Nico Schlotterbeck is coming off a strong season in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin. Now, the 21-year-old Germany U21 international is hoping for a successful run at the U21 EUROs. In an interview, the centre-back spoke with DFB.de editor Tobias Gonscherowski about the keys to success in the quarterfinal against Denmark, and his tips to avoiding cabin fever.
DFb.de: Nico Schlotterbeck, two months after the group stage, the U21 EUROs will now get back underway. How excited are you for this decisive game in what is your first major tournament?
Nico Schlotterbeck: I was pretty keyed up ahead of the first games in March. Now, I’m excited to be able to be back with the team.
DFb.de: What are your expectations for the tournament?
Schlotterbeck: The expectation for every footballer is always to win every game. We did well in the group stage and now have a chance to reach the semi-finals. We want to get to the semis. If we manage that, then anything is possible.
DFb.de: Does the fact that the tournament has been divided into two stages and you now have to settle in as a team again complicate things?
Schlotterbeck: I don’t think so, because we’ve known each other for a while. It takes a couple days and then we’ll be back in the same groove we were in during the group stages.
DFb.de: How do you feel right now?
Schlotterbeck: Really good. We’ve had a lot of success at Union Berlin. I hope that I’ll be able to do the same at the U21 EUROs.
DFb.de: You went on loan to Union Berlin from SC Freiburg last summer. You started well, but then had to deal with several injuries. Overall, how do you rate this past year at Union?
Schlotterbeck: Overall, I’d say it’s pretty positive. I met a lot of great new people and made new friends. I couldn’t have dreamed of that before. I played a lot. If I hadn’t been injured, I likely would have seen even more game time. The head coach called on me a lot, which I’m very happy about. We’re coming off a fantastic season. I’m very pleased with it, with the exception of those two muscle injuries that sidelined me for a bit. My expectations have all been met.
DFb.de: What will next season hold for you?
Schlotterbeck: I’m on loan at Union Berlin and am still under contract at SC Freiburg, where I’ll return this summer.
DFb.de: You sometimes play as a left-back, and sometimes at centre-back. Where do you enjoy playing the most?
Schlotterbeck: My favourite position is centre-back. I’m pretty tall and am not that fast. That’s why this position favours me a bit more. In the end, however, it doesn’t matter to me where I play, as long as I’m on the pitch. It’s the coach who decides.
DFb.de: You have scored three goals in your 10 matches for the U21s so far, and have also scored in the Bundesliga - pretty impressive for a defender. Did you have a role model as a child? Who did you look to emulate?
Schlotterbeck: As a kid, I definitely was more of a fan of attacking players. When it became clear over the years that I’d become a defender, then I became a fan of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. I was able to learn a lot from them.
DFb.de: The U21s looked solid in defence during the group stage. You were partnered with Arminia Bielefeld’s Amos Pieper at centre-back. How well do the two of you play together?
Schlotterbeck: We played well together during all three of our group stage games. Once you find a duo that works, then it’s hard to make a change. I know that from my time in Freiburg, when I didn’t really play that often because the defence was well-rehearsed and there weren’t many changes to it. If a coach has no reason to make changes, then he won’t do so. It’s more typical to see changes at other positions, like up front or on the wings.
DFb.de: How would you describe the team spirit in the U21s?
Schlotterbeck: Really, really strong. We have several leaders on the team, who take on responsibility. From Niklas Dorsch to Amos Pieper and others. We’ve all known each other for several years. The heart of the team has always stuck together. You’re always excited to be back with the lads. We’re a very strong team.
DFb.de: Do you see yourself as a leader as well?
Schlotterbeck: I think so, yes.
DFb.de: What do you do to avoid cabin fever during the tournament? Will you bring a PlayStation, or are you more of a bookworm?
Schlotterbeck: I’m definitely not a bookworm. I’m more of a PlayStation guy. Otherwise, I’ll spend a lot of time talking with the lads, and we might play cards or billiards or table tennis.
DFb.de: It’s pretty unusual for you to have eight days to prepare for a game with the U21s.
Schlotterbeck: That’s true. I think it’s cool to be able to have more time to prepare for a game with the lads. During the group stage, we met on Monday and had our first game on Wednesday. That was definitely a change. For the coach, it’s very important to have a whole week.
DFb.de: What’s your relationship like with Stefan Kuntz?
Schlotterbeck: He’s very communicative as a coach, and is able to get the players involved. He’s also just a very good coach, which he’s proven over the last years. He’s always been successful. He’s a great coach.
DFb.de: Germany will face Denmark in the quarterfinals. How do you rate your opponents?
Schlotterbeck: Denmark are a tough team. Anyone who can beat France means they are a team with a lot of potential and quality. Denmark kept a clean sheet in each of their three group stage games. They have some good players with Bundesliga experience in their ranks, such as former Dortmund player Jacob Bruun Larsen. They are a dangerous side. Denmark do a good job of developing their youth. We need to make sure that we play our game. If we live up to our potential, then I think we will win the game.
DFb.de: What kind of game are you preparing yourself for? Both sides are strong in defence, which means we could be in for a rather cautious approach.
Schlotterbeck: I don’t think that it will be a very defensive game, but it might be a bit cautious. If you don’t have a lot of time to prepare, then you try to be solid in defence and to wait for your chance to counter. I’m excited to see how Denmark play. I only know how we play.
DFb.de: And that is?
Schlotterbeck: We want to have a lot of the ball, and to make our opponents chase after it, score early and win the game.
DFb.de: Do you believe you have a chance to win the EUROs?
Schlotterbeck: We want to win every game. That’s the only way you’ll be able to win the title. Anything is possible during the knockout stages of the European Championship. As I said, if we manage to play our game then we’re a very good side on the day. We had some strong showings already during the group stages with room for improvement still. We will spend the week preparing ourselves for the quarterfinals and make a few changes. After that, I hope we’ll be able to go on a bit of a run.