Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is regarded by his Schalke team-mates as a witty character and something of a prankster. Interviewed exclusively by FIFA.com, the Netherlands striker certainly lived up to his reputation, although he is perfectly capable of a seriousness when the subject demands.
The 28-year-old, who is nicknamed 'Hunter', was in relaxed and cheerful mood as he spoke extensively about his career, his close relationship with his father, the secret behind his goalscoring success, and his professional targets with Die Königsblauen and the Oranje.
FIFA.com: Klaas-Jan, you started scoring goals as a kid with VV Hummelo & Keppel. Did you always want to become a professional footballer?
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar: I never really doubted I'd make it as a pro at some point, because it was the only thing I wanted ever since I was little. Right from the start, everything I did was aimed at fulfilling my goal, and I never deviated from my chosen course. Thanks to the support of my family and friends, I ultimately succeeded in being able to live well from football.
You first signed pro forms in Eindhoven. What were your personal goals at the time?
As a kid, I was desperate to play for Ajax in Amsterdam. That was my greatest dream, but as it turned out, I became a professional with PSV of all clubs, Ajax’s biggest rivals (laughs). However, I've always stayed true to myself. I ended up at Ajax by a roundabout route, and I seized my chance once I was there.
The ‘roundabout route’ was Heerenveen, where you first came to European attention, and where you were christened 'Hunter'. What do you think of your nickname?
There are much worse nicknames (laughs). I like Hunter, but it means nothing more to me than a name. It's what happens in football. All I want is to score goals, enjoy playing and be successful. The only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch. Everything else is a pleasant distraction but unimportant.
Your spells with Real Madrid and AC Milan were, relatively speaking, a bit of a letdown. Would you do it all over again?
You always know better with the benefit of hindsight, but you still don't know what the alternatives would have been. Real Madrid is a fantastic club. I really liked their attacking play, and I felt the club played very good football. I appreciated that. Italian football is a bit different, but it has its good points too. As people sometimes say, every rose has thorns.
A number of pundits thought that you'd prick your finger on your newest ‘rose’ when you switched to Schalke in 2010. At first glance, it appeared to be a step backwards, but it's started to look like a very good decision...
There's no way joining Schalke was a step backwards. The club is always there or thereabouts at the top in Germany and after my spell with AC Milan, the transfer was a step in the right direction, especially because I was picked to play in my favoured position of centre-forward at long last.
Immediately after your arrival, you started scoring at will. Leaving aside returning to your favourite position, what contribution to your excellent form is the proximity to your place of birth in Drempt, a long, long way from all the distractions in Madrid and Milan?
I had no problem with the glamorous lifestyle in Madrid and Milan. My wife and I had a great time in Spain, where our first child was born. Now we're living in our house in the Netherlands, and I'm able to concentrate on football even more.
Family is clearly very important to you. You already have two children, but you're also known for an extremely close relationship with your father. Is it true that he still drives you to training?
That's right, my dad drives me to Schalke two or three times a week. It's a bit like when I was a youth. We talk about my form and football in general. He's helped me enormously to become the person I am today. My family is very important to me and strongly affects my performance. The situation with Schalke being so near to our home is ideal.
The situation with your club is also close to ideal, as Schalke are right in the thick of things at the top of the Bundesliga along with Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach. What can Schalke achieve this season?
We want to stay right up at the top for a very long time. The title won't be decided until the last four matches, and our aim is to keep pace with Dortmund and Bayern up until that point.
It's all in your own hands, or to be more precise, your feet. You’re having a very good campaign, with an impressive 27 goals in 29 matches. How would you review the season so far?
I'll keep trying to score goals. I always give everything out on the field and I focus on taking my chances. However, what matters is a victory for the team, and I really don't care whether I contribute a goal or an assist to that. The decisive thing is that we work together, and then individual success follows automatically.
Your team-mate Lewis Holtby once said you'd keep scoring even if they removed your head. What's the secret of your success?
Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day! Seriously, I try to concentrate totally and exclusively on every situation which occurs in a match, and extract the maximum from it. If I see a gap in the defence, I try to take the ball towards goal. Depending on how the chance opens up, I take different decisions aimed at achieving the greatest success.
Your team-mates at Schalke describe you as a witty guy who likes a joke and a prank. Is that a fair assessment?
I'm a jolly character, that's true. For all the focus and pressure, it's really important to me to enjoy my football, and my life away from the game. That's how I deliver my best performances.
Some of your best recent performances have come for the Netherlands, who you also helped to the runners-up spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Was that simultaneously a great success and a desperate disappointment?
Definitely. We went a very long way, and our victory over Brazil was very special indeed. You're always gutted when you lose a final, although for me personally, I'd have liked to make a bigger contribution to the team's success. It didn't work out unfortunately, so looking back on it now, I'm a touch disappointed.
However, after the FIFA World Cup, you emerged as the goalscoring star of qualifying for EURO 2012. What’s your role in the national team nowadays?
I've played a lot recently and we had a great qualifying campaign as a team. I managed to set a new scoring record, and that was fantastic. We'll try and carry on from there. Our last friendly against Germany was disappointing (a 3-0 loss in November), but the build-up to the EURO only starts for real now.
You face Germany again in the group stage. Meetings with the Germans are always special for Dutch players, but is it even a little bit more special due to the fact you play in the Bundesliga?
Obviously, it will be a very special game for me, because I know all the German players from the Bundesliga. Playing Germany at the tournament will be great, and I'm looking forward to it. At Schalke, we're winding each other up about it a little bit already (laughs).
You also play Denmark, opponents who you know from South Africa, where you beat them.
It wasn't easy against Denmark at the World Cup. We only took the lead due to an own-goal. They have a good team with great individuals like Christian Eriksen, Simon Kjaer and Nicklas Bendtner. They’re all playing at a very high level and their qualifying campaign showed they shouldn't be underestimated, as they beat Portugal to a qualifying place.
Your final group-stage opponents are the aforementioned Portugal, who boast your former team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe. How do you rate the Portuguese?
Pepe and Ronaldo are great players. They have the mentality you need to take a game by the scruff of the neck, as you see all the time when they play for Madrid. We don't have much of a record against the Portuguese, as we lost to them at EURO 2004 and the World Cup in 2006. We want that to change this year.
Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are the big favourites to win EURO 2012. Being very honest, who do you think will win the trophy?
In my opinion, Spain are the favourites. They've won the last two major tournaments, and they have the best midfield in the world. That makes them first in line for the European title, and they’re the team to beat.
Which other nations could upset the big three this summer?
I think Poland could surprise a few people, although I don't think they can win the trophy. The hosts always have a certain advantage over the other contenders. And maybe the Italians - there's a lot of fresh blood in their squad and they're coming along very well.