In Germany U21s last game against Italy, Luca Waldschmidt was the matchwinner with two goals. The attacker will be aiming for more of the same against France on Thursday (18:30 CET). In an interview with DFB.de, he spoke about the upcoming friendlies, the Euros, and his development at Freiburg.
DFB.de: Mr Waldschmidt, what are your thoughts on the two friendly games against France and England?
Waldschmidt: These are the last two friendly games before the European Championship and they’re two real classics. We’re expecting two difficult opponents. We’ll use the opportunities to play around a bit and maybe try a few things out.
DFB.de: You have the Euros ahead of you in June. You’ve got Denmark, Serbia and Austria in Group B, do you think you’re favourites?
Waldschmidt: It’s difficult to say. We shouldn’t underestimate any of our opponents, even though there are no big names like France or England. Serbia had a good qualification campaign, though. Denmark and Austria are both set up well. What’s clear is that you have to beat these teams if you want to win the title.
DFB.de: You sound confident...
Waldschmidt: I believe in us a lot. We have a lot of quality in the team. Some players have been here a while, and they bring experience. Some were also part of the team that would the Euros last time.
DFB.de: You said it: Stefan Kuntz won the title with Germany U21s two years ago. What sets him apart?
Waldschmidt: He brings a certain ease, but he can also bring his serious side on the day. He wants to make sure that we’re fully ready at the right time. If you have a good relationship with the coach, you put everything into it on the pitch.
DFB.de: You played at the Euros in 2015 with the U19s alongside current first-team players like Timo Werner and Leroy Sané. What do you players get out of tournaments like this?
Waldschmidt: A tournament is a really special experience. You’re playing every three days, which most players aren’t used to. Every game is almost a final. You need to be on the ball and deliver. If you lose two games in a row in the Bundesliga, you can work on it during the week. If you lose two games at the Euros, your tournament is over.
DFB.de: You’ve played for Germany from Under-16 to Under-21 level. How did that help you as a footballer?
Waldschmidt: That really helped me, because you work on different things compared to at your club. Even if you don’t have much time, you really work on it. When I think back to the Under-16s or Under-17s, there was a lot of individual training. The international games were also at a high level. That helps your development. You also meet other young players and share your experiences.
DFB.de: What was your best result as a youth player at international level? Was it maybe the 2-1 win against Italy with the U21s, when you scored both goals?
Waldschmidt: Yeah, the game in Italy was a great result. My debut for the Under-16s was good too, I scored two goals against Scotland. Things like that stick in your memory. I’d probably choose the games at the U19 Euros for a third experience.
DFB.de: Under what youth team manager did you learn the most?
Waldschmidt: If you have to ask me, I’d probably say Steffen Freund at U16 level or Marcus Sorg at U19 level. I got a lot from working under both of them. Freund knew exactly how to handle the young players correctly and get things across without putting too much pressure on them. Sorg was a coach who I learned some new things under. For example, I learned how to play at No. 8 under him.
DFB.de: Let’s go back to the Bundesliga. You have seven goals and three assists, which is by far the best season of your career. Why do young players do so well at Freiburg?
Waldschmidt: There’s calmness at the club. The expectations aren’t too big. We’ve also got a coach who came from the youth academy in Christian Streich. He knows how to handle young players and how to develop them further. From that, the team are having a decent season. That makes it easier for younger players to come in and join in with the rest.
DFB.de: You mentioned the calmness at Freiburg. Your previous clubs Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburger SV were the opposite: big cities, a lot of tradition and a lot of media attention. Is that a difficult environment for young players?
Waldschmidt: A big difference was that we were fighting against relegation in my last three years at Eintracht Frankfurt and HSV. That doesn’t make it any easier for a young player. We were never really in any danger with Freiburg this season. Even if I had a bad game, I was allowed to play against the week after. That gives some security to a young player so that you can develop. Today, it’s a lot easier for me to keep my head clear on the pitch.
DFB.de: Was it not at Hamburg and Frankfurt?
Waldschmidt: No. Every game means everything in the fight against relegation. I knew that if I had a bad game, I’d be straight back out the team. That doesn’t make it easier.
DFB.de: But you’ll surely remember scoring a header for HSV on the last day of the 2016/17 season to secure their Bundesliga status. Was that the best moment of your career so far?
Waldschmidt: Yeah, it was definitely the best moment of my career. I like looking back, and I definitely like looking back on my time in Hamburg. It maybe wasn’t that easy on the pitch, but I developed there – as a person above all. That goal was unforgettable.
DFB.de: The media focussed a lot on that goal, but you mostly only came off the bench and you were publicly criticised by your former coach Markus Gisdol. Was it difficult to be the hero and then be straight back on the bench?
Waldschmidt: It wasn’t easy. I went into the next season with certain expectations and I still had the elation in me. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Like I said: I always had the feeling that I just wanted a chance – it’d either pay off, or I’d be straight back out again. Looking back, I wouldn’t say that I put in catastrophic performances, but they definitely weren’t my best games, so I have myself to blame. Through that, I learned how to handle setbacks. That made me mentally stronger.
DFB.de: Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s going so well in Freiburg?
Waldschmidt: Definitely. I played from the start in the first game of the season against Freiburg, but I was dropped to the bench more often in the weeks that followed. Nevertheless, I noticed that the coach knew I had quality and that I was needed. Later, I got my chance in the starting lineup again. If I hadn’t had that experience in Freiburg, I maybe wouldn’t have handled being on the bench so well.###more###