Kerim Calhanoglu: Felt at home at Schalke right away
With four Bundesliga appearances under his belt already, Kerim Calhanoglu is ready to add a few more. In an interview with schalke04.de, the 18-year-old spoke about making the move from the U19s to the first team, the hours before his debut against 1. FSV Mainz 05 and his goals and responsibilities as the youngest member of the team.
Kerim, you’ve just completed a week of training camp in the Hohe Tauern National Park holiday region. How sore are your legs?
It’s normal to train a bit harder during pre-season than we would during the season. After all, now is when we’re laying the foundations for what’s still to come. The heavy workload isn’t completely foreign to me. We trained hard under Norbert Elgert with the U19s as well. This is a level up in terms of the intensity. We are working hard, but I’m feeling good.
You joined the Knappenschmiede from the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim academy last summer. What were the reasons behind your move to the Ruhr?
I felt as though I would be able to take the next step at Schalke. The discussions I had with the Knappenschmiede management convinced me right away. It was definitely the right decision for my development.
Joining FC Schalke 04 was absolutely the right move for me.
U19s head coach Norbert Elgert made you captain of the side straight away. What did that mean to you?
I was incredibly proud. It was a huge honour for me, because we had a lot of good players in our team and Norbert Elgert chose me out of all of them. I tried to pay back this trust he had shown in me during every training session and every game, although we only had a few of those, unfortunately.
Dimitrios Grammozis also showed great faith in you, by putting you in his first XI as head coach. How did you find out that you would be starting against Mainz?
I had the chance to showcase myself during training that week and must have made a good impression. The day of the game, shortly before we were set to leave for the team hotel, Mike Büskens pulled me aside and told me during lunch that I would be in the squad. But, I didn’t know then that I’d be in the starting line up. I had hoped to maybe be subbed on in the closing minutes and see my first minutes of Bundesliga action then. When the coaching staff announced the line-up on matchday, my name was included on the board. I will never forget that moment.
The U19 Bundesliga was put on hold in October of last year for several months before finally being cancelled. How did you keep fit during that time?
The Knappenschmiede set us up with a good workout program. It felt a bit like pre-season. A very, very long pre-season. When I made my Bundesliga debut against Mainz, I was a bit surprised at how quickly I was able to get settled into the game, despite the lack of match practice.
Your first full season as a professional footballer is set to start soon. What goals have you set for yourself?
I want to learn something new every day, play as many games as possible and help the team. Either by setting up goals or maybe even by scoring my first professional goal.
You are the youngest player in the squad. Have you been given any special responsibilities?
More than just one (laughs). I basically have to do everything. Collect the balls, take down the equipment after training – basically everything that needs doing. When we do a rondo, of course the youngest player has to be in the middle. But, that’s not a problem for me as it’s part of it. The lads that are older than me had to do the same when they were younger. The U19s currently have a very strong squad. That’s why I’m confident that I won’t always be the youngest player during the upcoming season (grins).
I want to learn something new every day, play as many games as possible and help the team.
The team has several young players. Has that helped you fit into the group?
I think that we have a good team spirit within our squad. It’s not the case that the younger players all hang out together, and that the older ones keep to themselves. We’re pretty well integrated into the team and we all see ourselves as having a chance to become a key part of the team.
Calhanoglu is a familiar name in Germany. Your cousin Hakan played for Hamburger SV and Bayer Leverkusen, and recently moved from AC Milan to Inter. Is he a role model for you?
No, not immediately. He plays a completely different position than I do, after all. But I do admire Hakan’s free kicks. They are really quite incredible.
Do you have a different idol?
Cristiano Ronaldo. When I think of football, then I think of him. He also plays in a different position. However, there’s one thing that fascinates me about him: CR7 wants to be the best every day, and always acts professionally. He invests a lot of time and work into his body. That’s how he’s been able to be a world-class player for so many years.