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 Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany striker, Max Kruse.
Even the hippest of Bundesliga hipsters wouldn’t have predicted Freiburg’s miraculous season in 2012-13 as the south German side finished in fifth place. They played some remarkable football over the course of the season and the center of their eye-catching football was Max Kruse. Having arrived from St. Paul in the summer of 2012, Kruse took to the Bundesliga like a fish to water. He amassed 11 goals and 8 assists in what was a truly memorable season. His club performances didn’t go unnoticed as Joachim Löw called up the versatile attacker to the German national team. Kruse chose to move to greener pastures this season and has been nothing short of brilliant with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
In this interview, Kruse talks to THT about his time at Gladbach, the fight for the Bundesliga and a whole lot more.
1. Life at Gladbach has begun brilliantly for you. Did you expect to fit in so well at the club?
Kruse: Of course it was my hope. I had a fantastic year in Freiburg and wanted to continue playing at that level or even higher. There have been no problems for me to fit in at Borussia. The team made it easy for me and I think my character also fits in to the team. I’m very open-minded and sociable. That also works on the pitch.
2. The attacking quartet at Gladbach — Raffael, Arango, Herrmann and yourself — has set the Bundesliga on fire, but do you think you can keep this up for the entire season?
Max Kruse: We work on that in every training session. It has gone well so far, no question. We go together very well. But it’s not just these four. The whole team is responsible for our success. And we know we have to keep on working hard and take it match by match.
3. Is Champions League football a realistic goal for Gladbach next season? What do you think is needed if the club is to become a regular in European football?
Kruse: Our goal is to establish ourselves among the top 10 in Bundesliga on a long-term. And in my opinion we have the quality to be in the top six after the season and to play European football. If we can achieve that it would be a big highlight for the club, because that would mean that we have improved in comparison to last season and for me personally, because I have never played continental games for a club. That is my dream.
4. Were there any regrets when you left Freiburg last summer? Was giving up on European football ever a bit of a niggling worry?
Kruse: No. As I said I had a fantastic year in Freiburg. We qualified for the Europa League, but it was not realistic that the club could achieve that again. So I was convinced that moving to Gladbach was the right step. The club has the ambition to play European football each season. We have a very good team with fantastic new players. My expectations have been totally fulfilled so far. I’m feeling comfortable and we have been successful.
5. You dreamed of playing for Hamburger SV as a youngster, so is it mentally tough to play against them now? Or is it more a case of showing them what they missed out on?
Kruse: Of course playing in Hamburg was a special match for me. But it was not my motivation to show them what they missed out. It was nice to score both goals but more important was that we could celebrate the first victory away.
6. Do you think there are any sides in Germany that can challenge Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich for the league title?
Kruse: I don’t think so. Leverkusen have also had a strong season so far. But the championship will be a battle between Bayern and Dortmund in my eyes. Behind these teams everything is possible. We challenge, with a lot of other teams, for the places from 4 to 6.
7. You’ve been used all over the attacking line over your career but you now seem to have settled down as a striker. Is this the position you feel most comfortable in? Why is this so?
Kruse: The position I’m playing changed through the years, that’s right. First I played on the wings, meanwhile I’ve been moving to the central positions. For sure I’m not a typical box-striker. I was always thought to be some kind of playmaker. Years ago it was the no. 10, right now we call the position I like to play “Neuneinhalber” (No. 9 ½) in Germany. You’re very much integrated in the match in that position. That’s why I feel most comfortable there. But it doesn’t matter where I play, I will always try to do my best in each position.
8. Do you think that the traditional no. 9 has a diminishing role in modern football given that most of the forwards also have to contribute a lot towards the link up play? As a result have you had to adapt to be successful?
Kruse: No question that there has been a change. In modern football midfielders with strong technical skills are more often used as striker. But there are still teams playing with a real striker. And I don’t think that kind of players will ever disappear. It depends on the way the teams are playing. I didn’t have to adapt but I had to deal more and more with tactical things in my career to progress in general. One of my strong points is my ability to adapt quickly to different formations and to get into the free spaces.
9. Are you confident that you can keep your place in the German national team for the World Cup once Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose are back from injury?
Kruse: The World Cup is still far away and I don’t think about that. It’s incredible enough to play for Germany and to have the opportunity to belong to the World Cup squad. For a footballer there’s no bigger thing than to play a World Cup. But a lot of things can happen until then, for example a heavy injury. So it makes no sense to think of that already.
10. You’ve been under some top coaches over your career so far. Who would you say has been the best?
Kruse: It’s difficult to say who has been the best. I learned from each one. Andre Schubert (FC St. Pauli) was important for me, because he was the one who took me from the wing to the central positions. And of course Freiburg’s Christian Streich influenced me a lot. I’m very thankful he gave me the chance to play in Bundesliga. Now I’m under Lucien Favre and I already notice that I have made some progress. But on the whole I still have a lot work to do.
TheHardTackle would like to thank Max Kruse for answering our questions and Andreas Cüppers for helping conduct the interview.