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Van Buyten: I started right at the bottom

They are as much part of the training camp as the call of the muezzins: two banners to greet 'Big Dan' at every training session. The big man in question is Daniel van Buyten, the 1.96m (6'5”) defensive stalwart, now in his eighth season at Bayern. In an interview with the Belgian international, who will be 36 at the start of February, talks about the support of the fans, working with Pep Guardiola and his plans for the future. And he gets a shiver down his spine when he thinks back to his beginnings in football.

Interview: Daniel van Buyten Daniel, how many winter training camps have you been at through your career?
Daniel van Buyten: Crikey... I've been a pro for about 15 years so it must be my fifteenth winter training camp.

If you think back to when you started as a pro, how have training camps changed from your point of view?
You always give 100 percent when you're young. And then you realise at some point you get physical problems. You listen to what your body's telling you when you're older, you can handle the workload better and you develop a certain routine. These days, I know how everything works at training camps and how difficult it is if I have to take breaks. You can't control that as well as a young player.

You'll be 36 in February. Why do you still put yourself through the pain of a training camp?
Because I love my job. And it's not a pain if you love what you're doing. I like it. I can't just sit around at home doing nothing. That's out of the question for me. I really like the challenge of keeping up with the 20 and 21-year-olds each year. I like the fight. And why not as long as my body can take it? My whole life is built around it, my diet, everything. I can't burn the candle at both ends now I'm nearly 36.

You've got your own supporters club here in Qatar cheering you on. Does that make it easier for you?
It gives me a boost and it obviously feels good. I don't know who they are. They've been at training camps before but without the banners.

You signed your first professional contract for Charleroi in 1997. You’ve played in France, England and Germany. You've won everything. Is there anything you can still learn from Pep Guardiola?
You never stop learning. Every coach has his own philosophy, his own way of doing things. Our young players can count themselves lucky to be working with top coaches like Guardiola and Heynckes. They can improve their game quicker than before.

What's the specific difference with Guardiola?
The coach encourages us to demand the ball more, and not to worry even when you're under pressure. In the training sessions we play three against one and three against two in a small area of three or four metres – we get 20 metres in a match! That's much easier. The coach always says: 'Never forget: If you can do it in three or four metres then why not in 20? Therefore: Don't worry! Be courageous!'

You’re obviously aware it's not a given to be so actively involved in such a historic success as you were last year at the age of 35. What does that mean to you?
I'm very proud of still being able to hack it at my age. Other players have to retire at 31 or 32 – I was 35 when I played against Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona. That's fantastic. I've won five trophies in a season – that's unique in Belgium. If I think back to where I come from, the small village of Froidchapelle... I started with the bottom team in the lowest league. You couldn't be any lower. I really was at the bottom. And now I'm playing for the best team in the world. I can only be proud about it all. When I think back, it sends a shiver down my spine.

And there’s the prospect of another high point in your career, this summer's World Cup. Your first big tournament was the World Cup in 2002. Have you come full circle?
Yes, I'm returning to the World Cup with Belgium after 12 years. That's brilliant! We've got a good team with a mix of young and experienced players. The young players are at top clubs and that's helped the whole team improve. That's why we won the group and were in pot one at the draw. We were sixth in the FIFA rankings. We'll do our best in Brazil and we're looking to get through the group stage for starters [the other teams in the group are Russia, South Korea and Algeria]. Perhaps we'll meet Germany in the last sixteen.

And what comes after the World Cup?
I might retire from the national team after the World Cup. At my age, it might not be a bad idea to use the international breaks to recover. But I haven't made up my mind yet. At the moment, I'm concentrating on winning titles with FC Bayern.

And after you hang up your boots? Have you got any plans?
I want to carry on in football, of course. I might go on to take my coaching badges. Perhaps I might go more in the direction of being an agent. I keep hearing about how young players are being exploited. I'm so happy I've found such a top agent. That's why I thought I could do that, especially with young players. I could also be a scout. I think I'm really good at spotting things and we have a great generation of young players in Belgium at the moment. So there's lots that I’d enjoy.