In The Talking Game we catch up with players, coaches, staff, agents and almost anybody who has a part to play in the beautiful game. From Fabio Cannavaro, Ian Rush, Daniel Sturridge to Mr. Tony Stones, the grounds manger at Wembley, The Talking Game has spoken to them all. In this edition, editor Aditya Balaram interviews current Switzerland captain and Napoli star Gökhan Inler.
Switzerland recently earned qualification to their third consecutive World Cup. Napoli may have been knocked out of the Champions League but they have been one of the more consistent performers in Italy. At the heart of both of these teams is Gökhan Inler. Currently captain of the Swiss national side, Inler has become one of the most reliable central midfielders in world football.
Speaking exclusively to TheHardTackle, Inler tells us about Switzerland’s exciting talents, the lion mask at Napoli and a lot more.
1. This is the first time since the 1950s that Switzerland has qualified for three back to back World Cups. What do you think is the biggest difference between this team and the ones in the last 4 decades?
Inler: A comparison between the current Swiss team and the teams from four decades ago is not possible because the football changed a lot. However, we can certainly assume that if you qualify three times in a row for the World Cup you have achieved success and so I see both teams equally.
2. Switzerland won the 2009 u17 WC and the current team is filled with quality Under 23 players. What has changed at the grassroots level that such a talented generation has come up?
Inler: Switzerland has always given great importance to football coaching at the youth level. 2009 was of course a special year for our youth team. I’m glad that some players made into the senior national team after this achievement. We were able to build up more substance and quality.
3. If you had to pick one player as the most exciting talent in Switzerland at the moment, who would it be?
Inler: We have some young players who have successfully been playing football abroad. Xherdan Shaqiri is having a great development at Bayern. Also Granit Xhaka (Mönchengladbach) and Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg) are on the first teams of top clubs. But there are manyothers around the globe and I think it would be unfair to name just one player.
4. How far do you think Switzerland can go in the 2014 World Cup?
Inler: We played well in the qualification and we were seeded in the World Cup draw. This alone is already a success for us. Of course, we also want to show our football at the World Cup. Our first goal is to reach the next stage, then we’ll see.
5. Although your parents are Turkish and you represented Turkey at theUnder 23 level, you chose to play for Switzerland. What was the reason for this?
Inler: I played one match with the Turkish U21 national team but then the contact stopped. Switzerland then tried very hard to get meand I had a very good conversation with then coach Jakob Kuhn, who showed me the various perspectives. These perspectives impressed me so I decided to play for Switzerland – a decision about which I have no regrets to this day.
6. Moving to club football, What are your thoughts on the current Napoli side and how far can the team go both domestically and in Europe?
Inler: We had a good start this season then some defeats in the Seria A and Champions League. Unfortunately, we did not manage to advance in the Champions League, but we left the competition with 12 points. It’s time to reorganize ourselves and fight for the Seria A title.
7. Napoli have lost the likes of Cavani, Lavezzi and Mazzarri over the past few seasons but the club has coped with all of this really well. What has been the key for Napoli’s success in this department?
Inler: Of course we felt the departures of high calibre players such as Edinson Cavani. It was important for us to find the perfect replacements for them and I think we did well in this case with the signing of Gonzalo Higuain. Napoli is all about the collective and the passion for the game. Not only in the team or club, but all over the city, football is life. This is fascinating!
8. What are the differences between Ottmar Hitzfeld and Rafa Benitez in their coaching styles, methods, etc?
Inler: A comparison is difficult, as I have been under the guidance of Ottmar Hitzfeld as National coach and Rafael Benitez as a club coach. I think they have some similarities. Both are very experienced, maintain good communication with the players and are very humane. Both Hitzfeld and Benitez are very success-oriented and have the knowledge how to set up a team perfectly.
9. Which clubs showed interest in you before you left for Napoli?
Inler: You will have to ask my agent. I don’t pay attention to such things. I’m fully focused on my duties as a football player.
10. What did you think of your presentation as a Napoli player? Whose idea was it for you to put on a Lion’s mask ?
Inler: The idea came to us just before the presentation, when we found a lion mask in the cabin. I found this very exciting and so did the fans during the presentation. Actually, I’m more of a reserved type of person but the appearance with the lion mask was something very special for me. It was great to see the fans‘ response when I took off the mask.
11. Who would you say has been your footballing idol?
Inler: When I was younger, it was the Brazilian striker Ronaldo. I was impressed by his speed, his technique and his whole look on the pitch.
TheHardTackle would like to thank Gökhan Inler for answering our questions and Tobias Erlemann for helping conduct the interview.