In Belgium, striker Deniz Undav (25) propelled his club St. Gilloise to first place with 25 goals and to the championship qualifiers. No other German striker in Europe has scored more times this season.
SPORT BILD: Sorted out at Werder as a youth, two years ago you played for Meppen in the 3rd division. Today, alongside Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappé and Robert Lewandowski, you are one of Europe’s top scorers, you are surprisingly in a master class with Belgian club Union St. Gilloise and you will be raging for Brighton in the Premier League from the summer. How satisfied do you feel?
Deniz Undav: I feel more joy than satisfaction. After signing the contract with Brighton, I thought: ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ I will soon be playing in what is probably the best league in the world. I don’t think many people on my path would have believed me capable of that. But it’s only when I affirmed myself there that I can say that I accomplished great things.
What are you most looking forward to in England?
I look forward to duels with top defenders like Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. My motivation is to prove myself at the highest level against the greatest footballers. But first, I want to create something historic with Union.
The first league title since 1935. Is that why you were loaned out to your current club after the winter transfer to Brighton until the end of the season?
When I start something, I finish it. The thought was: if I sign for Brighton this winter, I want to end the season with Union and say goodbye as champions.
What characterizes your current team, which started the championship round from first place in the standings?
We are a well run and sworn unit. On the field, we are eleven brothers giving our last shirts for the coach, the club and the supporters. It’s just phenomenal what’s happening this season.
Your football fairy tale also includes dark chapters. How bad was the end of Werder for the boy from Achim near Bremen?
When the coach told me that I couldn’t continue at Werder, I was devastated at the time. As a little boy, playing there was the biggest thing for me. I wanted to get to the pros. When that dream shattered, I cried for a day or two, then I thought, “There are other ways to go pro.”
After that, you played at SC Weyhe in your youth and couldn’t recommend yourself to big clubs for years. Have you thought about quitting?
Yes, in U17, I briefly thought about quitting. I always scored my goals but I was just not seen, I never received an offer to play football professionally. I kept hearing, “You have two or three pounds too many. But if you had believed in me, the weight would not have been an exclusion criterion. I scored regularly and could have reduced it quickly. Fortunately, my family stopped me from hanging up my football boots.
With full intention!
The player kicks the referee in the balls
Source: Super Liga Feminina Ecuador
After stints at Havelse and Eintracht Braunschweig II, your career only accelerated at Meppen in 2018. Then-coach Christian Neidhart had a “big fantasy” about you, as he said. For him you are “a cop on the field with an exceptional quality of play back to goal”…
I don’t want to contradict Christian Neidhart (laughs). This coach was important for my career, he trusted me and encouraged me a lot. I worked a lot on my back to goal game under him.
Is this your greatest strength?
I tend to see my in-game intelligence as my greatest strength: the ability to see things in the game that other people don’t.
Klopp in the CL final
“It’s amazing because it was so hard”
What do you mean precisely?
Before I get the ball back, I think carefully about where I’m going to play it. It’s nice to have co-workers who understand how you think, who you can play blind ball to in space. It’s the perfect football for me. I used to watch a lot of videos of Barca stars at the time, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. Their interaction was fantastic.
As one of Europe’s top scorers, your dream of joining the national team may soon come true. You were born in Germany and have Turkish roots. Which country would you like to play for?
In any case, my goal is to become a national team player. I am open to both nations. If Stefan Kuntz (Turkish national coach, editor’s note) or Hansi Flick called me, I would ask for two or three days to think things over and talk to my family. One thing is certain: I will not make my decision over the heads of my parents. They always have their say, they raised me and always supported me. So far, however, no one has reported.