Keven Schlotterbeck was loaned out from SC Freiburg to 1. FC Union Berlin. The central defender will now return to his parent club on Tuesday (18:30 CET) as the pair will play each other in the DFB-Pokal during a game which will see Schlotterbeck and his brother face off against eahch other. In an interview with DFB, Schlotterbeck spoke with Oliver Jensen about the duel with his brother and his unusual path in to professional football.
DFB.de: Mr Schlotterbeck, will the return to SC Freiburg in the DFB-Pokal be a special game for you?
Keven Schlotterbeck: No, it’ll be just another DFB-Pokal game for me. Of course I made by breakthrough at SC Freiburg last season, but for me it’s just about getting to the next round.
DFB.de: Is it in advantage heading in to the game to have beaten SC Freiburg already in the Bundesliga?
Schlotterbeck: I don’t know whether it’s necessarily an advantage. Freiburg know exactly what they did wrong and they will set up differently now in terms of tactics. But also, we now know exactly how to beat Freiburg. We played really well last time out and our game plan worked well, we have to try and duplicate that performance this time round too.
DFB.de: Your first win of the season came against Borussia Dortmund. SC Freiburg have also been successful against big teams this season. Is there a reason that you’ve been able to beat the strongest teams in the league this season?
Schlotterbeck: No, there’s no real reason for it. It’s more that we haven’t been effective enough against the so-called lesser teams. We’ve been great, for example, in games against Wolfsburg, Bremen and Munich, but at times we’ve lacked a little bit of luck. Against Freiburg we took the lead which played right in to our hands. All in all we’ve played well this season and we’ve shown that we could even have Europa League aspirations.
DFB.de: You didn’t get to play against your younger brother in the Bundesliga because he was on the bench. Would it be special for you to play against him this time round?
Schlotterbeck: Of course it was be incredible. We’ve still never played against each other because we’ve always been in different age groups. Should it happen though, for that 90 minutes he will be my opponent and I’ll fight hard to beat him. Before and after the game though, we’ll show each other some love I’m sure.
DFB.de: Who will your parents be rooting for?
Schlotterbeck: I’m excited to see myself. They’ll of course be in the stadium watching and they’ll be hoping that we both play well. I’m sure that they’ll celebrate with the winner and try to comfort the loser, but our parents have always been very closely tied to our careers. They always travel from Stuttgart to Freiburg and they always come and see me in Berlin, just so they can watch us play. And if we play on the same day, mum will go to one game and dad will go to the other. They love to travel and they always support us.
DFB.de: Your uncle Niels Schlotterbeck was also a professional football and played for the likes of Stuttgart Kickers, SC Freiburg and Hannover 96 in his time. Is that how you got in to football through him?
Schlotterbeck: Yes, we went to play football with him in a footballing school from an early age and he’s given us both a lot of tips over the years. He’s taught us a lot about football whether that be on the technical side of the game or the tactical side. But our father also encouraged us to get out on the field all the time. My brother and I have always played football together from an early age – whether it was raining or sunny. There weren’t too many mobile phones back then to distract us and our first PlayStation didn‘t come until we were 14 or 15, so we spent most of our free time outside.
DFB.de: Your careers have taken very different paths. Whilst your brother was taken in to the Freiburg academy from the Karlsruhe U17s and has since been selected for U18 and U21 international duty, you were with the Stuttgart Kickers from the age of 15. Were you always compared to your brother as a late bloomer?
Schlotterbeck: Stuttgart Kickers took me in from the U16 level onwards, but I knew myself that my football skills hadn’t yet developed very far, which didn’t make any sense to me at the time. I took a step back then and joined TSG Backnang because I wanted to have a little bit more time to spend with my friends instead of always concentrating on football. Around this time, the lives of me and my brother were incredibly different. He went to training with Karlsruhe straight out of school, whereas me and my friends were always out in town or having a kick about on the park. My brother was under constant pressure and always had to learn and train whereas I made a little bit more time for myself.
DFB.de: You played for TSG Backnang in the Verbandsliga from 2015 to 2017. Did you think at that time that your dream of playing professional football was over?
Schlotterbeck: Yes, absolutely. Not once did I think I would ever end up playing in the Bundesliga or even the 2. Bundesliga. I wanted to succeed in the Verbandsliga for sure, so that maybe then I could get in to the Regionalliga or maybe the 3. Liga. I hoped that perhaps SG Sonnenhof Großasprach from the 3. Liga would take a chance on me, but I already had a plan B which was to go in to the police force. That was another dream for me – not least because I used to love watching police action movies when I was a kid.
DFB.de: How did you find your way to SC Freiburg shortly after your 20th birthday?
Schlotterbeck: My brother helped a bit, in that he also joined Freiburg. It was him, the advisors and my father who brought me into the conversation. At some point, I was then able to take part in a trial at Freiburg. After that, it was important to me that I finish my studies first. Only then did I finally join Freiburg. At the time, I had given myself two years to focus fully on football under the motto “either it works or it doesn’t.” In the end, it actually ended up working out.
DFB.de: You made your Bundesliga debut against VfB Stuttgart in February 2019 and became a first-team regular by the end of the season. How were you able to move so quickly from the reserves into the first team?
Schlotterbeck: Christian Preußer, the head coach of the reserves, put a lot of trust in me right from the start. Given that I was the only left-footed centre-back, I quickly became a regular starter during the Hinrunde. During the Rückrunde, I was then allowed to train with the first team occasionally. The following season was when I joined the first team. It all went really quickly, which is something I never would have expected.
DFB.de: What was the reason behind your loan spell to Union Berlin?
Schlotterbeck: The main reason was that my brother and I didn’t want to get caught up in a sibling rivalry. Freiburg has strong centre-backs. It’s likely that it would have led to my brother and me fighting for the same spot. At the same time, I’m only 22 years old and need playing time in order to continue developing. That’s when Union Berlin became an option. I feel very at home here. The club is like a family, and I’ve been able to play in several matches already. As a result, it was the right decision to come here. I feel very connected to the club.
DFB.de: What’s the biggest difference between living in Freiburg to moving to the capital city?
Schlotterbeck: Freiburg is pretty small, but really beautiful. You can head to the Schwarzwald for a hike or bike ride. You just feel safe and at home there, because it’s so small and peaceful. Berlin is completely different. I still have to use a GPS to find my way around when I want to go somewhere. That’s something I still need to get used to. But, I don’t really have that much free time given that football is my priority.