Leon Goretzka: Don't give the opponents room to breathe

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Leon Goretzka is someone who thinks about things - on and off the pitch. Members' magazine "51" spoke to him about purely sporting matters this time: his football ideal, natural understanding in the Bayern engine room, and what football has been about for him since a young age.

The interview with Leon Goretzka

Leon, what's it actually like playing in the middle of this Bayern team?
"It's a very demanding position. For example, you don't have a touchline that gives you a border and safety to a certain extent. You're moving in a 360-degree radius, in which everything's constantly changing. You have to make decisions all the time - if you make the wrong decision, it can have serious consequences. You don't actually get a single second during the 90 minutes when you can take a quick breather. We're talking here about a level where you always have to think two or three steps ahead. Even before you receive the ball, you have to anticipate when it could come to you and where the opponent is - otherwise it won't work."

We are Bayern! We don't lose games, we don't draw either - we win!

Leon Goretzka

How do you train this 360-degree view?
"*(laughs)*Look over your left shoulder, look over your right shoulder -- like driving a car. You need to always be observing what's happening in the 20 metres around you. That's what then gives you the half-second advantage you need."

Is that tiring, mentally too?
"You need to be able to concentrate fully for 90 minutes. I don't see that as a burden anymore, though. It's more tiring to chase the game, to fight against resistance, to attack again and again, especially when things aren't going so well. But we are Bayern! We don't lose games, we don't draw either - we win!"

You occupy the centre with Joshua Kimmich. Both of you know each other very well -- do you have a kind of intuitive understanding?
"In our case I would actually say that we understand each other intuitively. That was the case when we played together for the first time in the German U21 team under Horst Hrubesch. We think of solutions in the same way. On top of that, we also get on very well off the pitch. It's a relationship in which we can say things honestly without insulting the other. That's what makes a friendship."

Goretzka gets on with his congenial partner Joshua Kimmich on and off the pitch.

How has your game changed under Julian Nagelsmann?
"I think it's noticeable that we're now taking up different spaces and playing even more variably. It certainly still needs a bit of time before we've perfected the system, though. Ideally we'll be there when the season reaches the business end in spring. We're on a good path. I always enjoy going to the video analysis talks because we learn a lot of new things. In general that's what characterises our team: you feel this unconditional desire and willingness to keep developing, even though a lot of our players are already at the very highest level and have won lots of titles.

What's your general assessment of the first half of the season?
"We've shown what we're capable of. Unfortunately we've also had a few slip-ups, like at Gladbach - when I think about it, that always comes back to me. We can't allow things like that to happen, and it still hurts now. On the day we didn't manage to disrupt the energy of the opponents' play, which is normally one of our biggest strengths."

Do you have a football ideal?
"The dominance that we played with in our sextet year, particularly in the months following the first lockdown, was very impressive. You went into the game and knew that we'd overrun the opponents and win. We didn't give the opponents any room to breathe. We felt unbeatable during that period. Nevertheless, even compared to that, there are still aspects of the game we can refine."

We want to have the ball, we want to play possession football. I find this identity important, it suits me.

Leon Goretzka

Giving the opponents no room to breathe - does that sum up your football ideal?
"I'm certainly a big fan of aggressive, attacking pressing. Not just because you can win possession high up the pitch that way and it's a short route to the opposition goal, but also because you give off something, a certain attitude on the pitch. Yes, you can certainly say that's the style with which I can best identify."

How important is it for you that FC Bayern has an identity, like the one it's developed since Louis van Gaal?
"We want to have the ball, we want to play possession football. I find this identity important, it suits me. The key is the counter-pressing and pressing. We're working hard on the correct positioning when in possession so that we can regain the ball as quickly as possible. We have our solutions with the ball, but you also need to be ready for the moment when you lose the ball so that the period of time without it remains very brief."

When you signed your contact, you said you want to take on responsibility at FC Bayern - how do you see yourself in the hierarchy of the team nowadays?
"For me there are several aspects to being a leader: having an open ear, leading from the front, standing up for the team, taking responsibility -- maybe even for others' mistakes, too. I look for the fault in myself because perhaps I could have prevented my teammate from getting into that situation. At the time, I was a bit ridiculed for my statement. I know that you don't achieve something like that just by saying it, especially not at a press conference. But I wanted to make it clear that I have a plan - and I have achieved my goal."

Bayern’s man in the middle: Leon Goretzka

Oliver Kahn said that an era with FCB is worth more than a few more millions in the bank. Is he right?
"There are certainly more important things than money. When people say that contract negotiations are only about squeezing out the last euro, they often have the wrong picture. Money is not the primary reason for an extension. For me, for example, identification with the club and the team has a high value. We have celebrated these successes of the last two years because something has been created here: to play for titles at this level, and to do so with your friends and not just with football teammates. You can't buy that with any money in the world."

What are your aims for 2022?
"Staying healthy and achieving the maximum sporting success."

And away from sport?
"I'd like to further develop our 'WeKickCorona' initiative with Jo Kimmich. We have a few new ideas in mind for that but still need to flesh them out. I'm very motivated. There are always people who need help."