Mehmet Can Aydin: A perfect mix of tension, excitement and willingness

Youngster Mehmet Can Aydin has been giving it all with a smile on his face during the training camp in Mittersill. He spoke to about making the jump from the academy to the first team, his first few appearances, spending time on the motorway as a youth player, looking forward to playing in front of fans at the VELTINS-Arena and his aims.

Mehmet Can Aydin

Memo, this is your first pre-season as a professional. What’s the biggest difference between now and your time with the Knappenschmiede?
It’s a similar intensity to the U19s. Norbert Elgert made us work really hard, however our training camps weren’t as long as this one here in Mittersill. Thanks to my time in the academy, I don’t think I will struggle to cope physically. I feel good – despite the hard work, I’m enjoying it. We all know what we’re working towards and that’s a good season with FC Schalke 04.

You joined FC Schalke 04 aged 12 and most likely had the dream of becoming a professional footballer like most youngsters at that age. When did you realise that you could actually fulfil this dream?
I always believed. When I joined this club when I was 12, my goal was to play a Bundesliga game at the VELTINS-Arena. This might sound a bit strange and I don’t mean it in an arrogant way, but I always knew I was a talented footballer. That’s not enough though. You have to work hard day in, day out and never stop being ambitious and driven. I always remained focused and I often played in a higher age group, which helped me. When I moved up to the U19s from the U17s, I hoped that Mr. Elgert will help me find the final few percent to get me into the first team.

You have to work hard day in, day out and never stop being ambitious and driven.

Mehmet Can Aydin

You come from Aachen, around 150km away from Gelsenkirchen. Did you then move to the club’s boarding school for the players?
No, I stayed at home with my parents and travelled to Gelsenkirchen every day for training. It was a two-hour journey each way. My mother wanted me to stay at home back then. I had to invest so many hours, but I don’t regret a single day. I still think it was the right decision, even if some days were really long and stressful.

What did a typical day look like for you during your time in the academy?
I’d get up at 7am and go to school. Then my father would pick me up and drive me to Gelsenkirchen. I’d eat in the car and mostly do my homework on the motorway. After training auf Schalke, I’d get home at about 10pm. Once home, I’d just want to go to bed. My alarm would then go off again at 7am the next day. It was like this for seven years and worked really well. My grades at school didn’t suffer because of my football commitments – my parents wouldn’t have allowed that. I’m really thankful to my parents. They gave me the chance to play football auf Schalke. They’re incredibly proud of me now and I’m proud of them. Becoming a professional footballer is a success for the whole family.

Do you still drive two hours to training every day?
No. I’ve had my own flat in Gelsenkirchen for just over a year now.

Mehmet Can Aydin

Dimitrios Grammozis placed great trust in you at the end of last season. What were your first thoughts when you were told you were starting against Bayer Leverkusen on 3rd April?
Two days before the game, the coach came up to me and said I was an option for the starting XI. He didn’t tell me that I was definitely going to play, just that I should prepare myself for the possibility. I was really nervous at that point, but still ready, especially considering how long I’d waited for this chance. For me, the mix of tension, excitement and willingness was perfect to prepare me for the game at the BayArena. I was pretty nervous until we got into the changing room. Once I sat down and put my boots and shirt on, though, I was just raring to go.

What did you do with your shirt from that game?
I gave it to my father. It’s a special shirt so I wanted to give it to a special person in my life.

Your U19s coach, Norbert Elgert, said he was proud of your performances in the Bundesliga considering you had barely played football for six months after the U19s Bundesliga was cancelled. How did you manage to stay so sharp? You went on to play in five more games too.
Once our season had been cancelled, the Knappenschmiede staff came up with a concept that enabled us to keep working on ourselves. Looking back, I maybe even trained more often than I would have during a normal season. That’s why the intensity in professional football was no problem for me.

You always have to be alert, give 100% and never switch off.

Mehmet Can Aydin

Over the past few years, a number of players have made the jump from the academy to the first team. Why is Schalke’s academy so successful?
If I were to answer this question as an U19s player, I might not have an answer to it straight away. But now it’s quite simple. During your final year as an U19s player, so much good work is done. I learnt so much from Mr. Elgert during this period, even though I probably didn’t realise it at the time. There were some days where I just wanted to play football and didn’t want to be given some pieces of advice. Now I know that everything I was told, actually really helped me. Mr. Elgert wasn’t just a coach who developed us on the pitch – he helped prepare us for being a professional. You always have to be alert, give 100% and never switch off. He also taught us how to deal with pressure and bad experiences. My time in the U19s was really valuable.

Are there any players in the first team that you look to follow or that give you tips on and off the pitch?
Coming into the first team during a bad period, you just try and keep a low profile. I’m really thankful to Michael Langer for helping me integrate into the first team and giving me some useful tips. He also helped during games by getting behind me from the stands. Other players helped me too, but what Michael Langer did was really great. Mike Büskens was – and still is – really important for me. He always has time for young players and I’m thankful to him too.

Mehmet Can Aydin

Did you have time over the short summer break to process the last few weeks and months? That includes your debut but also relegation.
It took me two or three weeks after my debut to realise that I’d actually played in the Bundesliga. Unfortunately, I made my debut during a period where things weren’t going well at all. Ending the season with relegation really hurt. However, I’m somebody that gets up and looks forward full of positivity. We can’t change the past now, but we can make the future good. I want to play my part in that!

You scored your first goal as a professional in the friendly against Sportfreunde Hamborn 07. Even though it was ‘only’ a friendly, how did it feel?
It felt good. Not just because of the goal, but also because there were fans there. Kerim Calhanoglu, also from the U19s, and I have never played in front of a bigger crowd than that. I hope that we can soon. Playing in a VELTINS-Arena with a full Nordkurve must be incredible. I have an idea of what it’s like because I was on the pitch before when it was sold out.

As a ball boy?
No, I went as a supporter for the Real Madrid game in the Champions League a few years back. The Knappenschmiede staff gave me the chance to stand by the pitch after the game. All the players walked past me and I could really get a sense for the atmosphere. It was really cool to be two metres away from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Is Cristiano Ronaldo your role model?
I wouldn’t call him my role model, he’s just one of my favourite players, not just because of footballing ability. I’m so impressed by his drive at the age of 36. He’s still got a great attitude and works hard on himself every day. I don’t really have an idol – I just want to write my own story.

My aim is to improve a little bit every day.

Mehmet Can Aydin

New signings traditionally have to sing a song when they arrive. Have you done one yet?
Not just one. My teammates tricked me (laughs). Last season during training a day after a game, I was told if I sing then then it’s done. We were all together on bikes in the fitness room. However, when we were in Billerbeck for a short training camp recently and everybody claimed they didn’t remember that, so I had to sing again. Being honest, singing is not a strength of mine. Once I was done, I said I’m going to play here for a long time just so I don’t have to sing again when I move to another club (laughs).

What are your goals for the coming weeks and months?
I have recently had a chance to impress and I think I took it. Now, I need to start getting better. My aim is to improve a little bit every day to help the team. I want the fans to enjoy watching us play football.

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