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Interview: Mandzukic

'I aim to be even better this season'

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Mario Mandzukic is the kind of player with a powerful engine. He runs and runs and runs, and never stops battling. And he scores plenty of goals too. Last season, the Croat was Bayern's leading scorer in the Bundesliga with 15 goals, and he is already top of the ranking this term on four goals.

But away from the field, Mandzukic is a placid character who avoids the spotlight. He gives very few interviews, leaving post-match commentaries to his team-mates. But the 27-year-old made an exception for, discussing the Oktoberfest, the victory over Schalke, the DFB Cup clash with Hannover, his experience with Pep Guardiola, and how he has come on as a player. Mandzukic also explicitly praised and thanked the Bayern fans.

Interview: Mario Mandzukic Mario, the Oktoberfest is on again, and fittingly enough, you've been playing in the new away kit. Do you feel comfortable in the Lederhosen–look strip?
Mario Mandzukic: Oh yes! I think the kit is very attractive and looks great. It's a fantastic idea. And I know the Oktoberfest is very special to everyone in Munich.

Are you a fan of the festival?
I used to go regularly, especially as a kid with my family. It's all a bit crazy, but it's certainly appealing. But since joining Bayern, I can't really just do what I want at the Oktoberfest. And I wasn't on the team visit last year because I was away with my national team, which was a shame.

Turning to sporting matters, were you surprised at winning by four clear goals away to Schalke?
No. If we play like we did against Moscow or on Saturday, it doesn't come as a surprise. We're improving all the time, and we gave them almost nothing. But as I always say, the outcome of our matches basically depends on us.

What went especially well?
We attacked down the middle and kept the pace high. We were composed on the ball and hardly ever gave away possession. I think that pleased the coach. If we can keep it up, we'll go top of the table at some point.

Pep Guardiola is vigorously rotating his squad, but he almost always starts with you. You’ve only started on the bench once, in Freiburg.
I'm delighted the coach is putting so much faith in me. I try everything I can to repay that faith. I'm really enjoying it again this season, and I have no problem with two games a week. It's easy for me because I have lots of energy.

You've scored in each of the last three matches, and you're top scorer at the club again with five goals in total. Would you say you're on track?
I had a good pre-season. My target is to be even better this season than last. I'm in very good shape again at the moment, but not in absolutely peak form in terms of rhythm. I'll get even better.

How's it going under Pep Guardiola?
It's very good. His tactical ideas are terrific, he wants the ball, he's fantastic when he talks to individuals, and he’s always game for a laugh. It's working out.

You're exceptionally strong in the air. Is that something you were born with?
(laughs) Maybe. My father was a centre-back and superb with his head. But it's primarily the result of training. Even when I was small, I worked a lot on heading. Nowadays, I often stay out on the field after training and ask my team–mates to send over a few crosses. It's all practice, practice, practice.

You'll be hoping to score again in the cup against Hannover on Wednesday, although it could be tricky…
Obviously, you've not had the luck of the draw when you play the club lying fourth in the Bundesliga in the second round. It'll be tough, not least because we're playing them for the second time in a matter of days. They know much more about us. But weäre at home with our fans behind us. It's a game only Bayern can win.

Talking of the fans: many are dreaming of a repeat of last season's triumphs…
Fans are allowed to dream, and why not? Naturally, we want another clean sweep, but I just can't guarantee it'll happen (laughs). Now, I don't give many interviews, so I'd like to take this opportunity to say something special.

Go ahead!
Our fans are outstanding. I'm just thinking back to the atmosphere at the Champions League final, the cup final, in Prague for the Super Cup, or at our last home game against Hannover. It was unbelievable. They play a big part in our success because they cheer us on to victory. Personally, I benefit a lot from knowing I'm making the fans happy with my goals.

So moving to Bayern in summer 2012 was exactly the right step?
When I took the very first call from Bayern, I knew I'd be doing exactly the right thing to come here. FC Bayern was always my greatest dream, and it's become a reality. And I was always convinced I'd make the breakthrough at some point.

Are you treated any differently in your home country of Croatia nowadays?
If you play for such a huge club, people obviously know more about you. There are lots of Bayern fans in Croatia, especially in Zagreb. Some of them keep coming to see me play here in Munich – some of them even come to training sessions. (Mandzukic proudly gazes out of the window of the Performance Center, pointing to a Croatian flag at the side of the training ground).

You live in Munich, and we’ve heard you like the Oktoberfest. What about the city?
It's wonderful here. I'm enjoying my time in Munich. I think that's obvious if you see me play. But I don't get out and about in the city centre that often, because I'd rather relax on our few days off.