A new-look side will represent Germany U21 in their pair of EURO qualification games away to San Marino (Thursday, 19:00 CEST) and Latvia (Tuesday, 7th September, 18:15 CEST). There’s also a few familiar faces in the squad. Jonathan Burkardt is the most-capped player in the squad, having played 11 games at U21-level for his country. The attacker spoke to DFB.de about the start to the season with 1. FSV Mainz 05 and his expectations for the opening EURO qualifiers.
DFB.de: You celebrated your debut with the U21s around a year ago. Since then, quite a lot has happened. How do you look back on the past twelve months?
Jonathan Burkardt: Very positively. I joined the team in the midst of the European Championship qualifiers and was happy that I stayed in the group and take part in the EUROs. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer and more successful year than winning the tournament.
DFB.de: It’s a similar story for you at Mainz 05. You’ve become a regular recently and have also become a face of the club, for example on billboards within the city. How are you finding it?
Burkhardt: I’ve started all the games so far this season. That’s exactly the step that I wanted tot take and so far it’s worked well. The fact that I’ve got more attention after playing more games is totally normal. However, it’s still special for me because I came from the Mainz youth setup and have played at the club for a long time. That makes it even nicer to see that fans can identify with me and with the club. Also in everyday life I notice that the fans seem to like what we’re doing at the moment. It’s just a really good feeling.
DFB.de: Your team has got off to a good start so far, most notably the 1-0 win against Leipzig when you overcame a tough personal situation as a team. Is such a reaction in times of adversity something to follow in the U 21 national team?
Burkardt: A lot of players were ruled out as a result of coronavirus and the measures involved. Therefore it was especially important that we were a unit on the team and that’s what we did. It was proof of what can be achieved when you work as a team. This togetherness is huge, because over the course of a season every member of the team will be challenged. The same goes for the U21s. Qualification is a two-year process, and there will be changes to the squad. That is why it is important to integrate new players quickly and always act in line with the team culture.
DFB.de: Lots of players from the Mainz academy featured in the game against Leipzig. What sets your club apart in terms of the work done in youth football?
Burkardt: Youth football in Mainz is very special and is now being recognised across Germany. In Mainz, you are taught the game in a calm and family-orientated environment whilst being slowly introduced to the first team. The leap from the academy to the pros is a really difficult one, probably the biggest you make in your career. The young players in Mainz are given enough time for this. Young players’ development time is extremely important. There is also a good level of communication between the academy and the pros here.
DFB.de: Back to the U21s: Is it a special feeling going into the qualifiers as reigning champions? Or is there added pressure?
Burkardt: No. This is a whole new chapter with a lot of new players, so us winning the Euros isn’t a factor for now and I’m not sensing any added pressure or any sort of burden. We’re looking forward to the new season and want to achieve maximum success in the qualifiers.
DFB.de: In this new year group, you are now the player with the most U21 appearances. What role would you like to take in the team now?
Burkardt: I’m sure to take on a new role by virtue of my experience in the U21 setup. I explain to the new lads how things work here and I want to show them what it means to play for the U21s. I want to be a leader.
DFB.de: There’s not long to go at all until the first game against San Marino. What is particularly important now for the players to get to know one another in this short space of time?
Burkardt: We obviously don’t know each other that well yet, so we need to make extra good use of the days available to us to get used to how we play and be ready on the pitch by Thursday. I’m confident we can do this, despite the short amount of time.
DFB.de: What targets have been set for the two games against San Marino and Latvia?
Burkardt: We want to win both games and start our qualifying campaign well, no two ways about that. We also want to give a good account of the U21s and our image: Showing heart and commitment to prove to the people watching that this new U21 group is another special one.