The lone fighter. That’s how I have always defined the role of a goalkeeper.
You train separately, you warm up separately, you are fighting for just one spot and then if you make a mistake, you’re quickly the idiot. It does mean that you are a bit lonely sometimes, but I enjoy that challenge and I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.
It’s such an important part of the team and I like that you don’t need to be a showman to play there, you don’t need to be flashy like a forward or a midfielder. That’s just not my style. For me, the effective game counts. I do not need to jump through the box. For me, it counts that I hold the ball. Besides, I do not like running!
I used to do a lot of running back when I was a midfielder. I played outfield until I was about nine or 10 years old. But then one day the goalkeeper from my hometown club didn’t come to one game, so the coach asked who wanted to be the goalkeeper. I said to them, ‘I want to try’ and I was very good. Then my parents bought me some gloves and I never wanted to leave the goal after that.
Those were the days when I was playing for my local team. I grew up in Bietigheim-Bissingen. It’s a small town in the south of Germany, near Stuttgart. I lived there until I was 19, living with my mother, father and brother. Football was very important for my family, for my brother and for me it was our life. We always wanted to play football, to have the ball next to us.
When I was six years old in Bietigheim-Bissingen, I can remember every game there. In fact, I still go to play football there with my friends on holidays. The pitch is so bad but it doesn’t matter how bad the pitch is when you’re with friends, it’s just fun being with them, playing football and enjoying the time.
SV Germania Bietigheim was the club where I was born and I still have friends who play there. Maybe after my career I can play there again. I will never forget it.
I wanted to push myself to see how high I could go, though, so when I was 11 I went to the VfB youth trials, where every player could stop by and prove himself. It was a big day with maybe 100 or 200 young players who wanted to move to Stuttgart. In the end, there were only five or six players and I was very happy to be one of these players. After three training sessions, I convinced the coaches and was allowed to play for VfB from 2003 to 2011.
It was at Stuttgart that I first met Jens Lehmann. When I was a child, Iker Casillas was always my idol but there was something about the way that Jens worked. I watched so many of his training sessions and even had some training sessions with him when I was about 16 or 17 years old. He would have been about 40 back then but for me, it was still very exciting.
I remember idolising him and Timo Hildebrand too, but seeing Jens close up was something else. He was so concentrated, so professional and that’s the mentality that you need as a professional goalkeeper. I enjoyed training with him because he was so good, so experienced and gave me many, many tips on how to improve.
After two years in the German third division with VfB’s second team, I moved to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. Of course that was very exciting for me because I was only 19 at the time and just three days after joining them, I played my first Bundesliga game. Then after three weeks I had made my Champions League debut against Chelsea.
That was back in 2011 and Petr was actually playing for Chelsea at the time. After the game, he said to me that it was a good game for me and that he was pleased and excited for me, too. He didn’t need to say those things but I really appreciated it. That was seven years ago and now we are together at Arsenal – it’s crazy!
I was at Leverkusen for seven years and making the step up to top-flight football was really hard at first because I had gone from the German third tier to the Bundesliga, and then straight into the Champions League.
Because of that, life at Leverkusen was very different to how it was at VfB. They had so many more fans, lots more quality and a lot more pressure. But I did a good job from the beginning and that was very good for my self-confidence, which is very important for a goalkeeper. It was a good start and that made it much easier for me to settle in.
I loved my time at Leverkusen and I was living my dream. I had played for Germany too and to be honest I didn’t think things could get much better, but then I found out that Arsenal were interested in me. I was very excited and very nervous too because Arsenal is such a big club with a big history and great fans.
Playing in the Premier League was a very exciting prospect for me too, and fortunately I already knew a few of the players. I’ve known Musti for about 10 or 11 years because we grew up together in the youth national teams, the under-17s through to the under-21s. I had played with Mesut for Die Mannschaft too, and I also knew Granit, Auba and Micki from the Bundesliga, so it’s funny to see us all together at Arsenal now.
Before I made my decision I talked to Musti and Mesut about it a lot. They both said that Arsenal is a big club and that I would love it here. I talked with my brother, my parents and my girlfriend, and they were all very excited for me. It was clear that I had to sign for Arsenal.
Things have started well here and everyone’s been very welcoming. I think we had a great pre-season and I’ve really enjoyed working with Petr. He’s a big personality with a lot of experience and he’s also a very good guy. I’ve got a lot of experience too, of course, but he has much more so I can learn from him. The most important thing is that we have fun together and we push each other. We are respectful to each other and I think we still have fun.
It’s very good here, the way we work. The coaches do a good job and the staff are very nice. The team was very welcoming from the beginning, so I like it here. I want to play, I want to be the No 1 for the coach and I just want to improve for myself. At the end of the season, we want to get back into the Champions League of course, and then hopefully win a trophy in the process.
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