Joining the first team is a great moment for every young player. This is my story.
I remember the first day with them at Schalke, where I grew up and played for this huge team. Of course I was nervous because at this time they had big players who I looked up to.
I always believed in myself and my team-mates helped me a lot off the pitch and on the pitch too, so it was easy to be accepted into the team. It was a very, very good time for me because I had a lot of experiences and around those players, I grew up a lot.
When I found out I'd be moving into the first team I was very happy. The reaction of my family was that they were just very proud of me because I started playing football when I was about seven. I gave everything on the pitch, worked hard, to reach my dream.
At the end of the day, I achieved my dream to sign a professional contract for Schalke and everyone was proud. I was really, really happy at this time.
I remember my first time in the first-team dressing room. I was nervous, excited, because it was my first day spending time with all the players - I was very, very quiet and didn't speak a lot in the dressing room.
I wasn't quiet because I was intimidated by the other players or anything like that. It's because my dream had come true at this time. The dressing room feeling was the same as that: I was there but I was just looking in awe like, 'Oh my God, now I am here'.
I knew straight away that I would have to show my quality but my team-mates helped me a lot. I remember Hamit Altintop, Mladen Krstajic, Marcelo Bordon, Lincoln, Kevin Kuranyi, Gerald Asamoah... those people helped me a lot. For me, it was easier to show my potential on the pitch because those players always helped me. They stood behind me so I was just able to enjoy playing football for Schalke.
Sometimes it was difficult for me because I'm the guy who always wants to play to help the team. From a young age, if you start to play for such a big club like Schalke, of course you don't have a lot of first-team minutes to play. I was always giving everything in training and after that, if I wasn't in the match squad or didn't play, the players would always come up to me, show me respect and tell me that I had a lot of quality.
I would like to thank them for all the advice they gave me but the thing that sticks the most is when they would say, 'Be calm, believe in yourself and your time will come'. That really helped me.
If you're playing in the academy teams, of course it's easier because it's less tactical, there's less speed and physicality in the game. It was totally different. So when I played in the Bundesliga, my opponents were really strong and I was always a really skinny guy, so it was tough for me.
If you looked at our defenders in this time, like Bordon and Krstajic, you could see how difficult it was for a skinny guy like me in training. They were so strong. As a young guy, I was nowhere near as strong, so training was very hard at first.
I think my biggest positive is that I have respect but I'm never scared. Even if those players were against me, I would always show my potential because I believe in myself.
Other people started to notice me around that time too but I didn't feel the pressure. Not really. At a younger age, maybe I would feel the pressure, but then I was getting older and getting lots of experience. I knew how to deal with it.
If you're always under pressure or feel as though you're having to deal with pressure, you can't enjoy your life - and that goes for football and your private life. Of course you have to be cool, concentrated and believe in yourself. You also learn to listen to the right people.
My debut was against Frankfurt and it was in Gelsenkirchen, at Schalke's arena. Of course I was excited, nervous, because it was the first time I would play in front like 60,000 or 80,000... something like that. It was very loud and I came on for the last 20 minutes. I was excited and really happy but the game finished 1-1, so it wasn't the best day for us!
The positive was that I felt comfortable straight away with the first team. I remember that I didn't have many problems, I was just enjoying myself because what I really love is football. I love playing it, I love enjoying it, and I was doing that in the first team. From the first day with them at Schalke, I was really accepted.
As I said before, my team-mates really helped me a lot. I'm still in contact with them now actually, so when we look back at this time we'll laugh because it was a very good time for me with some good friends.
I think when I finish my career and look back properly to remember these times, I will realise how far I've come. At the moment, I'm still hungry and I still want to work hard to be successful with the team. I know I have a few more years in front of me so I'm hoping I can win more titles in my career.
If I had the opportunity to do it all again as a 16-year-old? I would do it all the same. I'm really happy in my life, I've played for such big clubs, I've had such good team-mates and as a person, I've grown up. I've had so many experiences and I wouldn't change anything.
To any player who makes the step up to the first team, I would just say that the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Of course you will have some days where it doesn't go so well, but you have to believe in yourself, you have to keep working. The most important thing for me was to remember to have fun.
If you don't have fun, you're losing. If you make mistakes, you'll be disappointed. Don't listen to anyone, just listen to yourself. You know how good you are so just believe in yourself and have fun.
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