Benjamin Henrichs knows how fast-paced football can be. A few years ago, he described his personal development in an interview as “crazy.” In just a few months, Henrichs had experienced more than most people experience in their entire careers. The defender made his Bundesliga debut at just 18 years of age, whilst also receiving the gold Fritz-Walter-Medal. He also made his senior Germany debut at 19, and was part of the Confederations Cup winning squad at 20.
Henrichs is now 21-years-old, and plays a key leadership role for Germany U21s. The AS Monaco defender reflects on an eventful year, which has passed very quickly. At the start of the season, he took a step into the unknown, by leaving his hometown in the Rheinland. He had played for Bayer 04 Leverkusen since he was 14 years old, but left the Werkself in August to join eight-time Ligue 1 champions AS Monaco.
“Of course I had to initially adapt to living in Monaco,” said the defender, who has made three senior appearances for Germany. “I had to say ‘savoir vivre’ instead of ‘it is what it is.’ At the same time, I settled in really well and progressed with learning the new language. Everything went to plan, except for what has happened on the pitch so far this season.” Monaco, who finished second in Ligue 1 last season and participated in this season’s Champions League group stage, are currently in a relegation battle. “I’m not surprised he has successfully made the transition,” said Germany U21s coach Stefan Kuntz. “He has already been treated as a top talent, but then went through a tough spell. It was important for his personal development that he continued to regularly play at a top level.”
For the last few weeks, Henrichs has been working with a prominent coach on the Côte d’Azur. World Cup and European Championship winner Thierry Henry returned to his first professional club as coach, and hopes to turn the fortunes of the 2004 Champions League finalists around. For Henrichs, this turned out to be a stroke of luck: “He is an absolute legend and won almost every title you can win as a player. He was my idol as a child and it is an honour to play under his leadership. I am certain we will turn things around under Thierry’s guidance. Henry has already transformed Henrichs’ attacking instinct. The full-back never scored in his 62 Bundesliga appearances for Bayer Leverkusen, but he has already opened his account in Monaco.
Alongside a turbulent start to life at his new club, Henrichs can look back on what has been a successful year for Germany U21s. The defender featured in all eight matches in 2018, and he played a decisive role as the team went unbeaten (seven victories, one draw). For Henrichs, qualification for this summer’s European Championship came down to strong team spirit. “We didn’t lose a single match and grew together as a team. We were able to constantly integrate new players into the squad and made it easy for them to familiarise themselves with the U21s set up. Our strong cohesion shone through alongside our individual qualities.”
As one of the most experienced players currently in the U21s squad, Henrichs believes he is a leader to other players: “After being called up to the senior team, I never saw the U21s as a step back. I want to take responsibility and earn my way back to the senior team with my performances.” Regular contact with the coaching team is important: “I’ve rarely had it where coaches are so open and approach their players, as Stefan Kuntz and his team. For example, before my transfer and during my early days at Monaco, they constantly checked up on me and stopped by.” For Kuntz, this was a no-brainer: “Benny is an important part of our team, due to his experience and flexibility.”
Henrichs wants to reward the coaching team’s faith at the European Championship in Italy and San Marino next year. “At the Confederations Cup I experienced how success can bring a team together. We want to repeat this at the U21 European Championship next year”, he says. “For the majority of the lads, it will be their last tournament in the youth set-up, so we want the best possible outcome. We will prepare ourselves for this in the upcoming year.”###more###