Malick Thiaw: Making the most of every training session
5th July 2020 was a special day in the life of Malick Thiaw – it was the day that the academy graduate signed his first professional contract that will keep him at Schalke until 30th July 2024. In an interview with schalke04.de, the 19-year-old discusses his hopes, aims, and his versatility on the pitch.
Malick, you have been back for pre-season training for just over three weeks now – how stiff are your legs?
Obviously you’re exhausted in the evenings when you’re training hard every day, but that isn’t a problem for me. We’re in pre-season so stiff legs are part and parcel of that.
Are there days where you just want to go straight to bed in the evenings?
Yeah, there have been some days like that! I always need a bit of time to recharge my batteries after intensive fitness sessions with Werner Leuthard. But I’m feeling very good overall and I’m noticing that the training is really helping me improve.
You wear number 33 for Schalke, has that number got a special meaning for you?
I didn’t choose it actually, it was assigned to me last season because it was free! I like it a lot though.
As an U19s player, you’ve already had a taste of what training camps are like from the winter break. Did your experience in Fuente Alamo provide a bit more motivation for you?
Definitely! It was a really exciting week and it undoubtedly helped me take the next step with my development. It was also a great feeling that the team welcomed me with open arms right from the beginning.
Even after the final whistle, it still hadn’t sunk in that I’d actually made my debut!
Shortly before the coronavirus break, you made your Bundesliga debut in the 1-1 draw against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Although it was only for a few minutes, it must have been a very special moment! Could you sleep that evening?
Even after the final whistle, it still hadn’t sunk in that I’d actually made my debut! I needed a few hours to process that my childhood dream had finally come true. I was able to get to sleep but the game was all I could think about that evening!
How many messages did you get after your first appearance?
I didn’t count them all but it was a lot! I appreciated all of them so much; it was such a beautiful feeling that so many people that are special to me were celebrating that moment.
Was there a message that was especially meaningful?
One that stood out was the message from my parents, where they said how proud they were of me. The message from my U19 coach Norbert Elgert was also really nice. He got in contact just after the final whistle.
Norbert Elgert was a guest on the Schalke 04 Podcast a few months ago and he discussed the development of young players among other topics. He mentioned you when he talked about that! What do you think it is that that makes him so good at what he does?
I owe him so much, and I think I speak for a lot of other young players when I say that! It’s so impressive that he manages to develop U19 players into professionals year after year. I think there are several reasons for this success but the key factor is the way he communicates with you. He always clearly told me what my game was lacking and which areas I needed to improve on. He worked with me on that and always said that we needed to make the most out of every training session. He also taught us that we shouldn’t be satisfied just because we have a few good games – you need to always push yourself to improve, and that’s what we did day after day with him.
What has been the biggest change since you started to train with the pros?
The speed of the game is much faster than with the U19s, but I got used to it pretty quickly so it wasn’t a problem. I’m enjoying every second of it but I’m working hard at the same time.
In Benjamin Stambouli, Salif Sané and Matija Nastasic, the squad has three very experienced centre-backs. Ozan Kabak has also played a lot of first-team games, despite being young. Do the four of them give you tips on how to improve your game?
We talk to each other a lot which really helps me as I can learn a lot from them. Watching them play and react to situations on the pitch is also really useful.
Norbert Elgert also taught us that we shouldn’t be satisfied just because we have a few good games.
Were you always a defender?
No, I played in midfield until the U19s! Mr Elgert moved me back into defence as he thought I fitted that role better and it would help the team. I’m pleased with the switch of position.
You were the top scorer with the U19s last season with 8 goals in 20 games, and all that while playing in defence as well! How did you develop such good goal-scoring instincts?
I’ve always chipped in with a few goals here and there, but my finishing got a lot better last year. I’ve started pushing up more during matches and the individual work that I put in with Herr Elgert on improving my headers is also paying off.
Some fans have compared you to a young Joel Matip.
Yeah, I’ve heard that a few times already! That’s a big honour for me.
You even have the same birthday!
That’s true, he was born on 8th August 1991 and I was born on the same date in 2001! But that’s not the main reason he’s a role model for me. I’ve followed his career over the past few years and I’m really impressed by what he’s already achieved so far.
Have you got any other role models?
When I was playing in midfield, Yaya Touré was one of the players who I looked up to most. These days, I like to watch Virgil van Dijk or Sergio Ramos and try to pick up things from their game, as well as Joel Matip of course!
You started playing aged 6 at TV Kalkum-Wittlaer, a club in Düsseldorf, and then you had spells at Fortuna Düsseldorf, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach. What was it that convinced you to leave the Foals in 2015?
I was won over by Schalke’s overall strategy and direction. I’ve already said how impressive I find it that year after year, players from the U19s advance into the professional game and get their chance. I saw that I could get this chance as well.
Your father is from Senegal, your mother from Finland, and you were born in Germany. Which typically Senegalese, Finnish and German characteristics do you have in you?
I often get asked this question. I honestly don’t have an answer. My relaxed nature is maybe from my Senegalese and Finnish roots.
I want to write my own story in the coming years.
Did your father also play football?
Yes, in Senegal, but a long time ago. He was a goalkeeper.
So you got your sporting genes from your mother…
That’s true, she was an athlete, but has also retired now.
Another former academy product also had a father who played football and a mother who was an athlete – Leroy Sané!
Really? I didn’t know that. Both Leroy and Joel Matip have achieved so much. I want to write my own story in the coming years though.