Dayot Upamecano: I demand that I never ease off
This 1.86-metre tall defender can be relied upon. “His development has been world-class,“ said FC Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann in praise of 24-year-old centre-back Dayot Upamecano, who game by game is contributing to the fact that the German record champions boast by far the best defence in the Bundesliga this season (18 goals conceded) and the joint best in the Champions League group stage with Manchester City (two).
Now the Munich men and the French World Cup runner-up are preparing for a last-16 clash with Paris Saint-Germain in Europe’s premier club competition. We met up with Upamecano to chat about playing on the biggest stage with Lionel Messi and the PSG attack, the flexibility with Matthijs de Ligt, the analysis of Julian Nagelsmann – and why he’s not planning a career as an opera singer.
Interview with Dayot Upamecano
Servus, Dayot! You were one of the best defenders at the World Cup and finished runner-up with France. What did you take away from that tournament?
Dayot Upamecano: “Although I was obviously very disappointed that we missed out on the title so narrowly at the end, the World Cup overall was a very valuable experience for me, which brought me further in my development. As an elite sportsman I’m always looking forward and now giving everything for my club again. I’ve always been the battling type and I demand of myself that I never ease off. We have big ambitions together here at FC Bayern – and I obviously want to achieve everything too.”
In the World Cup final you came up against Argentina’s Lionel Messi. Now you can expect another special task against him and the whole PSG attack in the Champions League last 16.
“Messi is an absolutely exceptional player – whether he’s playing for Argentina or Paris. And we shouldn’t just be ready for him: PSG are a world-class team with quick attacking players. We’ll prepare thoroughly and even in training we need maximum concentration, because mental strength will also play a role in who progresses. We must defend as a group and always have the right answers to hand.”
Have you already spoken about 14 February with your France teammate Kylian Mbappé?
“Of course, we spoke about the round of 16 a few times during the World Cup, but now I’m concentrating on my team, on FC Bayern, and Kylian will be doing the same with PSG. It will be a special game for me because it’s taking place in France. I’m massively looking forward to it.”
In one of the standout games of this Champions League campaign – the 3-0 win at Barcelona at the end of October – you defended very well together with Matthijs de Ligt. How’s your partnership going at the back?
“It’s working superbly with Matthijs. We get on very well and communicate a lot. He’s a brilliant player and exudes a lot of confidence. I really like playing with him, Benji Pavard and Lucas Hernández.”
You played in a back three in the 4-0 win at Mainz 05 in the cup, and then in a back four in the 4-2 win at Wolfsburg. What changes for you when the formation switches?
“We’re very flexible. Matthijs and I can both play inside left or right, or alone in the centre. That’s good for the coach and the team. What matters is always giving 100 percent for the team. I’m familiar with three at the back from Leipzig.”
Despite the long-term absences of Lucas Hernández, Bouna Sarr and Noussair Mazraoui, you have top-quality cover in defence after the signings of João Cancelo and Daley Blind. What elements are they bringing into your game?
“João and Daley fit wonderfully in our team. João provided two assists on his debut, and Daley just brings vast experience. I’m glad they’re both with us.”
You’ve been working with Julian Nagelsmann since 2019. What part has he played in your steep rise?
“He communicates a lot with us players, and I like coaches who address mistakes clearly and immediately point out ways to rectify them. Julian does that, he praises and he analyses. He’s very good for my development.”
During pre-season, you worked with a fitness coach and an opera singer on your fitness and your voice. How did that come about?
“I analysed my season closely in the summer, and then I took up training with a personal trainer and also had a lesson with an opera singer. As a centre-back it’s important to give instructions, but I always used to have a sore throat after matches – they’re now gone. I should also make it clear that although this lesson was a big help, you shouldn’t read any more into it. It was a one-off thing. As a pro you’re always looking for opportunities to improve. But I’m still a footballer and I’m definitely not planning a career in music (laughs).”
You’re a powerful, aggressive tackler, and you also played as a striker for a time in your youth. You’ve only scored one goal for Bayern, though – in late 2021 against Wolfsburg. When will we see the second Upamecano goal?
“Soon I hope! That’s also something I need to keep working on in training, scoring more goals and improving my attacking heading game. But as a defender, keeping a clean sheet is more important to me than scoring a goal.”
As a 16-year-old youth player you were already in contact with FC Bayern. What was that like at the time for you?
“It would’ve been too soon for me then. When I moved here in summer 2021, it was the right time. I’m very happy.”
We also spoke with Upamecano’s teammate Leroy Sané ahead of the crunch Champions League clash: