"It's quite a stressful time for me at the moment. I'm happy that my girlfriend has been so supportive, as it means I have enough time to prepare for my A-Levels." Whether on the bus, the plane or in the evenings at the team hotel, Gulde is making the most of every minute. After training, Manuel heads home to his parents Wolfgang and Nicole and his twin sister Isabelle. It was dad Wolfgang who first introduced Gulde to football as a youngster, taking him to training with nearby club SC Pfingstberg-Hochstätt. "I was a bit nervous about going to training to begin with because the coach had a really loud voice, but now I'm glad I got stuck in."
Gulde then moved on to VfL Neckarau along with current team-mates Marco Terrazzino, Pascal Gross and Kevin Conrad, all of whom would later join the Hoffenheim youth set-up. After winning the German Youth championship with the B-Juniors and picking up the gold medal as Young Player of the Year, Gulde was well on his way to becoming a pro until September 2008, when three serious injuries hampered his progress. First, Gulde injured his ankle after falling awkwardly in a PE lesson at school, before a foot injury then prevented his full return for another six months. In his first pre-season training session in June 2009, the same injury reoccurred, meaning another extended period on the sidelines. "It was difficult to deal with," said the young defender.
"My optimism helped me a lot, I always stayed focussed on the future," he continued. "When you're unlucky like that, you can start to doubt yourself and ask questions like, 'What if I don't make it back?' or 'What if it happens again?'. Luckily for me, our fitness coach Christof Elser kept me on the right track." Since his return to fitness in October 2009, Gulde's career has developed in leaps and bounds. The 19-year-old worked hard at his fitness and was rewarded with his debut in the home game against Bayer Leverkusen, a day that will forever live in his memory. With a quarter of an hour left on the clock, assistant manager Tomislav Maric indicated to the bench and no sooner had he put his shin pads on, Gulde was replacing Carlos Eduardo in front of thousands of cheering fans. A calm, assured performance followed, although Gulde himself admits that he was anything but: "I was very tense during the match, my legs have never felt so heavy." Indeed, the 1899 debutant certainly didn't have an easy task ahead: "It was difficult to come on at 3-0 down. It would have been better if we'd won 3-0 but it was still a dream come true for me. Beggars can't be choosers!" Nonetheless it was clear that Gulde had come through his first Bundesliga test with flying colours and two further appearances followed, including a place in the starting line up against Borussia Mönchengladbach. The difficult times now appear to be in the past, so the 19-year-old can now focus on juggling his football career, school and exams.