Two matches, two wins in qualifying for the European U21 Championship: Antonio Di Salvo’s start to life as Germany U21 coach could have been a lot worse. The 42-year-old spoke to DFB.de about his first impressions.
DFB.de: Mr. Di Salvo, six points from your first two matches as head coach. You must be pleased with that, right?
Antonio Di Salvo: That was our target. Firstly, we wanted to beat Israel to build our lead at the top of the table. It was just as important that we got the win against Hungary, as otherwise the win in the first game would only have been half as valuable. I’m very happy with both results.
DFB.de: It was a close match against Israel whereas the win in Hungary was a lot more dominant. What was it that made the difference?
Di Salvo: In the end, being clinical in front of goal was the deciding factor, and the fact that we scored the third and fourth relatively early on. Overall, I enjoyed our performance against Israel more. In that game we had to come from behind twice, but we dominated proceedings and eventually deserved to win the game. We started well against Hungary but at times we allowed them to dictate the pace of the game. As a result, we lost some intensity and it took a while before we were able to switch on again. Going 3-1 up was a big boost and we were also deserved winners in that game.
DFB.de: The U21s lead Group B and are unbeaten with 12 points. How far has the team come?
Di Salvo: The boys showed early on how well they play together. There is an overriding feeling of togetherness in the squad which is visible on the pitch as well. Certain combinations, both in attack and defence, work better and better as we play more matches. It’s also clear that we have a lot of room to develop. We’re nowhere near a point where we can be 100 percent happy.
DFB.de: In what area do you see the most potential to improve?
Di Salvo: Israel had two shots on goal and scored both times. Hungary also only needed two shots to score. We need to defend against these chances more convincingly. The team can also improve in attack, despite having scored a few goals. We can be quicker and more dynamic and find ways to create even more goalscoring opportunities.
DFB.de: At first you didn’t want to change many things. Now – especially since there have been a few injuries in the squad – you have given five players their U21 debuts. Kevin Schade and Malik Rillman scored in both games. How pleased are you with the newcomers?
Di Salvo: Very pleased! It’s nice to see that we have so much quality across the board. The new players have made a really good impression and earned their call-ups. Over the next few weeks we will be looking at how the players do with their clubs, so everyone can be certain that we have them in mind – whether they are playing in the Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2 or abroad.
DFB.de: What are your hopes for the players as they return to their clubs?
Di Salvo: As an U21 side, we’ve given a good account of ourselves, picked up good, hard-fought results and we’ve dominated our matches. I told the lads that they’ll best profit from all of this if they take their energy from the international break back to their clubs. I hope they’ll get plenty of minutes there and put in even stronger performances, which will not only benefit their clubs but also us here at the national team.
DFB.de: The next games for your side will be against Poland and San Marino in one month’s time. How are you and the rest of the coaching staff going to prepare for these matches?
Di Salvo: Of course, we’ll analyse Poland’s and San Marino’s games, but my main focus will be on us as a team. Who is going to be available? How can we select the best possible starting XI, and which tactics will work best against each opponent? Those are the sort of questions my coaching staff and I will raise in the coming weeks.
DFB.de: Off the pitch, there was finally another #HERZZEIGEN event for the U21s, as Hans Sarpei spoke with the team about dealing with racism. How did you enjoy the event? What were the players able to take away?
Di Salvo: The players listened attentively to Hans and were interested in what he had to say, but they also made key contributions to the discussion, the whole team got involved. Many of the lads as well as members of the backroom staff spoke up. When I saw the active participation and considerate nature of the discussions, it makes me think that everyone left from the evening taking away one key lesson: an even greater awareness regarding the theme of discrimination and racism. I would like to thank Hans once again for his visit.
DFB.de: We initially spoke about your start to life as head coach from a footballing perspective. Let’s now look at it from a more personal angle. How did it feel to stand on the touchline for the first time as head coach and lead the U21 training sessions?
Di Salvo: It was great fun, but the first few days were also very emotional. I’ve been assistant coach of this team for so long, so most of the staff and also a lot of the players only know me from this role, but now I’ve got a new role. Together with the coaching staff, I’ve tried to continue doing the good things that made us so successful in the past, but I’ve also introduced one or two of my own ideas. Overall, I would say it was a very successful start.
DFB.de: Have you received any feedback from the players yet?
Di Salvo: I’ve spoken to some of the lads, and they said they enjoyed working with the coaches, and that our tips and advice have been helpful. They’ve also benefitted from Hermann Gerland being here, because he’s been sharing his wealth of experience with the boys, which they like.