Nick Taitague: The club have shown that they believe in me
With the number 29 on his back, Nick Taitague has been a member of the first-team squad since the beginning of pre-season. The USA youth international spoke to schalke04.de about his first few years in Germany and the jump from the youth team to first-team level. He also explains how to pronounce his surname…
Nick, a few weeks ago you made the step up into the first team. You already know a few players as you’ve trained with the squad before and played in some friendly games. How proud are you that you are now a fully-fledged member of the first team?
It feels great. I didn’t have any problems settling in and was right into it straight away. As a youth-team player I was accepted really well by the guys. They had all shown me that they were pleased that I was there. Despite the hard work in pre-season, I’m enjoying every day.
There are a few different opinions on how to pronounce your surname – what is the correct way?
Taitague (pronounced Tie-ta-gwee).
You’ve been at Schalke for three and a half years. Can you still remember the day you signed the contract?
Of course. It was a very special day for two reasons and was one of the best days of my life so far. Firstly, it was my 18th birthday, but above all because by signing here it felt like I was fulfilling a childhood dream.
I didn’t have any problems settling in and was right into it straight away.
Had you taken a look around the facilities and the VELTINS-Arena with your family beforehand?
Around half a year before, the club had invited me and my parents so we could get a real feel for Schalke 04. The stadium, training ground and the surrounding area were all very impressive. As well as that, I got to meet the U19 players and the coaching team. Everyone gave me a good feeling. When you come to a new club as a young player, especially far from home, it is important that you feel comfortable. At Schalke, I got the feeling straight away that it was the right fit.
You’re one of the biggest talents at your age level in the USA. Were there other options as well as Schalke?
There were a number of clubs around Europe who were interested. I don’t want to name anyone, but there were a few Bundesliga clubs among them. However, after visiting Schalke it was an easy decision to make.
How did the club become aware of you?
I had some good performances with the USA U17 national team. Shortly after these games, the first contact came, including an invitation to Gelsenkirchen.
In Weston McKennie and Haji Wright, two American players have played for the club whilst you’ve been here. Did they help you settle in?
Definitely. Weston in particular became a really good friend of mine very quickly. Together with Haji, he was a big reason that I settled in so easily. The club was also always at my side and supported me.
Did you ever feel homesick from time to time?
It was difficult at the beginning and there were days where I missed home. But that’s all settled now.
At Schalke, I got the feeling straight away that it was the right fit.
Another American player recently joined the youth team in Evan Rotundo, as well as Matthew Hoppe last year. Did you help them in the first few weeks?
Yes, this time it was me who had been living in Germany a little longer. I travelled to training a lot with Matthew in the past few months so we got to talk a lot. We all support each other.
With the U19 and U23s, you had to deal with injury problems, which kept holding you back. Did you ever begin to doubt yourself?
There were days when I did. I would ask myself if I really have what it takes to play at the top level. But I am a positive person and always told myself that I would come back and that I can realise my dream. Giving up was never an option.
The club extended your contract in February. How does it help to feel this sense of trust?
It was amazing. The club have shown that they believe in me and see me as part of the team. I’m very grateful for that and want to repay the faith.
You speak very good German. How did you learn the language?
I had lessons in the first two years. The club gave me and a few others a teacher who taught us. Then, my German improved more and more every day. In team sports, it is very important that you can understand each other and that nothing is complicated.
Giving up was never an option.
You can play in a number of positions in attack. What is your favourite role?
In the USA I played mostly in attacking midfield, and with Schalke U19s I played in spells on the wing. With the first team, I’ve played deeper, as a centre midfielder and love going into one-on-ones. That is one of my biggest strengths.
Do you have a role model?
My parents. That will never change. I don’t have one particular player as an idol, but I love the playing styles of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They are two incredibly talented players and have made a lasting impression on football.