András Schäfer: I feel that I am moving forward step by step
The football fever in Berlin intensifies as Union, that's performing well in the Bundesliga, kicks off the Europa League. We spoke to the team's midfielder, András Schäfer, about the successes of recent weeks, the challenging period ahead, and the games that mark the celebrations.
|András Schäfer has not yet played a group game in international cups (Photo: Imago Images)|
– Will those be in the starting eleven against Union Saint-Gilloise who also started against Bayern Munich?
– I can only hope so – said Union Berlin's 23-year-old midfielder, András Schäfer, who played 85 minutes last Saturday and played a big part in the 1-1 draw against defending champions Bayern. – Urs Fischer has not revealed the starting eleven yet, but knowing our head coach, he will surely find the best solution. We have a lot of players and also a lot of games to play; we have ten midfielders in the squad, and we expect the professional staff to rotate us. Of course, this has its own beauty, everyone must always be ready to go.
– Just for fun: if Urs Fischer were to ask you if you would prefer to wear a kit for Thursday's Europa League match or Sunday's league match against Cologne, what would you say?
– I would say both! Then I might not play in either game, or I might only play in one. It's hard to say in advance. However, after starting against RB Leipzig, I didn't get even a minute at home to Schalke, and then I played almost the whole game against Bayern. It's an interesting situation, but I have no doubt that our head coach knows what's best for me and the team.
– We also talked before the start of the league series, and you concluded the interview with the following words: "I want to appreciate every minute played because I am determined to show that this is where I belong!" After a month, can you say that everything is going according to plan?
– Yes! At least I feel that I am moving forward step by step and that I'm playing a bigger role. Of course, I know that I have to add crank up now because the more work I put in, the better the results will be. As I said in that interview, there will be games where I will be a starter, where I will come on as a substitute, and there will be games where I will not play at all. I knew that was to be expected and I was not wrong.
– It is noteworthy that you did not start against Hertha and Mainz, but Bayern and RB Leipzig.
– It seems that I am saved for the big games... On a more serious note, I can only say what I said last time: I appreciate every minute played.
– In the Bundesliga, five rounds have passed, and Union Berlin is in fourth place with three wins and two draws. I suppose you would have predicted this before the start.
– You bet! Especially because our draw looked anything but easy. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that we've made a very good start, now there's nothing left to do but go forward, we'll do our best to keep this level. Though it's not going to be easy as we're now also competing in the Europa League in addition to the league and the German Cup, not to mention that some of us - thank goodness - have national team matches to play. The four-front load is going to be extremely demanding, but don't worry about us: on the one hand, we have a very big squad, and on the other hand, we have prepared for it, which is why we worked so hard over the summer to cope with it. I'm sure Urs Fischer will find a way to make sure that we can compete well everywhere, and I hope I'll be a part of it.
– Does the Bundesliga take precedence over the other series?
– Let's not forget that we are neither Bayern Munich nor Real Madrid. Our primary goal is still to stay in the league. That's what we set out at the beginning of the season, and we've stuck to it ever since. But that does not exclude us from trying to do our best on other fronts. We think that if we have already qualified for the Europa League, we want to show ourselves in this tournament as well. Our ambition is to compete on the international stage in the spring, too. We are in a group from which we can advance, even if we have to play three strong opponents. Braga is in second place in the Portuguese league, Union Saint-Gilloise just missed the gold medal in the last season of the Belgian league, and obviously, Malmö will also be tough. We'll see what we can do against them, but there's no reason to fear. There are some excellent teams that will start the group stage with the confidence that they will qualify. Our team is not one of them, but we have no other goal than to be in the knockout stages.
– Is there as much hype in Berlin for the Europa League matches as there is for the league games?
– Is it enough to say that every Union fan is looking forward to the period ahead like Christmas? The turnout is reminiscent of the national team matches in Hungary, with several stadiums filled to capacity with fans wanting tickets. If I know correctly, a draw has decided who will get into the first game. Recently, Székesfehérvár experienced what it's like when a German club's fans go crazy, and Cologne turned their play-off against Vidi into a football fiesta. Now, our fans are even crazier...
– I take it from your words that you are looking forward to Thursday evening.
– Very much! I've had the chance to play in the Europa League and European Conference League qualifying matches before, but not in the group matches. It's another challenge for me, but I believe I can overcome this obstacle. I prepare for every match like a celebration, and yes, I can't wait for this adventure to begin.
– Now the only question is whether the German or the Belgian Union is better.
– We will find out on the pitch, but as this is our pitch where we want to win every game, I'd perhaps say that the German Union is the better team.
EUROPA LEAGUE, GROUP STAGE
6.45 pm: Malmö (Sweden)–Braga (Portugal)
6.45 pm: Union Berlin (Germany)–Union Saint-Gilloise (Belgium)