Goretzka: Football is a very good bridge builder

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The journey is the reward – and so ‘51’ accompanied Leon Goretzka on a business trip to discuss resolutions for the year ahead. In a turbulent time, the 24-year-old doesn’t just view the key issues of his generation distantly in the rear-view mirror. A conversation beyond football about racism, moral courage and role models.

Interview with Leon Goretzka

You’re regarded as one of the archetypes of the generation of players who are set to shape events in German football – what’s the key character trait of this generation?
“The word ‘character’ in itself is crucial there, I think. I often chat with Jo Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Niki Süle about why our generation is the way it is. I sometimes feel that we’re a kind of last generation between the older ones and the very young – we’re a generation that’s aware that a lot of hard work goes into everything, that you should appreciate what life has to offer and that you always need to maintain a certain down-to-earth quality in order to be clear about where you are and where you want to go. We’ve battled through. You need character. You shouldn’t take for granted all the things that you get, for example, here at FC Bayern or regard it as just a job.”

Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka were all born in 1995 and have known each other for a long time from the youth national teams. Here they are celebrating the 2019 Bundesliga title with Thomas Müller.

When you talk of a "last generation", that almost sounds like we should be worried about what’s to follow.
“I don’t think you should generalise that. However, I do sometimes get the impression that the subsequent generations of players, who have been confronted with the accompaniments of professional football much earlier than we were, will have a harder time finding their way. I also think it’s not easy in a world that’s becoming more and more extreme, if you think about the enormous sums of money going round in football and the demands which arise from social media.”

As a child, you had a view of Bochum’s Ruhrstadion while someone like Coutinho grew up in the shadows of the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. How does that feel? Everyone has a long journey behind them – and a destination. Or is that too romantic?
“No, that’s a nice comparison and an appropriate one. I’ve often pointed out that it’s an immense privilege to experience how a football team brings together people from such different backgrounds to achieve something together. The players come from different corners of the world, from different cultures, one had a difficult childhood in his environment, another had a sheltered upbringing – and then suddenly we're all standing together on the pitch, working for each other, winning and losing together. I think that's a beautiful message that football conveys.”

Goretzka spoke in Doha about the second half of the season for Bayern 👇

You made a clear statement against racism in 2019. What prompted that?
“When I said about being a child of the Ruhr district, where people answer the question of nationality with Schalke, Dortmund or Bochum, I did that deliberately because I was really shocked by the video from the stands during the international against Serbia in Wolfsburg. I actually thought we’d moved on from that in Germany.”

Kingsley Coman also said in the December edition of ‘51’ that diversity can only be a good thing.
“Yes, I thought the headline in that interview was very nice. I see it exactly the same way as he does. For me, football is a perfect example of what you can achieve when you’re united in something.”

What does being a role model mean for you?
“I think being a role model means that as professional sportsmen, we should be aware that people sometimes take what we say or do to heart. We can reach people. By that I don’t mean that we don’t like driving nice cars, for example – I do and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s about conveying certain values, though. It doesn’t hurt now and again to ask how you can contribute to society. I think, as athletes, we can use channels that others don’t have to make a difference.”

Goretzka already has 25 caps for Germany. After the 2018 World Cup failure, he’s looking forward to the cross-continent EURO 2020.

EURO 2020 is taking place across Europe – is that an important sign that goes beyond football?
“I think it’s certainly a very interesting idea for a start. How it all comes together in practice and how it’s received will be seen once the tournament starts. Europe shouldn’t be defined by borders, so in that respect the concept of a European Championship on the whole continent is certainly an exciting thing.”

Can and must football help to build bridges in a Europe that’s drifting apart?
“First of all, we’re footballers and we can’t do the job of politics – that would be asking too much. In order to solve the problems of our time, we all need to do our bit. Football, and sport in general, is certainly a very good bridge builder.”

Hansi Flick says that today’s top players are much more demanding than in the past. On the training ground, it’s more a case of ‘why’ than ‘how’. Is he right, and why is that?
“There are different kinds of players but for my part, I can say for sure that I like to question things, I like input and basically I could spend all day talking about tactics. I take an interest in what I’m doing and I’m not alone in that – with Jo Kimmich, for example, I speak a lot about our tactics. I don’t think there’s a single team meeting that we don’t go through with each other afterwards.”

Shared joy: Goretzka celebrates with Serge Gnabry after his goal <a href="match-report-bundesliga-md11-fc-bayern-v-borussia-dortmund-091119">against Borussia Dortmund</a>.

There’s the cliche in football “taking the next step”. What’s the next step for 2020?
“I think you can split that. With the team, that means above all getting further in the Champions League than last year. As FC Bayern, obviously we always have our sights on the double. For me personally, I can say that I’ve certainly not reached my peak. I’ve raised my level in my one and a half years at FC Bayern, and this process of learning and growing never stops in my eyes. I want to have even more influence on the game and take on more responsibility. When you move to FC Bayern, it takes a certain amount of time to get used to the extremely high requirements at this club.”

You like to lift your teammates up when you’re celebrating goals – do you deliberately do that to make the other person taller, to highlight the team spirit?
“It’s funny, I get asked about that more and more frequently. My friends joke about it – they say I should think of a decent goal celebration because it looks rather awkward. I have to say I hadn’t thought about it before, it was unintentional. I’ve always found that you experience joy much more intensively when you share it with others. In any case, I wouldn’t mind lifting up one or two of my teammates again in 2020.”