Levent Mercan: A sporting setback made me stronger

After beginning pre-season with the U23s, Levent Mercan has gone on to sign a professional contract and pick up several minutes with the first team. The 18-year-old discussed his first few weeks as a pro, his footballing role model and his attachment to the club. The midfielder also revealed the setback in his younger years that made him stronger now.

Levent, you made your competitive first-team debut at SV Drochtersen/Assel and managed to score too. What was going through your head after that game?
I don’t think a debut can go any better really. Just being in the squad and coming on as a sub was a real dream for me. I felt so happy when I scored my goal. It was also really cool that my teammates were so pleased for me too.

You began pre-season with the U23s, but then got your chance with the first team, which you used immediately…
I felt right at home from my first day with the first team, both in training and in the changing rooms. That’s really important for a youngster – without this feeling you cannot perform anywhere near your best.

You played in the friendly in Sevilla in March as an U19s player. What was that like?
I always felt quite close to the first team. As an U19s player, you always look forward to being part of the first-team set up. Playing in a ground like Sevilla’s was an amazing experience, especially for a young player.

Do you prefer to play as a defensive midfielder or an attacking midfielder?
I feel at home anywhere in central midfield.

You have described Ilkay Gündogan as your role model. Why’s that?
I admire the way he plays football, but also his career path. It was never a given that he would have so much success, but he has simply worked so hard on himself. He’s a great player who plays in the same position as me. There are so many things you can learn from him, so he is definitely one of my role models.

You once said that you would like to spend a day with Cristiano Ronaldo. Is that because of his footballing ability?
He’s a superstar and I think every footballer would like to reach his level one day. As a footballer, you always admire the best and watch what they do.

You were let go by VfL Bochum after the 2011/12 season having been there for a year, because you were supposedly too small and slim…
That definitely helped shape me as a person. I was only eleven years old but I understood everything that went on. I can remember it very well and think about it now and again. It only made me stronger, so I think it actually had a positive effect on me. It was a small step backwards for me, but it was the right thing for my long-term career.

You were born in Recklinghausen. Did Schalke play a part in your life growing up?
Schalke was always my favourite team and my family and friends also supported S04. I visited the Arena as a fan for the first time when I was ten.

You are still only 18. Do you have your own flat or are you still living at home?
I still live at home with my family.

How important is your family with regard to your football career?
Very! My parents and my little sister have always been there for me – during the good and the bad times. They have always supported me and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.

Norbert Elgert told David Wagner that he should take a closer look at you. What does Norbert Elgert mean to you and how has he helped your development?
He means an awful lot. The two years I spent playing for him were crucial in me playing well during this pre-season and then subsequently signing a professional contract. Norbert Elgert prepares his players perfectly for this scenario and he did exactly the same with me. They were two intense years which I enjoyed immensely and we had lot of success too.

A number of famous footballers have graduated from the Knappenschmiede to play in the Bundesliga. Does that help to motivate you?
It’s incredible how many players that have come through our academy went on to turn pro. All U19 players aim to reach this goal and are definitely motivated from seeing the amount of players that have already achieved this.

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