Eleven years into his professional career, one of Mike Hanke's favourite pastimes remains cooking, but it's hobby he tends to pursue alone. He was once written off as an incurable playboy and too much of an egotist for the modern game - despite earning 12 Germany caps up until November 2007 and finished third at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. However, now he has learned the importance of being a team player.
“When I cook, I switch off and relax,” the player told FIFA.com. “Especially if it's been a hard day in training, I like to go out shopping, put myself in the kitchen in the evening, and prepare something for my wife and our two kids. But it's all intuitive, I don't use recipes."
Maturing like a good wine
In his day job, Hanke has undergone nothing short of an incredible transformation since switching from Hannover to Borussia Monchengladbach in January 2011. Almost overnight, the 28-year-old seemed to mature into the finished article, and he is certainly proving more successful at his new club than his old.
Partly thanks to his six goals and four assists so far, Borussia rate as the surprise package of the Bundesliga season, and are currently the chief pursuers of leading duo Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. Die Fohlen are also through to the German Cup semi-finals for the first time in eight years.
The man once dismissed as overly selfish and too obsessed with scoring goals of his own has mutated into a productive team player, who now regards goals as a triumph for the collective. “I no longer go into a match desperate to score. Our success as a team is much more important. I've become much more of a team player and do a lot more work in defence. I really don't care if I come off the field and I’ve only had one shot at goal," the burly striker admitted. "Winning is what matters."
Just a couple of years ago, a statement like that from Hanke would have been near unimaginable. During spells with Schalke, Wolfsburg and most recently Hannover, he became a much-criticised figure – and rightly so, he now accepts.
“All that mattered to me was scoring goals. Back then, if I went three or four matches without a goal, I lost my cool, I started doubting myself and let the pressure get to me," the amiable front-man acknowledged. "That was counter-productive. But I'm more mature now and I've changed a lot. Also, I occasionally used to shoot my mouth off to the media without thinking first. That was unprofessional."
Favre, a man of good taste
Things have looked up in many ways since the former Germany international arrived in Monchengladbach, largely due to head coach Lucien Favre taking the player under his wing. The experienced Swiss boss spotted unexplored potential, and has slowly but surely teased it out to great effect.
“First and foremost, I was playing regularly again. On top of that, the coach has worked to build up strengths which I didn't recognise before. In the past, I was purely a penalty-box player, but now I spend a lot more time in midfield," the striker, originating from Hamm, explained.
The Mike Hanke of today has truly left behind the Mike Hanke of the past. This is demonstrated in the way he reacts to a statistic which is not, at first sight, a positive, having been substituted 17 times already this season – more than any other Bundesliga player. He brushes it aside with a quip and a smile.
“It's because I cover as much ground in 70 or 80 minutes as the others do in 90 minutes. If I've really pushed myself, I’m totally fine with fresh legs taking over. I've even been known to give the signal myself when I notice I've run out of steam."
Hanke and Die Fohlen on a roll
Not covering the full 90 minutes on several occasions has hardly affected the player’s overall performances. Statistically speaking, it is Hanke’s best season in four years, while Borussia last did this well way back in 1995/96, when the club from the very west of Germany finished fourth.
Hanke offered his opinion as to the five-time German champions’ scintillating form: “We've succeeded in carrying over our momentum from last season. Winning the relegation play-off and not going down unleashed a wave of euphoria.
"Everyone at the club, the fans and the players have all been caught up by that. We've steadily improved, we’re very solid in defence and we play great attacking football. And we’ve started doing things automatically which are working out almost perfectly on the field,".
Germany comeback not ruled out
Hanke’s transformation has not gone unnoticed by Germany coach Joachim Low, who explicitly praised the player in a recent interview for “coming along very well". The striker has always been a positive player and a committed professional who never gives up, the coach commented. “He's worked very hard and he deserves to be back in the spotlight." It has not quite been enough for an unlikely comeback to the national squad, but Hanke admitted he has not entirely given up on the national team yet.
“Obviously, it's still a dream come true when you play for the national team. I'd be proud, and I'd be utterly thrilled by a call-up," said Hanke. "But I'm not letting the idea I might be part of the national set-up again get to me. I don’t want to think about it too closely, because the disappointment would otherwise be too great. I'm concentrating on continuing to perform for my club. If it works out for me and I go to the EURO, I'd be even more delighted.”
With that, Mike headed off to his car. On being asked “what are you cooking tonight?", he turned round, adopted his trademark cheeky grin and said: “I'm going out for dinner tonight." Bon appetit from FIFA.com!