Inside 1899: Always ready

The morale among reserve team players can often have a major effect on the atmosphere of a football club. Frustration, resentment and jealousy are part and parcel of the daily routine... but not at 1899 Hoffenheim.

Backup goalkeeper Daniel Haas gets on with his work on the training pitch every week with every bit as much drive and diligence as No1 Timo Hildebrand, to whom he offers his full support. It can't be easy for the 26-year-old to sit on the bench every week, but still he manages to remain positive: "It's not my ambition to be the No2 keeper forever, but that doesn't mean that I can't accept playing understudy to Timo. He's a very good goalkeeper and we support each other a lot." Haas is one of the longest serving members of the 1899 squad and, like Sejad Salihovic, was part of the side which enjoyed two successive promotions and the wonderful run which saw them top the Bundesliga in December 2008. Haas has made 21 Bundesliga appearances to date, but since they have become few and far between over the past year and a half, he savours every one of them: "I'm happy for every chance I get to play in the Bundesliga, even if some of the games are less enjoyable than others, like in Wolfsburg. I didn't get the chance to show what I can do because their first three shots went in. Still, you have to be able to deal with those kind of setbacks." Haas is determined to add to those 21 matches so far and despite the fierce competition at 1899, he is not interested in trying his luck at another club: "There is still a lot I want to achieve at this club. I'm convinced that I can improve my game here and I still believe I can become the No1 goalkeeper at Hoffenheim," he said confidently.

Despite their competitive natures, the relationship between the goalkeepers at 1899 has always been one of harmony: "We all get on well, respect one another and have a lot of fun together," said Jens Grahl, currently first choice for the U23s but also a regular in first team training sessions. "It's a lot of fun training with the boys, but we know when to get our heads down and work," continued Haas, who also had plenty of praise for goalkeeping coaches Zsolt Petry and Cesar Thier: "They do a great job in training. I think we all profit from the set up." Indeed, Daniel Haas and Jens Grahl are two players who get on away from the pitch as well. They share a room at the training centre in Zuzenhausen, although both admit that most of the time in there is spent sleeping. The duo do however like a bout of table tennis, "but neither of us can beat Per Nilsson," laughed Haas.

In comparison to Haas, the situation for Jens Grahl is somewhat different. He can showcase his skills in the Baden-Württemberg Oberliga where he is a regular for the U23s, who are currently battling to secure promotion into the Regionalliga. If Hildebrand or Haas does pick up an injury, there is a chance of him appearing in the Bundesliga. Last week against Wolfsburg was a prime example, as No1 Hildebrand missed out with a back problem and Grahl was given a place on the bench: "It's certainly a different experience in the Bundesliga. Warming up in front of 30,000 fans makes you quite nervous," admitted Grahl. "I only relaxed when Ralf Rangnick made his third substitution." Grahl was out on the pitch for the U23s the very next day and enjoyed a 2-0 victory over Normannia Gmünd, his 12th clean sheet of the season. "Now we're eight points ahead at the top, hopefully we shouldn't have too much to worry about. Still, we need to keep focussed because there is still some way to go." The Bundesliga is the stage Grahl is aiming for of course, but he is aware that he still has plenty to prove: "I want to work my way into the first team step by step. I think I'm on the right track," said the 21-year-old shot stopper.

The life of a goalkeeper is clear from the start: only one player can start between the sticks. It's not only a question of catching balls, but also keeping your head held high, allowing your rivals to enjoy success and trying to develop in their shadow. Resentment and jealousy have no place in a team striving for success. Daniel Haas and Jens Grahl are the perfect examples of how competition between team-mates should be.


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