Bischof: ''My inner-circle treats me the same as before''
Tom, you've competed in a few competitive matches so far this year, occasionally making it into the starting XI. Did you ever imagine that things would work out so well for you?
''Preseason went really well, I put in some strong performances in the friendly games. For me, the most important thing was enjoying my football. To then be able to gain so much trust from those first few games was obviously a real boost. I just want to play for this team. I can certainly get used to starting games in the Bundesliga.'' (laughs)
You were named in the starting line-up for the first time in the first competitive match of the year, away to Union Berlin. Did your teammates have a word with you before the game?
"The whole team came to me after the line-up was announced and offered me encouragement. Even Munas Dabbur and Andrej Kramarić, who had to sit on the bench, said that I should go out there and do my thing and perform like I did in preseason. That gives you a huge push as a young player."
Give us a sense of your emotional state as you stepped out onto the pitch...
"It's quite different when you come onto the pitch, the anthem is playing and all the fans are there ready for the game to start. I already had goose bumps, but when the whistle blew, everything was gone and I was able to block out all the noise. Fortunately, I didn't put any pressure on myself and didn't feel any nervousness. It felt just like a friendly match. I didn't really appreciate how loud it was until after I was substituted, that's when it hit me.''
You trained with the senior squad for the first time at the age of 16 and have now become a permanent fixture in the team. How did you get to this point?
"As a young player, you first have to earn the trust of the coaching team and your teammates. Of course, the first part of that is performing well in training. But I have received a lot of support here right from the get-go. It also helps me a lot when my teammates push me and give me advice on different aspects.''
When did you first realise that you'd got used to the level in the Bundesliga?
"Four months ago, I still spent a lot of time thinking about whether I would be included in the squad and hoping that I would see at least a small amount of playing time. Now I'm thinking about whether I'll be in the starting line-up. I'm no longer just coming on for the last few minutes, I'm playing more and more and people think I have an important role to play in the team. That's a big step-up, and it happened pretty quickly. I can't say I expected that. I noticed in the video sessions with our coaching team that I'm now making much better use of my body. I've taken a step up physically and play more mature football."
How important was it that you improved your physicality?
''I think this has been the most important element. It means I can impose myself better and work space to get off shots. The game as a whole has become easier. But obviously I still have room for improvement.''
How did you build your physique up to this level?
''I've been working with a personal fitness trainer for two years now. To begin with, the focus was less on working with weights and more on stabilising my body. I see these workouts as the perfect complement to sessions with the team, and it means I can get the best out of my body. In the meantime, I am now reaching the point where I do more work with weights and feel that I have become stronger. The additional training two to three times a week really helps me a lot.''
Daily training and extra sessions in the weight room while your friends are still at school or work. As a professional footballer, you certainly don't lead the life of an ordinary 17-year-old...
"I often get asked by my friends if I want to go out in the evening and party with them. But during the season and especially at the weekend, when we have a game, that's just not possible. But I cope with it well. I'm living my dream, and for that I'm happy to forego things that most 17-year-olds do. As a young player, I always have to deliver more than the others in training, so I can't afford not to be in top shape. It's not like I'm never allowed to do anything. I just have to choose the right days for it." (laughs)
Has your circle of friends changed through football?
"Of course I'm making new friends, and I get on really well with the boys from the U19s. I also get along great with the first team, but obviously their interests are different. A 32-year-old family man doesn't necessarily want to spend his free time with a 17-year-old. I'm not going to kid myself, that's completely normal."
What do your non-football friends do?
"One pal is currently doing his apprenticeship to become a bricklayer. He also does food delivery and works in a test centre. It's amazing how much he manages to do. My best friend is graduating from high school this year and wants to study afterwards. As footballers, we also have to put in long hard hours in training, but of course I appreciate the privilege I have."
How important do you think it is to talk about things beyond your career as a professional footballer?
"Of course they are football fans, and we talk about my games. It's important for me to hear what they have to say. Still, it's good when we talk about them too, and I'm not always the focus. If I only have football on my mind all the time, then I can't perform at my best. I need a little variety. It's important for me to leave the football world sometimes, and I'm very grateful to my family and my closest friends for that. They are the people who help ground me sometimes. For my two grandmothers, for example, I will always be little Tom. No matter whether I'm a professional footballer or a bricklayer. I love talking to them and I always enjoy seeing them. My inner-circle treats me the same as before. That's very important to me."
It seems like you feel very connected to home...
"My home, my circle of friends, my family - these are important parts of my life. In the past, when there were transfer rumours floating around, all of that played a big role in my decision-making. I thought several times about whether I wanted to move away from everything. I feel very comfortable at the club and my family stay just over an hour away. My friends and family will always be my sanctuary."
You currently live with your mum in Wiesloch. How does that work out?
''Well, sometimes I'm grateful when I can get time to myself. (laughs) But I'm incredibly grateful both to her and my father, who lives in our house in Amorbach. They always supported me right from the first moment and made a lot of sacrifices for me.''
The fact that you still live with your mother is not the only everyday aspect of your life that is atypical for a professional footballer...
"I'm not allowed to drive by myself yet, so my mum always sits in the passenger seat and then comes to pick me up after training. Obviously the lads always give me a bit of stick for it in the dressing room, but I'm fine with that. Even if the car rides are sometimes exhausting." (laughs)
''I'm sure a lot of people say this about their parents, but my mum wasn't the easiest of passengers, certainly not to begin with. On the first few journeys she was always over-cautious, panicky almost. Once I annoyed her when I was parking, so she grabbed the steering wheel. But it's much better now." (laughs)
Given your young age, do you ever find yourself in situations within the team that apply only to you?
"Whenever it comes to medication or treatment, I have to get my parents' signature as well. I often feel like a child, but that's the way it is. I don't have any problems with that. After my 18th birthday in June, I will be able to decide a lot of things on my own.''
Do you plan to move out after your 18th birthday?
''Of course I am looking forward to living alone, as much as I like my parents. However, there are many things I am grateful for that I will miss. I'm not a good cook and my mum's food tastes amazing. She also makes sure that I get enough sleep. So sometimes I have to listen to her telling me to go to bed at 11, even though I don't want to."
Just between us, do you really do as she tells you?
"A year and a bit ago, I actually had to hand over my phone before I went to sleep because she knew that otherwise I would spend even more time on it. Of course, sometimes I grumble and don't understand the reasoning, but I always appreciate it the next day. I need sleep to be able to perform at my best on the pitch. I'm still a bit naive about some things like that."
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