator and took a point in Bolton. They beat Sporting Lisbon 3-0 at home a fortnight ago. We don’t know much about their players, but we mustn’t underestimate them as a team.“ Last season your away trips were to Moscow, Madrid and Milan, this year it’s the likes of Belenenses and Braga. Does that affect the way you prepare?
Van Bommel: “Not at all. It’s the same as in the Champions League, you go there hoping to play well. Obviously, you’re more in the media spotlight when you play Real, and obviously, the players are more fired up by the Bernabeu or the San Siro. But it basically shouldn’t make any difference. We always aim to win, whether it’s the Champions League or the UEFA Cup, although we’ll always be favourites in the UEFA Cup.“ Failing to qualify for the Champions League led to the biggest squad overhaul in the history of the club, with eight new arrivals. How have you managed to integrate the new signings with the existing players?
Van Bommel: “If you have the cash, buying eight new players is the easy part. Taking account of the players’ character is much more difficult, and in this respect I have to congratulate the board: they’ve brought in eight lads who’ve immediately slotted in to the dressing room. Obviously that makes for a great atmosphere, and that’s reflected in events on the pitch.“ What happens in the dressing room when you have a player who’s gone public with a desire to leave the club during the winter break?
Van Bommel: “It’s very easy. You speak to him and hear what he has to say, and then basically, the matter is closed. All you have to avoid is disharmony. If that happens, the team has to react, but that’s not been the case up to now.“ You were signed last year to take leadership responsibility at the club. Ottmar Hitzfeld initially called you his “aggressive leader“. Have you lived up to the description?
Van Bommel: “I think I was a little too aggressive last term. I did a couple of things that weren’t so clever, although I’ve also shown it’s possible to keep on learning even at the age of 30.“ That’s confirmed by the stats. You collected ten yellow cards last season, but just one so far this term. However, your scoring record isn’t as good: you recorded six goals and four assists in 29 matches last season, but you have just one goal and one assist after 13 matches this season.
Van Bommel: “That and the lower number of bookings is because of my new role in the team. I’m much more defensive this season. The game’s spread out in front of me, and I don’t need to take as many risks with slide tackles and so on. I have more time to anticipate and correct errors.“ Are you happy in the new role?
Van Bommel: “I feel a lot more comfortable, and I reckon I’m more important to the team now. I might not stand out as much, because I appear in front of goal less often, although thinking back over our home games, I’ve been pretty close to adding a few more goals. But I’m closing in on 400 league appearances now. I think I’m a pretty good judge of my own performance, and I think I’ve been exceptionally consistent this season. I’m definitely satisfied.“ Are you enjoying your football more than last season?
Van Bommel: “I always enjoying playing football, but it’s definitely a lot of fun this season, and not just on the field of play. We’re a great bunch of lads.“ Who do you think will be in charge of this great bunch of lads next season?
Van Bommel: “That’s a decision for Ottmar Hitzfeld and the board. All the team can do is try and work with the coach to the best of our abilities. We can’t influence what happens next year.“ What about your own plans for the future? You have a contract until June 2009.
Van Bommel: “My family and I are very happily settled in Munich, that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that my next contract will in all probability be my last, so I face a critical decision. I need to weigh up whether to stay or try something new. Naturally, it also depends on whether the club continues to want me. But we have plenty of time to answer all these questions. First of all, I want to achieve what I came to Munich to achieve: win trophies, the more, the merrier.“