Born in Saxony and currently playing for FC Augsburg in the Bundesliga, Felix Uduokhai is one of three new faces to be called up to play for Germany. Head coach Joachim Löw’s side will face the Czech Republic in a friendly in Leipzig on Wednesday (20:45 CET) before facing Ukraine on Saturday (20:45 CET). They will end with an away game in Spain next Tuesday (20:45 CET). In an interview with DFB.de, editor Ronny Zimmermann spoke with the 23-year-old defender about his career, a special friendship and a text message from U21 head coach Stefan Kuntz.
DFB.de: Mr. Uduokhai, what were your first 24 hours with Die Mannschaft like?
Felix Uduokhai: The first day was definitely good. I arrived on Monday morning and was warmly welcomed. No matter if it’s the other players, the coaches or the backroom staff, everyone is extremely helpful and friendly. It makes it easy to settle in.
DFB.de: When you gave an interview to a Bavarian broadcaster in October you mentioned that you weren’t really giving too much thought to the national team at the moment. Was it a surprise to you, to see how quickly it’s all gone now?
Uduokhai: I was not expecting it to happen now. I’d set myself the overall goal of being called up to play during the 2020/21 season. In that sense, I’m very happy to have been called up this year already, that my hard work has been rewarded and that I can show what I can do with the team over the next few days. It’s great motivation for me to continue to push myself.
DFB.de: Apparently, Florian Neuhaus was also very happy to hear that you had been called up…
Uduokhai: (laughs) Yes, that’s entirely possible. I feel the same way as Flo, it’s great that we get to see each other again now. Starting with the U12s, we moved up through the youth ranks at TSV 1860 München together and also spent a season with the first team. When you know each other for that long, it definitely helps you to grow close and we get along very well.
DFB.de: You grew up in Annaberg-Buchholz in Saxony. It’s a town that’s more known for winter sports than it is for football. Did you ever consider pursuing that route instead?
Uduokhai: I did go skiing a lot as a kid, especially in Erzgebirge and at the Fichtelberg in Oberwiesenthal. It’s easy to get there from Annaberg-Buchholz and I enjoyed it a lot. But, it was also evident early on that I was more into football. No other sport could compare to my love for football.
DFB.de: How much contact do you still have to Saxony?
Uduokhai: It’s still very close. My family and several of my relatives still live in Saxony, in Erzgebirge. Of course, it’s rare that I have the time to visit myself. That’s why Christmas ends up being the time of year when we usually all get together. This year it will of course be very different due to the coronavirus pandemic. We will have to wait and see what will be possible by then, and continue to take care.
DFB.de: Your career has taken a pretty standard path. You started at VfB Annaberg 09 before moving to Erzgebirge Aue and then later to the TSV 1860 München academy. You’ve also made your way through the ranks of the Germany youth set-up, beginning with the U19s. How important were all these steps to you?
Uduokhai: They were extremely important. Personally, what level I was playing at wasn’t that important to me. Instead, it was having the right surroundings to best continue my development in. I think that coaches play a key role in helping to develop kids and teens. I was lucky in that regard, my coaches were all amazing. I learned a lot from them, off the pitch as well. Of course, it was helpful that several of my coaches took the time to work with us on an individual level, whether it was on our strengths or weaknesses.
DFB.de: You’ve become a Bundesliga regular at FC Augsburg of late. This season, you’ve played the full 90 minutes in every match so far as a centre-back. How significant have FCA been in your career?
Uduokhai: FC Augsburg put their trust in me to pick up plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga and to grow into my role. That’s been extremely valuable to me, which is why FCA have played a huge role in my career. I want to pay back the faith the club have shown by continuing to do my part to make sure that we continue our strong start to the season and contribute to the team’s overall success.
DFB.de: Your first game with the national team will be against the Czech Republic, before the Nations League games against Ukraine and Spain. What are you hoping to achieve during your time with Die Mannschaft?
Uduokhai: I’m looking forward to each and every day and want to gather as much experience as possible. I’m not putting any unnecessary pressure on myself, but am instead trying to do what I can do and soak it all in. If I leave having made a good impression, then that’s even better.
DFB.de: Next year you’d be looking at both the EUROs and the Olympic Games. Do you have a preference?
Uduokhai: Stefan Kuntz (Ed. Note: the head coach of the U21s and Olympic squad) already raised that topic with me in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way (laughs). I had a good time with the U21s with him as head coach. I was very happy that he messaged me soon after I was called up to the senior squad. I’m not too bothered by it. Both the Olympics and the EUROs are great tournaments. I’d be happy to be included in the squad for either one. That’s why I’m trying to continue to deliver strong performances to continue improving.