Wednesday 10 November 2021, 01:00

Mbabu: This is the best Switzerland ever

  • Switzerland are battling Italy for the top spot in Group C

  • Kevin Mbabu believes this is currently the best Nati of all time

  • The full-back reveals his fitness secret

"I was a very active child,” said Kevin Mbabu. “I just had too much energy and my mum wanted me to wear myself out more during the day, so she called up a lot of football clubs in Geneva.” As he was just four at the time, however, most of them turned him down for being too young: “FC Servette were the only ones who said I could train with them anyway. I just wasn’t allowed to play in any games.” It was a decision the Geneva-based club would not regret. Mbabu has since established himself as a Switzerland international at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, and the jet-heeled 26-year-old full-back is part of the squad that will face Italy and Bulgaria in their upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifiers. Switzerland’s last two matches will determine whether or not they finish top of their group and thereby secure automatic qualification caught up with Mbabu to discuss the Nati and the crunch showdown in Rome.

Northern Ireland66-2
Lithuania73-14 Top spot in the group is at stake in the qualifier against Italy. The reverse fixture ended in a goalless draw, while Italy won 3-0 at EURO 2020. How do you feel approaching the match? Mbabu: It’s a final, and that’s the attitude were going into the game with. The defeat at the EURO is still fresh in our memory and we’re determined to make amends, because that result doesn’t reflect the way we’re able to perform. That wasn’t us. That hurt our pride and we want to show how good we really are. You mentioned Switzerland’s quality. Some observers believe this is the best Nati of all time. What’s your view on that? Yes, I think in terms of quality this is currently the best Nati ever. At the EURO we demonstrated in no uncertain terms what we’re capable of. We beat France and only narrowly lost to Spain. We showed that even though we’re a small country, we can achieve big things.

What do you think makes the team so strong? We’re a very good team with the ball. We have more possession than our opponents in most of our games. On top of that, we have players who have that little extra something and can decide a game by themselves. I’m thinking primarily of Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka there. In Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi, we’ve also got two players in defence who can keep things tight, and then Yann Sommer is a brilliant goalkeeper in case the other team do manage to break though. The best defensive records of the UEFA World Cup qualifiers: 1. Denmark – 8 games, 0 goals conceded 2. Italy – 6 games, 1 goal conceded 2. Switzerland – 6 games, 1 goal conceded 3. Germany – 8 games, 3 goals conceded 3. England – 8 games, 3 goals conceded 3. Croatia – 8 games, 3 goals conceded Murat Yakin took over from Vladimir Petkovic after the EURO. What has the new head coach changed? We’ve done a lot of work on tactics, especially focusing on the balance between defence and attack. We always want to be active and our aim is to score as many goals as possible. Our coach always encourages us to only go forward, and for me as a full-back in particular I need to constantly make runs behind the defence. Does that suit your style of play? Yes, as a quick player who likes to run a lot, it suits me down to the ground. But it’s also really tough. After all, I’m supposed to sprint up and down the wing the whole time (laughs).

That doesn’t surprise us given that you are one of the fastest full-backs in the FIFA 2022 video game. Are you aware of that? And do you play video games? (Laughs) Yes, I’m aware of that. I’m asked about that quite a lot. I don’t play video games very much anymore, but there was a time when I did. It makes me proud to have such a good card in the game. But there’s also a certain pressure that comes with that because I want to show that I’m that good in real life too.” How do you stay in such good physical shape that you are both quick and have good stamina? I met a physiotherapist when I went to England as a youngster. He still accompanies me here in Germany. He taught me a lot of things and I changed a lot of things in my life. I pay much more attention to my body and I changed my diet. I’ve never liked vegetables (laughs), but now I’ve got a lot of recipes that I like with them. I also drink plenty of water and make sure I get enough sleep. After your experience at UEFA EURO 2020, what would qualifying for the World Cup next year mean to you? A great deal. As a kid I always dreamed of playing at a World Cup with Switzerland. We’ll do everything we can to be in Qatar. Looking back, who were - or still are - your role models? As a kid I always followed Paolo Maldini particularly closely. I also admired Ronaldinho. Dani Alves is still my role model today. The way he interpreted the role of a full-back and executed it on the pitch was brilliant.