Long considered one of the most exciting young talents in German football, Julian Draxler’s ability is now known worldwide, with players such as Raul and Kevin-Prince Boateng among the 19-year-old’s highest-profile admirers. Draxler’s pace, touch and determination are chief among a long list of attributes that look set to propel him to the top of the game.
Numerous foreign clubs offered lucrative deals in an effort to lure the midfielder away from Germany last summer, but Draxler opted to stay put, eager to continue his development at Schalke. FIFA.com spoke to the six-time Germany international about handling pressure and responsibility, as well as his career aims and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: Your new team-mate Kevin-Prince Boateng recently described you as the best player of your age. Your former colleague Raul was also full of praise for you. What do you make of their comments?
Draxler: I haven’t heard that about Kevin, but if that’s what he said then it makes me very proud. However, as nice as that is, I still need to perform. If at some point even more people say similar things, then maybe I’ll be on the right track.
How do you evaluate your development so far? Who has been most influential in shaping your career?
There are lots of opportunities in Germany. I was lucky to go to a great youth academy at Schalke, but my early training in the Westphalia [state] side or in the Germany youth set-up also helped a lot, as they have fantastic coaches and staff. However, you can’t forget that, ultimately, you have to take responsibility for yourself and you have to go the extra mile on your own in order to improve. I believe it was a combination of my ambition and good coaching.
Where did you get your shooting ability from?
[Laughs] My thighs aren’t even that big. I’ve just practiced a lot. It’s something I did when I was younger in my village team and even as a professional I’ve never stopped working on it. I’m actually still not completely happy with my shooting, which is why I keep on practicing. It’s definitely one of my main weapons though.
My personal aim is easy: just being there would be incredible. Germany have a great team and we’ve been waiting for a title for a long time now.
Do you have a stronger foot?
My right foot is a bit stronger, but you can’t just use one foot in today’s game - you have to be able to use both.
This summer you had several lucrative offers from abroad. What made you stay at Schalke?
The World Cup’s at the end of the season and you always need time to get used to a new team. On top of that, I’m convinced I’m at the right club with Schalke. We haven’t had a great start to the campaign and I was a bit disappointed after the first few games, but I think we took another important step forward after signing Kevin-Prince Boateng. We’ve got a strong team.
Now that Boateng has joined you are likely to move out to the wing again. How do you feel about that? What is your preferred position?
I like to play as a No10, but I’ve noticed that opponents have started paying special attention to me there. That’s why I think it’s good that defences will have to keep an eye on Kevin now too. I won’t be sticking to the touchline on the left wing and I’ve already spoken to Kevin and the coach about the possibilities of mixing things up.
The No10 of old who would just distribute the ball is virtually non-existent today, as much more tactical know-how is required. How do you think the position has changed?
First of all they have to help out a lot in defence and can’t just wait for the ball to come to them. They have to do what’s good for the team. That game’s become too fast for one player to be able to take a step back. But you can tell by watching Mesut [Ozil] that awareness is very important. That’s always been the case and it always will be. Even though the game’s faster, the basic principles will remain the same.
What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?
My directness going forward and that I’m dangerous in front of goal, especially coming from a central position; those are my strengths. I’d say my weaknesses are maybe that I still don’t have the awareness in every area of the pitch: I need to recognise and assess certain situations more quickly. But if I was the finished article aged 19 something wouldn’t be right. That’s why I’m not putting myself under too much pressure, I just stay calm and try to keep improving.
Who are your role models?
Raul is certainly one of them, not just because he was such an amazing footballer, but also because I got to know and like him as a person. Apart from him, I’ve always been a huge fan of Zinedine Zidane, the Fenomeno Ronaldo and Rivaldo too. They were at their peak a while ago now, but I still enjoy watching videos of them on YouTube.
How did you cope combining playing football with doing your Abitur [Germany’s university entrance exams]?
It was a difficult time back then, but with hindsight I’m glad I did it as I think it will open up a lot of opportunities for me after my playing career. At the moment I’m fully focused on football and don’t have any big plans for when I retire, but it’s nice to know I’ve got something to fall back on. I wouldn’t mind studying sports management at university then. Combining the two things was a challenging time, but I think I managed it well.
What are your aims for the coming season? A place in the starting line-up in the national team?
I wouldn’t go that far. I want to be in the first team with my club and take on more responsibility. That’s the only way I can play myself into contention for the national team. I’m happy with every chance I get to play and I’m trying to show the national coach what I can do.
What position do you think would best suit you in the national side?
That’s hard to say. The competition for places is so tough and we have a lot of players, myself included, who can play in different positions. I can play in the middle, on the left or on the right. In the end it’s up to the coach to decide where he can use me best.
Germany have almost qualified for next year’s FIFA World Cup. Have you started thinking about Brazil yet?
That comes up a lot and of course I’d love to be there. I’m sure Germany will qualify. This year I’ll be working towards going there, as it would be something special to play at a World Cup, it’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a kid. However, first I have to play well for my club, then I can start dreaming about Brazil.
How far can Germany go in Brazil? What is your personal aim at the FIFA World Cup?
My personal aim is easy: just being there would be incredible. Germany have a great team and we’ve been waiting for a title for a long time now. It won’t be easy to win it in Brazil, especially with the climate that’s likely to suit South American teams better. It’s not like we don’t have a chance, I just wouldn’t call us the outright favourites to win it.
Who do you think are the favourites?
Brazil are definitely among them after winning the Confederations Cup, and Argentina probably won’t have any problems with the weather. And then there are the usual suspects: Spain, Italy and us of course.
What are you expecting from Brazil as a country?
Everyone talks about the great weather and nice beaches, but I’ve also heard about the current political situation. I think it’ll be a great host nation because football’s so important there and the people will create a positive atmosphere, just like at Germany 2006.
What are your thoughts on playing against Austria?
We’ve struggled against Austria recently, but we’re all really motivated because we want to secure our ticket to Brazil in front of our own fans. I think we can expect to see the team put in a good performance.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
That’s hard to say, I’m no fortune teller. If I could wish for something then it’d be the usual things: for my family and myself to be healthy and for me to achieve all of my aims as a player. Perhaps when I’m 29 I’ll be able to say I’m playing in one of the best teams in Europe and am satisfied with my career.