After switching Philipp Lahm from the left to the right side of defence for Germany, national coach Joachim Low and his staff have been casting around for an adequate replacement at left-back. One candidate who has recently been pressing his claims to great effect is Marcel Schmelzer.
The 25-year-old plays at left-back for German double winners Borussia Dortmund and currently looks the obvious choice for the vacant slot in the three-time FIFA World Cup™ winners’ back four. Schmelle, as the man capped nine times by his country is known to his team-mates and coaches, starred as Dortmund roared to back-to-back Bundesliga titles and also beat the mighty Bayern to the German Cup last season. He has been no less convincing for his country.
Ahead of the UEFA Champions League first knockout round return between Borussia and Shakhtar Donetsk, Schmelzer spoke to FIFA.com about his club, pressure in the national team, and his dream of featuring at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
FIFA.com: You’ve spent almost eight seasons at Dortmund. What does the club mean to you nowadays?
Marcel Schmelzer: Even when I was a boy, BVB was my favourite club. Ever since I moved to the city and started playing for Dortmund, my relationship with the club has obviously become even stronger. That's shown by the fact I've extended my contract through to 2017. I feel really great here.
In 2008, you came in as the successor to Dortmund idol Dede. Was it tough settling into the first team?
Once I had the first few training sessions with the senior squad behind me, I didn't think once about following in Dede’s footsteps. I was just delighted to be part of it, and grateful to the coaching staff for giving me the chance to show what I could do. All I wanted was to give a good account of myself. Obviously, the fact that Dede almost immediately picked up a serious long-term injury was a bonus for my career, but there was no way I was pleased about the situation back then. After that, what I expected of myself grew and grew with every passing match, because you always want to achieve more. Now I'm happy to be a regular in this team.
Yours is one of the first names on the Dortmund team sheet these days. How would you describe your role in the dressing room?
I think we have three types of player in the team. First, the three captains, Sebastian Kehl, Roman Weidenfeller and Mats Hummels. They take charge and they’re the big personalities who lead from the front. Marco Reus and Mario Goetze provide the creative solutions, and the rest of us are simply hard workers. I'm personally one of the workers because I'm basically stronger in defence than attack.
Despite your relative youth, you've already gained plenty of experience on the domestic and international stage. How much of a leader are you already?
Obviously it’s a different feeling when you’re out on the field giving instructions to your team-mates. That was definitely not the case at the start of my career. But in any case, I'm not the kind of guy to raise my voice.
Success has clearly not hurt you, as the last three seasons with Dortmund have been highly productive and trophy-laden. How much do achievements like this mean to you personally?
Championships and cup triumphs are remembered forever. Trophies are your reward for the hard work you put in all year round, so winning titles is what drives me on. But you still have to take it step-by-step, just as we've always done as a group.
Realistically, you have one shot at a trophy this season, as you're in the Champions League Round of 16 and drew 2-2 away to Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg. What’s your assessment of the match in Ukraine?
I think we put on a good show in Donetsk, but we let ourselves down with the kind of errors that are immediately punished at this level. We could have taken more from the game, although when you look at the match as a whole, we can be satisfied with the draw because it’s put us in a good position.
You're at home for the decisive return. What kind of match are you expecting?
I think a number of the Donetsk players were surprised at our bold approach. I don't think they thought it would be as tough for them. The first leg means Donetsk will show us more respect. As I say, our going-in position is good, but we're talking about a Champions League meeting between two top teams. I hope it ends positively for us.
Dortmund last won Europe's elite club competition in 1997. Do you sense an expectation that you might be good enough to repeat the triumph this season?
We're delighted about proving to our last remaining critics that we're in a position to mix it in Europe. It was very important to do well in our group with Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax, all of them domestic champions. If we make it to the quarter-finals, we’ll set ourselves a new target.
You've staked a claim to the left-back slot for your national team. Have you benefited from a relative lack of top-quality competition for the position?
In the past, I think it's been difficult for the left-backs to shine when we've been handed a chance. The spotlight was well and truly on us, so there was serious pressure, which hardly makes it easier. Naturally, it's an advantage when there aren't many contenders for a position, although that also serves to up the pressure.
You've coped very well so far. How would you assess your role in the national set-up?
It's always tough to settle into the national team because you’re only ever together for a short time. But in the last couple of years a lot of things have improved. You get to know the other players better, and you take the movement and tactics to heart. We're in very good shape as a team, which is obviously positive for me too.
Qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup has basically gone very well for Germany so far. How would you rate your performances?
Apart from the draw with Sweden, where we carelessly tossed away the win, we can be satisfied. I think we've learned from that experience and we’ll collect the points we need in the remaining matches. Naturally, everyone thinks we’ll stroll away with six points from the double-header with Kazakhstan, but let's not forget the so-called little teams are getting better and better, and you hardly ever see thrashings nowadays. We'll have to maintain our focus, but if we do, it should be enough for two victories.
Brazil 2014 would be your second major tournament after you featured at EURO 2012. How strong is your yearning to go to Brazil?
Obviously, Brazil is my target. Playing at the tournament would be the best thing ever. But before then, we have a few goals with Dortmund, and we're not through qualifying with the national team yet.
Last but not least, Germany have won many admirers in world football over the last few years, but have come up short of a trophy. Can you remedy that in Brazil?
It will all depend on the group draw. I think it would be advisable not to raise our expectations at this stage. It's not helped us recently. I much prefer us working our way to success step by step.