Baumi, you've impressed us enormously on the trampoline. Where does your acrobatic talent come from?
"My brother, my friends and I always used to do this when we were kids. We had a trampoline in the garden. We then somehow got into acrobatics. We watched videos and wanted to copy them. It's just a lot of fun for me. For the Baumi of 10 years ago, it was probably even better. For children and young people in particular, there are limitless possibilities on the trampoline and you hardly have to think about it."
Do you feel that these skills prove useful in football as well?
"I have good physical control, I can control my body in the air. That pays off not only when jumping and heading. Most of the time you have an opponent in front of you; you have to work with your arms and get the timing right. It's important to be very stable in the air. That's where this experience definitely helps me, because luckily I've had that feeling for my body since I was a kid."
You left your home country Austria as a 17-year-old to come to TSG. Was that a big step?
"It wasn't always easy, to be honest. I had already been to a football boarding school in St. Pölten, but that was only an hour away from my parents in Horn. Hoffenheim was a much bigger step. I was really out on my own for the first time in my life, because I lived in a shared flat with my former team-mate Corey Lee Anton and not in a boarding school anymore. When my girlfriend joined me from Austria, we looked for our own flat. We deliberately did it without the help of the club, because that's a step in one's development. We now live a bit away from it all and close to nature. It's perfect for us. I learned to be independent during that period. That has helped me enormously in life. In retrospect, it was a very big step, but the right one - not only in terms of sport, but for my life as a whole."
There were other talented youngsters who joined TSG at the same time as you in 2017 but didn't make it to the Bundesliga. What factors played a role in you making it?
"The whole package has to be right. And, of course, you need a decent amount of luck too. If Nadiem Amiri hadn't got injured on the 33rd matchday of the 2018/19 season, I might not have come on as a substitute in the home game against Werder Bremen. And then I probably wouldn't have been in the starting XI against Mainz. And then what? Maybe I would've been loaned out to get some playing time. And you don't know how things will go there. But I'm of the opinion that quality will prevail eventually. In terms of football on the one hand of course, but I think the mental side is even more important. You need the necessary patience and have to have a certain desire. Everyone has to find this middle ground for themselves. Julian (editor's note: Nagelsmann) gave me the feeling that I'd get my chance and I knew I'd have to be there. You just have to take your chance; that's what separates the wheat from the chaff. In the end it's a combination of chance and desire; you'd probably say it's fortune favouring the brave."
Did you feel any pressure during the transition from the academy to the first team?
"The club management did an extremely good job. I had the feeling I could do it, and the club encouraged that too. But there was a clear plan and a regulated procedure. Of course, as a young player in that situation, you always think it's great to get there as early as possible. But for the player, it's sometimes not bad to play a month or two longer in the U19s or U23s instead of going to the Bundesliga straightaway. That means you're really ready when the time comes. TSG prepared me perfectly for that, it's not all that easy mentally. I then noticed during my first appearances that I could keep up with the level in footballing terms.
On your first start, you were sent off for two bookings in the first half. Having led 2-0, TSG lost 4-2 in Mainz and missed out on qualification for the Europa League. How much did this experience affect you?
"I have often been asked if I'd do something differently if I could turn back time. I did damage to the entire club and myself too. We all wanted to play in Europe. However, it was an important learning curve at a young age. It's not always uphill in football. Fortunately, things are going very well for me, but there are always moments that don't go perfectly. I experienced that first hand. That was a tough time. But I draw a lot of strength from it, it has brought me on as a person and a player."
You are a poster boy for the club. How do you deal with that?
"I've grown into the role. For me, it was always step by step, very steady. It was never the case that I somehow skipped three steps, rather that one or two people might have sometimes felt: 'We could speed things up with him'. But that was never an issue for me. It always worked. That continuous path was perfect for me because I'm sitting here now and I'm a leading player at TSG. That doesn't put me under pressure, I would even say I'm the kind of guy that embraces such situations, such a role. I was often captain at junior level too and led the way on the pitch. Of course, it's a different matter in the first team; but I don't see it as a burden, I lean into it."
What does it take to perform this role?
"There's obviously no perfect recipe for this. You definitely need a certain kind of basic intelligence, a sense of what's happening on the pitch and in the dressing room too. It's about helping the team. And not only with the legs, but with the head as well. What can I bring in through coaching? You grow into these things. You can't learn it overnight, it just happens. And I think I'm doing quite well so far. The next step is to represent the club in the media. I don't want to presume that I can be a face for the club, but I certainly want to be a mouthpiece."
Last year, you extended your contract until 2025. What does TSG mean to you?
"I've been here for a few years and also experienced the TSG Academy. I know what it means to play TSG football. I feel extremely comfortable at the club and in the region. In sporting terms on the one hand, but also privately with my girlfriend and our dog. That's because of the whole region. We've made friends here outside of football. You can live a super life here as a private individual. I really enjoy that. These were naturally among the reasons why I extended my contract with TSG. In addition, I had great conversations with Alex (editor's note: Rosen). The decision was pretty easy for me. I've made a lot of things possible for myself through hard work. The way I am is appreciated here, which of course makes me happy. I want to keep putting my stamp on TSG and moving forward."
The team certainly seems to like your style; you're part of the Team Council for the first time this season...
"Being chosen by your team-mates like that is a vindication both for the work you do and the way you are personally. I have played a lot of games in the past two years, which is an important factor. It seems as though I've been able to convince the team both on and off the pitch during that time. That makes me happy, of course."
Do you feel that the young players in particular seek you out to talk?
"I think the boys look up to me. I have taken the same path they want to. I try to pass that on and want to make them feel good. It's important that they have fun but work just as hard for it. The healthy middle ground is crucial here. I hope I can fulfil that role well and give the boys some tips. I want to take on responsibility."
What does that mean for you specifically?
"I don't think you have to be 30 or over to stand for certain values. But I don't want to portray myself as a golden boy either. I'm the last person to condemn someone for indulging themselves once in a while. I even believe that it is extremely important to reward oneself when one has worked hard for something, set themselves high goals and then achieved them. It'd be ridiculous and no one would accept it if we suddenly led a student life. But I also know that we footballers are becoming a kind of role model for kids and young people. We have to and want to live up to that. That's definitely the case, but people shouldn't forget that we are also human beings."
Having better and worse spells is part and parcel of it all. This season is going much better than in 2020/21. What do you think makes the difference?
"We have to set high goals as a club as we don't get all that much pressure from outside. On the one hand, that's an advantage – especially for young players, because you're not immediately torn apart if you make a mistake, as is the case elsewhere. But we have to make sure we set ourselves big goals so that we can achieve optimal performance. I don't think we can be satisfied with what we produced last season. It was only in the rarest of cases that we reached our peak performance. If you compare the current intensity, volume and tempo in training with last season, there are enormous differences. The coaches see it the same way, too. We have more fit players again, so the competition is higher. We have gone back to pushing ourselves to the limit in training so that we can perform well at the weekend. All of that adds up to better performances. I don't think it's a coincidence that we're where we are now."
Did you have the feeling that on a subconscious level one could hide behind the corona issue?
"The fact is that we currently have 15 to 20 players who want to be in the starting XI and have this ambition too. Last season, there were only 10 to 12 due to the absences. In addition, we hardly ever had a complete training week because of the Europa League and the many international matches. It was all okay, but now it's a completely different level. We have much more intensity in our play and have made a big step in general."
How much of a learning curve has it been for Sebastian Hoeness too?
"I think the coach has taken a few steps too. It's his first job in professional football. And then in his first year he had to cope with a season full of problems caused by no fault of his own. That was naturally incredibly difficult. There has never been a season like that before. But this season you can see how much quality he has; you can see it in the way he trains, in the video analysis. We are certainly top of the league in that respect. The team is fit and really wants to play football with a lot of speed. In addition, we all know each other better now. He has experienced people in Matthias Kaltenbach and some of the players who have known the club for years – and the discussions we have together help. The atmosphere among the team and staff is very good now. All this will help us this season.
Jetzt 11 Ausgaben kostenlos* abonnieren!
(*jahrliche Bezugskosten nur 18,99 €)