FC Bayern midfielder and Germany international Leon Goretzka faces his old club FC Schalke 04 in the DFB-Pokal quarterfinals next Tuesday (20:45 CET). The 25-year-old spoke to DFB.de in an interview about facing his old club and his activism against racism.
DFB.de: Leon, the words "special game" will be used frequently ahead of your return to the Veltins-Arena in the DFB- Pokal next week. You know a lot of people at the club, in the city; you have friends in the team and know the arena. What makes this match so special for you in particular?
Leon Goretzka: I look forward to every match in this region. I obviously have a special relationship to Bochum and Schalke. You meet so many old acquaintances here, have to sort out tickets for friends and family – all the things you normally have to do for finals or home games.
DFB.de: Is there a particular memory that brings you straight back to Schalke. An event that always springs to mind when you look back on your time in Gelsenkirchen?
Goretzka: My first game and my first goal in the DFB-Pokal first round in 2013. We won 2-0, so my goal wasn’t exactly insignificant, even if the opponent was “only” FC Nöttingen. But even that is a special thing about the cup. It has its own stories, its own rules, if you know what I mean. By far, the most emotional result was the derby when we came back from 4-0 down against Dortmund. An emotional highlight that will never be forgotten – for those on the pitch, in the stands and those watching back home.
DFB.de: You faced VfL Bochum in the second round this year. One step further down memory lane for you than coming to Schalke?
Goretzka: Yeah, of course. But I think that’s something anyone who has played football and switched teams during their career can understand that. Whether you are professional or amateur. Bochum was and is my first true love – you never forget that.
DFB.de: How much of a factor is it for your wellness and your performances at FC Bayern that Hermann Gerland is also a Bochum man?
Goretzka: He’s a great man for everyone in the club because he carries his heart on his sleeve and is positively crazy. The connection to Bochum and FC Bayern is something we share. If there hadn’t already been a long-standing fan friendship, we would have to start one (laughs)!
DFB.de: Cup ties and knockout matches, all or nothing. Does this influence how you approach your role on the pitch?
Goretzka: We’re used to similar situations from tournaments, the Champions League or even the season run-in in the Bundesliga. "All or nothing" matches always have a special charm. You need complete concentration, potentially over 120 minutes.
DFB.de: In your first season at FC Bayern München, you won the league and cup double. You couldn’t play in the final against RB Leipzig due to injury, but what memories do you have of Berlin?
Goretzka: The whole atmosphere and the sold-out Olympiastadion in Berlin. That was really unique. But in all seriousness, aside from all the celebrations and the reward for all our hard work throughout the season, it really bugged me that I couldn’t play. Even more reason why it’s important we reach even more finals.
DFB.de: You have been increasingly more vocal about diversity and tolerance, speaking out against racism and bigotry. Was there something in particular that triggered this activism?
Goretzka: The events in Wolfsburg, when some Germany internationals were victims of some awful abuse from fans. We have to thank the journalist, who witnessed it as a fan, for making the public aware of what was going on. I am from the Ruhr region, where for many years integration was exactly how it should be: a given. In my opinion, it’s up to all of us to ensure that the most abominable chapter of our history doesn’t repeat itself. And that involves not turning a blind eye to racist incidents, but rather looking it and making sure that the offenders are isolated and punished in accordance with the law.
DFB.de: Hertha’s Jonathan Torunarigha was racially abused by Schalke fans in their DFB-Pokal last 16 clash against Hertha. Can you believe such a thing is possible in 2020?
Goretzka: Unfortunately, after all the social developments of recent years, yes, I can. Which is why we must nip racism and xenophobia in the bud.
DFB.de: You have big goals with Bayern, treble is still possible. Then it’s EURO 2020. How often does the summer’s tournament come up in your thoughts or discussions?
Goretzka: Mostly only in long interviews (laughs). No, in all seriousness. At the moment I am 100% focused on FC Bayern. We can talk about the Euros in May, ideally after a successful cup final.