rmany take on Argentina in Emmen in their third group game of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005, the spotlight will be on a player who has emerged as a rising star in the Bundesliga in recent months. All the talk is about 19-year-old Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Marcell Jansen, who is viewed as one of the most promising young talents in German football.
Potential on tap
Open, friendly and level-headed, the lanky young man (he stands 1.91 metres tall in his socks) believes that this German team can make a splash later on in the tournament. Jansen says: "In each of the first two games we played too passively in the first half and performed well below our best. But in the closing stages against the USA we showed what we are capable of, and what strength and fitness we possess." He argues that the failure of the German team to fire on all cylinders is down to a number of factors: "We have several injured players, and we are still finding our feet as a team."
However, Jansen is optimistic. "We certainly have the potential to mix it with the best," he says. "Many of our team already have played in the first or second division of the Bundesliga. We have experienced players, and also technical ability, even though people often deny this. He says of the rival teams in the tournament: "We already knew before we arrived that the other sides here would be very strong. Almost all the teams are at the same level. For example, the Netherlands were quite clearly better against Japan, but it could easily have ended up 2-2. That's where you see that as well as form on the day, you also need a pinch of luck."
Whenever he has the time, Jansen turns into a TV addict. "I have already watched the Netherlands, Italy and Colombia play," he says. "It's not just here - as a rule I watch everything on television that's to do with football." The hosts and Colombia are the teams that have impressed him during the tournament so far. "If we play well against Argentina, I think we will be well placed," Jansen says. "From then on every game is like a final." Despite the long Bundesliga season, the Mönchengladbach youngster feels he has risen to the physical and mental challenges of the tournament. "It's not easy," he acknowledges, "but with the right attitude you get there. We have perfect conditions here and we're not training too hard." Jansen shows the strength of his ambition as he adds: "For the past three years I haven't managed much of a holiday, but that's something you have to accept if you want to get to the top."
Right now he is fully focused on the FIFA World Youth Championship. "I want to take things step by step and concentrate first on fulfilling my immediate goals," he says. "I prepare myself for each game and try to play as well as possible, both individually and within the team. First comes the world championship, followed by 10 or 14 days to recover, and then I want to cement my position as a first-team regular with Gladbach." The medium-term aim is also clear: "Of course I want at some point to become a senior international. To be at the 2006 World Cup would be a dream, but it's all about gaining experience to prepare you for bigger challenges."
A gesture of confidence
Mönchengladbach has given him a contract running until 2008, a gesture that Jansen deeply appreciates. "I have been playing there since junior level, and I know the club inside and out. We are now in a period of change, with a new stadium and a new leadership. My contract is a gesture of confidence." To be regarded as one of the top up and coming talents does not bother him: "It inspires me rather than putting me under pressure. People know what kind of player I am. They want 100 per cent commitment. I know from my time in the youth ranks that good times will inevitably be followed by bad ones. What you get out of it depends on how you deal with it."
When Jansen says health is the most important thing, it is not just a glib expression, for when he was young he had to deal with severe growing problems. "I grew too fast in a short space of time," he says. "I had back pains, a broken tibia, a torn ligament in my right leg, a double torn ligament in my left that had to be operated on - I was always starting again from scratch." The young man says it is down to his parents that he never slipped into a black hole. "Each time, my mother and father gave me reassurance. I have my father to thank for the fact that I am here today. He carried out special training with me, so that despite my height and all the problems I never lost my speed."
My father the critic
Father Michel, who himself used to play for Borussia Mönchengladbach as an amateur, actively supports his son. "He is my toughest critic," says Jansen. "He never hides his opinion and always tells you the truth, whether it's positive or negative. He was a really good footballer himself, and taught me quite a bit when I was young. My father's opinion is always important to me - even today he's always the first person I call after the game."
As a dyed-in-the-wool Mönchengladbach native, Jansen could only follow one team. "I have lived and grown up with Gladbach," he says. "When I was a child the only things in my life were school and Gladbach. We have marvellous fans there - between 5,000 and 7,000 of them travel to every away game," says Jansen, whose friends in the team include veteran US keeper Kasey Keller.
One of his biggest dreams is eventually to play in England. "I like the way football is played there. There are no frills in the game, and the fans are very fair-minded. Right now I like Chelsea very much, but all English teams from the top down to 10th place impress me."