Mark Uth on his path to the Bundesliga

It was a long process for Mark Uth to establish himself in the Bundesliga. The 25-year-old, who moved to TSG Hoffenheim in the summer of 2015, was a relatively late starter when he got his breakthrough with SC Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie. The Cologne born striker had to show a great deal of patience before his quality as a player could shine through. Uth must now call upon this patience, given that he is out with a long-term muscle tear.

You’re the go-to guy, when it comes to patience in football. Your path to the Bundesliga wasn’t exactly conventional. Do you feel like you started late?

Mark Uth: I didn’t have the most conventional start to my career and had to fulfil my goal of playing in the Bundesliga, by first of all going to play in Holland. I had problems at the start and things didn’t go well immediately. But after a short delay, I think my quality shone through.

You experiences problems at the start of your Hoffenheim career. You weren’t in the TSG starting eleven at the start of the year. Do you now feel at home?

Uth: Definitely. I took part in the whole of preseason, didn’t have any problems or injuries and everything was great. We started well with a win in the cup and a draw in the Bundesliga. I also managed to get on the scoresheet in the league opener.

You were even a candidate for the Germany national team, ahead of EURO 2016.

Uth: That really was a pleasant surprise. It is unbelievable to hear things like that, even if it didn’t quite happen in the end. It was just an honour to even be considered. It was a great feeling and was also conformation that I had established myself as a Hoffenheim starter.

Your path to becoming a professional footballer wasn’t straightforward. You started out with 1. FC Köln, then moved to Viktoria Köln, then back to FC Köln, where you played in the youth team. Why was your path to the first team so complicated?

Uth: I scored a lot of goals in the youth team and was the leading goalscorer in the Junior-Bundesliga with 24 goals in 24 games, ahead of Pierre-Michel Lasogga, who back then played for Leverkusen. I was allowed to train with the first team quite regularly at FC Köln and was occasionally put in the squad. But I never really felt that I would get the chance to play for the first team there. I also didn’t feel that the club promoted youth players. Stale Solbakken, who was the Köln coach at the time, didn’t start with me. I trained with the first team until winter and then I went back to training with the second team. I moved to Heerenveen the next summer.

You were loaned out just a year after joining Heerenveen.

Uth: I played for the second team in my first season there. It was lucky that the second team were good, I scored a lot of goals and we became champions. The coach then moved to Heracles Almelo and took me with him. I was then able to play my first season in the Dutch football league and play every game from the start.

After a year at Almelo, you moved back to Heerenveen.

Uth: I scored ten goals in 28 games for Almelo and the club wanted to keep me. But I was desperate to move back. I had unfinished business in Heerenveen. I went there to play in the Eredivisie. I then said to myself that with patience, it will work out the second time round.

And then the penny dropped.

UthI played and scored goals so teams from the Bundesliga started to notice me. It was always my aim to play there, I wanted to use the Netherlands as a springboard and that’s what I did.

Overall though, you had to wait a long time which certainly wasn’t easy. What do you now think about these tough times?

UthThey definitely made me mature, but I always believed in myself – even when I was in Viktoria Köln’s youth side or during my hardest time when I first arrived in the Netherlands, when I sat on the bench for almost half a year.

You also had a similar experience here at Hoffenheim…

UthYes, here at TSG I also had a similar time when I wasn’t in the squad under Huub Stevens. But you just need patience and, despite the disappointment, work and train hard and give everything. That’s the only way you can get out of this kind of situation.

How do you stay motivated when it gets hard?

UthIt was sometimes hard to stay motivated but my parents always helped and supported me. When I was at Heerenveen, I used to go home a lot and friends and of course my girlfriend used to come and visit me – that helped. It was hard but I never doubted myself and never gave up. Even my agent said I had to keep going and good times would come.

Even if you never really doubted yourself, did you even have an alternative plan for football in the back of your mind?

UthIf football never worked out I wouldn’t have waited around, I would have started studying. I discussed that with my father after I did my final school exams, he said, you now have three or four years to establish yourself as a professional footballer and if it doesn’t work out then we’ll have to think about if it makes sense to carry on.

To come back to the topic of patience, do you think that you have to be patient to be a good striker?

UthYou always have to try to be successful, patience is perhaps important for this but sometimes you just need pure luck to stand in the right spot. I had a time in Almelo, continuing to my time in Heerenveen, when I went 1,000 minutes without scoring. The press made a joke out of me by counting the minutes. I didn’t know and saw on television that it had accumulated to 1,000 minutes, my reply was to score a hattrick in the next game.

Did you not have any doubts in this goalless period?

UthEven Thomas Müller, who’s an amazing striker, has had a phase like this - he went through the whole Euros without scoring. After, it all clicked again. It’s completely normal to have periods like this as a striker, you don’t want them but they shouldn’t throw you off.  

Would you say one of your strengths is being able to stay cool and calm?

Uth: That may be, but I still get nervous before every game. I also need this tension, but I don’t get nervous if I haven’t scored in a couple of games. You can also play well without scoring, you have to stay relaxed and not get hung up on it.

You’ve played once for Germany with the U20s. Joachim Löw doesn’t a wide selection of strikers to choose from, what are your chances of being called up?

Uth: What shall I say? It would obviously be a dream to be able to play for Germany

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