Berlin - The phrase “homegrown talent” applies to Arne Maier like almost no other. He’s been involved in the Berlin club’s youth setup since 2007 and the 19-year-old has played in every single youth team as well as the senior side. He’s played in the Europa League, DFB-Pokal and made 16 appearances in the Bundesliga for Pál Dárdai’s team. Despite his young age, however, Maier conducts himself with a maturity that is unusual for someone his age. And that gave Hertha the confidence to extend their offer of a long-term contract extension.
Herthabsc.de spoke to Maier straight after he had put pen to paper about the long awaited contract extension, his journey from youth to senior football, his football shirt collection and his teammates from the academy.
Herthabsc.de: Arne, huge congratulations on signing your new contract extension. Could you describe how you’re feeling right now?
Arne Maier: I’m really happy and quite relieved that we finally managed to come to terms on an extension. I’m really glad to be staying at Hertha BSC for the long term.
Herthabsc.de: Recently you’ve had to sit out some games. What’s been wrong?
Maier: I picked up an infection unfortunately, but I’ve recovered now. I’ve been working individually with our physio Hendrik Vieth and I’ll be back with the rest of the team on Tuesday afternoon.
Herthabsc.de: We all had to wait a little while for this good news. What was the deciding factor that led you to sign the new contract?
Maier: It was a process that really took place over a few months. My agent was in frequent talks with Hertha and kept me in the loop obviously. The discussions went well, and by the end of it all, it was an easy decision for me to extend my contract here. It was always my aim throughout my time in the academy to play for the first team in the Olympiastadion. The fact that that dream became a reality played a huge part in my decision.
Herthabsc.de: You’ve been at Hertha BSC since 2007. You are the definition of a homegrown talent. What does this club mean to you?
Maier: My dream has always been to play in the Bundesliga. When you play for the same team for eleven years, it really does become like family and a second home. It’s been made all the better by the fact that I could realise my Bundesliga dream with this club.
Herthabsc.de: You’ve played in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the Europa League throughout your time here. Was there a particular moment in your youth when you thought that you really could realise your footballing dream?
Maier: Ever since the Under-15 level I have thought to myself, okay, you’re fairly alright at football (laughs). I made my first few appearances for the German international youth teams back then. That confirmed to me that I could realise my dream if I kept working hard - but it only really hit me when I actually was out on the pitch as a part of the first team.
Herthabsc.de: Pál Dárdai was your coach with the Under-15s. He already saw the talent you had back then and clearly still believes in you now. How important has he been for your development?
Maier: The team won everything there was to win with Dárdai as our coach back then. I only played a few of the crucial games though, like the one against Leipzig and the important tournaments. I was already spending most of my time with the Under-16s.
Herthabsc.de: Is it an advantage that he’s known you for such a long time? Or does that mean he demands even more from you as a result?
Maier: For us young players, it’s definitely a positive thing that he’s known us for a while. That way he knows what he can expect from us. Nonetheless, he still treats all his players the same and demands their best all the time - we don’t get handed anything just because he coached us before. At this level, it’s not about who you know and how well you know them, it’s all about the performances you bring out on the pitch.
Herthabsc.de: What role has the academy played in your development to this point?
Maier: A huge one. Hertha’s academy is really, really good. You can tell that just from how many youth players make the transition to the first team. Players like Nico Schulz, Jordan Torunarigha and Maxi Mittelstädt are some examples from the last few years, and there are also players from this year that have already played in first team games like Pálko Dárdai, Julius Kade and Flo Baak. I would say that Hertha’s youth setup is one of the best in Germany.
Herthabsc.de: Does it make your day-to-day footballing life that bit easier when you’re playing in a team with so many players that you already know from your days in the academy?
Maier: I've known a lot of the other young players since our days in the Under-10s and Under-11s. I’ve also known players like Jordan and Maxi for a long time. We’ve all come from the same academy, so it definitely helps our chemistry on the pitch.
Herthabsc.de: You’ve played for Hertha’s Under-19s, reserves and the first team. What are the biggest differences between the youth, reserve and senior level?
Maier: The difference is night and day - especially between the Bundesliga and the youth league. The physicality in the Bundesliga is on a whole different level and the pace of play is also incomparable. It’s more physical with the Under-23s, but the technical level isn’t quite as high.
Herthabsc.de: Is there a special moment from your time in the first team which sticks in your head?
Maier: I played my first game against Luhansk from the start and then we travelled to Freiburg - I didn’t expect to feature at all. Then I came on for the last 15 minutes and won the penalty for us. I was thinking to myself: that can’t have happened. It all went so quickly.
Herthabsc.de: You’re still a very young player and you’re still at the start of your career. What do you do with all your old shirts? Do you collect the shirts of teammates and opponents that you once watched on TV?
Maier: I’ve already swapped shirts with a few of my friends like Luca Itter from Wolfsburg and Kai Havertz from Leverkusen. But it’s something special to play against the best players in the world. One of the highlights was definitely the game against Liverpool: it’s not every day that you get to play against a Firmino or a Coutinho. I respect them a lot as players obviously, but then they’re still only human.
Herthabsc.de: Are there any players who you really admire?
Maier: Julian Draxler has always been a role model for me. I saw him play a few years back when he was with Schalke. He can do things that not many others can, even if he’s finding things difficult at PSG right now - which isn’t that surprising considering the stars that they have. His game intelligence is simply amazing.
Herthabsc.de: This is your first full season as a professional. After 24 matchdays, Hertha BSC are eleventh in the Bundesliga standings. How do you assess how the current campaign has gone so far?
Maier: We’ve unfortunately been knocked out of the cup - we could have done much better there. The team is playing well though and a lot of young players have been coming along well. I think we have a good mix of youthful and experienced players. If we all stay injury-free and keep this team together, I think we can achieve a lot. Our aim is still to finish in the top 10. We performed really well in Munich, but we have to see how the next few games go and then see what is possible.
Herthabsc.de: What individual goals do you still have?
Maier: My first goal, my first assist - I’d still love to do that this season. It was a lot easier to do that in the Under-19s (laughs). I was really annoyed at all the chance I missed in Leipzig. I think I’ve watched it back about 40 times and I still can’t believe it. Luckily we still won 3-2, otherwise I would have been much more annoyed.