For Regionalliga West leaders Rot-Weiss Essen, one of the highlights of the season is fast approaching as they look forward to welcoming Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals next Tuesday (18:30 CET). For Essen’s Cedric Harenbrock, the match will mark a reunion with the club he spent his youth career at. The 22-year-old sat down with DFB.de to discuss the clash against the Bundesliga giants.
DFB.de: Your possible opponents in the quarter-finals were either Eintracht Frankfurt or Bayer Leverkusen, so is it a dream come true for you to be facing the ‘Werkself’?
Harenbrock: Facing either team would have been great as they are both top teams from the Bundesliga, but obviously I have a special personal connection to Leverkusen. I spent nine years and developed as a professional footballer with the club, so the bond I have with Bayer 04 is still very strong. I owe a lot to the club.
DFB.de: You came to Leverkusen at a very young age, so how did Bayer 04 become aware of you?
Harenbrock: I was ten years old when I got the call from Leverkusen and was invited to a trial training session. At the time, I was playing for Wuppertaler SV in my hometown and before that, for SV Bayer Wuppertal. Bayer Leverkusen quickly indicated that they wanted to sign me and my parents supported me unconditionally in taking this next step.
DFB.de: What was the biggest change for you in joining Leverkusen?
Harenbrock: In Wuppertal, I had previously only played against other clubs from the local area whereas at Bayer 04, I quickly found myself playing against big names such as Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 who I'd seen on TV before. That was very exciting! Being in the academy at Leverkusen was very intense so I transferred to a partial boarding school in the city after year 10. I did my homework there before I went to training with the Bayer 04 shuttle bus. In the evenings, I was driven back to my parents place in Wuppertal.
DFB.de: Which memories stand out for you the most from your nine years at Leverkusen?
Harenbrock: Above all, the international games. We often played against teams from other countries during our training and in the UEFA Youth League we played clubs such as FC Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and AS Monaco. Another highlight was playing for Germany U17s thanks to my performances at club level. It was something very special to wear the national team shirt twice.
DFB.de: Did you ever get the chance to train with the first team?
Harenbrock: As a youth player, I was around the first team every now and then during international breaks. The tempo was much higher, especially because the head coach at the time, Roger Schmidt, was pursuing a fast and aggressive style of football with the team. It was very intense but incredibly fun.
DFB.de: Did any of the first team in particular help you out?
Harenbrock: As younger players we were welcomed by the whole squad. You could discuss anything with the captain at the time, Lars Bender. He was interested in how the U19s were developing. That's one of the reasons I'm looking forward to the reunion so much, as Jonathan Tah, Julian Baumgartlinger, Karim Bellarabi and Wendell are still there at Leverkusen. It's a shame that Jonathan and Julian won't be playing though.
DFB.de: Current internationals Kai Havertz and Benjamin Henrichs were also teammates of yours at youth level. Was it possible to see how good they would become at the time?
Harenbrock: You couldn't overlook their quality. Especially with Kai, he was a class above when he played with us in the U19s. At that time he was already training regularly with the first team and raised the quality of our youth side considerably. Benjamin was still an attacker at that point but established himself in the first team as a full-back soon after. I still keep an eye on how things are going for both of them and every now and then we send each other a brief message. I also ran into Benjamin Henrichs by chance in Düsseldorf six months ago.
DFB.de: Looking back, are you somewhat saddened that you never made a competitive appearance for the first team?
Harenbrock: Yes it’s quite clear, obviously I had hoped to. But you definitely have to say that I wasn’t physically ready for it back then. At first I had a contract with the second team at Bayer 04, but the U23 side actually stopped playing competitive football in 2014. After my time in youth football I joined Rot-Weiss Essen. That was the perfect step for me. I built up my strength and I really felt that the club had my back in the difficult days after my two cruciate ligament tears. That’s not a given.
DFB.de: Now comes a reunion with your former club in the DFB-Pokal. You’ve fought your way to the round of 16 with wins over Arminia Bielefeld and Fortuna Düsseldorf. What were the key factors to those upsets?
Harenbrock: Christian Neidhart and his coaching staff gave us a clear game plan for both matches, something that we could 100% stick to. Tactically, we set up a little differently from our matches in the Regionalliga West. In the cup it’s different from the league, we are not the favourites. So we wait patiently for the opposition to make a mistake and we then want to punish that with our transition play. But we were also brave, and we got our reward for that.
DFB.de: How are you going to be successful against Leverkusen, then?
Harenbrock: By similar means, I think. We have to be up for a fight from the start and we have to be solid at the back. Bayer Leverkusen are another level up from our opponents so far. But our good season in the Regionalliga West gives us reason to believe in ourselves and we can’t hide in this round of 16 clash. Including the two Pokal games, we have been able to win all our last 12 home matches. We are also unbeaten in competitive games in a whole year. That gives us confidence.
DFB.de: Will you try to get a souvenir from the round of 16?
Harenbrock: A friend has already asked me whether I can get Aleksandar Dragovic’s shirt, otherwise I would probably try and swap with Lars Bender. Maybe I will get the chance to do that.