After Germany coach Joachim Löw called him up to the senior national team in March, Bayer Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz is back with Germany U21s and is fully focused on the knock-out stages of the European U21 Championship. In an interview with DFB.de, the 18-year-old attacker discusses his strengths, his role in the team, and the upcoming quarterfinal against Denmark on Monday (21:00 CEST).
DFB.de: Welcome back to the U21s, Florian! You missed the group stages of the European U21 Championship for good reason, as you had been called up to the senior national team! How was that experience?
Florian Wirtz: It was a fantastic experience to be able to get to know players of such high quality and to play on the same pitch as them. But of course, I’m very happy to be back with the U21s and to play my part in making this a successful tournament.
DFB.de: What are the main things you’ve taken away from the experience of training with the senior players?
Florian Wirtz: In training, I had even less time on the ball to make decisions than normal. That’s something that I’m definitely taking away with me - controlling the ball more quickly and carrying on from there.
DFB.de: Did you follow the group stages of the European U21 Championship?
Florian Wirtz: Yes, I watched the matches with a few of the lads from the senior team.
DFB.de: What were your thoughts on the performance in the group stages?
Florian Wirtz: The team were resilient, allowed few chances for the opposition, and played disciplined football. It was a typical German performance! I hope that we can develop even more forward momentum for the rest of the competition.
DFB.de: That’s something that you will definitely be able to contribute to. What would you say are the biggest strengths you can bring to this team?
Florian Wirtz: I can help to create dangerous opportunities and drive us forward by playing balls into space in the final third. But I’m not the only one on the pitch. Everyone has to bring their A-game out there and has to be able to rely on the strengths of their teammates. That will be key going forwards.
DFB.de: A lot has happened since you made your debut for the U21s, and you have now completed your first full Bundesliga season. How does that feel?
Florian Wirtz: It’s always a good thing to be picking up minutes and gaining experience at this level. It gives me a lot of self-belief and confidence. It feels good to be able to go into this tournament with self-confidence and know that I don’t have to hide from anyone.
DFB.de: You’re the youngest player in the squad, but you’re also ahead of some of the other players in terms of progression with 36 Bundesliga appearances, six goals, and experience at international level. How do you see your role in the team?
Florian Wirtz: I don’t think you can judge the quality of anyone purely off the numbers. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that I have played so many times in the Bundesliga and with the senior team. That’s something that’s a big help, but I’m still the youngest and I have to embrace that role, which sometimes means standing at the back and collecting the balls after training. (laughs)
DFB.de: How is the atmosphere in the team?
Florian Wirtz: We all get on really well with each other and have a lot of fun together. On top of that, we have the best conditions here and the weather has been great recently. So there's no reason for anyone to be in a bad mood. Everyone is looking forward to being out there on the pitch together on Monday.
DFB.de: Your first game is a knock-out match - it's all or nothing from the get-go! How do you personally deal with the pressure?
Florian Wirtz: There’s naturally a certain degree of pressure. But I always try to turn that into fun, joy, and self-confidence. If you go into the game with that attitude and the firm belief that you are going to win, you’re often already ahead of your opponent.
DFB.de: How do you rate Denmark as a team?
Florian Wirtz: We’re up against a disciplined side who are very strong defensively. They didn’t concede a single goal in the group stages. They have a lot of individual quality on top of that, but we have been well-prepared by the coaching staff over the last few days and we are confident that we can beat them with our own strengths.