Sommer: I want to be a leader too
Yann Sommer travelled to a major tournament for the first time when he boarded the plane to the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™ with Switzerland two years ago. As expected, being behind Wolfsburg’s Diego Benaglio in the squad’s pecking order meant he did not make a single appearance during the competition.
In an interview with FIFA.com, he explained how much he enjoyed and learned from the experience from his position on the bench. Now, after Benaglio’s retirement from international football, Sommer can look ahead to UEFA EURO 2016 in France this summer as La Nati’s first-choice keeper.
“Needless to say, my status within the team has now changed and people certainly communicate with you more when you’re out there on the pitch,” said the 27-year-old, before flashing a friendly smile. “But I wasn’t sitting on my own in the corner and playing ping pong by myself before. Although the biggest difference now is that I’m out there on the pitch, I also want to become a leader within the team.”
Sommer is convinced that his Brazil 2014 experience will stand him in good stead despite never playing a single minute – but what exactly was it that made the tournament so useful for him? “Although I obviously didn’t get any match practice, I saw what it’s like to be part of the camp at a major competition, learned about the team’s structure and celebrated with them when they won a game," recalled the man from the small town of Morges in the Swiss canton of Vaud. "That’s a great feeling, a professional feeling.
"It may sound banal, but you still make the journey to Brazil, see the people’s excitement, get to know a new country and gain valuable life experience – and afterwards you can always say you were at the World Cup in Brazil.”
Having played for Basel since the age of 14, 2014 was also the year that Sommer headed for the German Bundesliga and Borussia Monchengladbach, where he quickly gained a reputation for being one of the league’s strongest and most consistent goalkeepers. The speed with which the Swiss shot-stopper helped the Gladbach faithful to forget about predecessor Marc-Andre ter Stegen after his move to Barcelona offers further proof of his quality. It is remarkable to note that, in addition to Sommer and Benaglio, Augsburg’s Marwin Hitz and Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Burki take the tally of Swiss number-one goalkeepers in Germany’s top flight to four.
“It’s not clear why so many Swiss players of a similar age have been able to make that leap in the Bundesliga,” said Sommer. “There is some excellent work being done in this area in Switzerland right now. Our national team goalkeeping coach Patrick Foletti is doing a great job and coordinating efforts nationwide.”
Studious Sommer Sommer explained that he learned a great deal from his predecessor Benaglio. “He’s a fantastic character. He was always very easy to get on with and created a great atmosphere in training. He was always extremely relaxed before matches whether his last game had been good or bad. He’s a great guy off the pitch too, an excellent and complete goalkeeper. I learned quite a lot from him in training.”
As the EUROs approach, that responsibility now passes to Sommer, who was loaned out to Vaduz and Grasshoppers during his time with Basel before becoming a regular fixture between the posts at St Jakob Park. “Of course it’s better when you’re out on the pitch yourself, so I’m really looking forward to this tournament,” he explained, before weighing up the challenge posed by Group A rivals Romania, Albania and hosts France. “It’s definitely not an easy group.
"France are one of the tournament favourites, and the first game against Albania will have a real buzz about it as I know plenty of Albanians who have played in Switzerland. Having said all that, we have plenty of quality too, and even the first match will help to determine how far we progress in the competition. It also helps to be a tournament side, which is something Germany do incredibly well.”
A 2-0 defeat by Bosnia and Herzegovina and a 1-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland in their last friendlies in March has somewhat dampened enthusiasm at home. “I think it’s a shame that there isn’t always quite so much support for the national team in Switzerland as there is elsewhere,” Sommer said candidly. “Of course, people are allowed to write that we played badly; we know we were poor in both those matches.
"But in other countries they’ve been looking forward to playing at the EUROs for three or four months now, whereas I haven’t felt any sense of anticipation about the tournament in my homeland. We’ve qualified for a competition, and that’s fantastic. I hope there’s still time for excitement to mount in Switzerland.”
A positive result may well provide the catalyst La Nati need at EURO 2016 - and their custodian knows exactly how his team can light the spark. “We’ll only be successful if we are brave, get stuck in and believe in ourselves, especially against the big sides," he said. "If we do that we can beat them, but we have to come from behind too often.
"Although we usually manage to make up that ground, it’s crucial to take the lead at a tournament, where you don’t get many chances.”
If Sommer and his goalkeeping skills can keep things tight at the back while his colleagues up front provide the goals, it will not be long before EURO euphoria engulfs Switzerland.