Berlin – Last week, the U19s side boarded the senior team’s bus to travel to Dortmund to contest the second leg of their semi-final. For the majority of Michael Hartmann’s men, it was a highlight of their careers so far, but one of them had done it all before – Arne Maier. The Hertha youth product made the step up to the first team last season and even matured into a starter under Pál Dárdai, but a lengthy illness towards the end of the season set him back. Due to his step up into the senior side, Maier made just four appearances in the A-Junioren-Bundesliga Nord/Nordost in the last campaign.
In the second leg against Borussia Dortmund, Hertha just had to defend their 4-0 lead from the first encounter. The midfielder came on for the last 20 minutes and his presence in the pitch was immediately tangible. It was Maier who played the decisive pass to Muhammed Kiprit, who finished to make it 3-1 to the Capital club and book the ticket for the final. Ahead of the showdown with FC Schalke 04 on Sunday (27/05/2018, 16:00 CEST) in Oberhausen, we spoke to Maier about his season, his return to the U19s and Hertha’s “golden generation”.
herthabsc.de: Towards the end of this Bundesliga season, you were forced to be a spectator. In the second leg against Dortmund, however, you picked up your first minutes since the start of April. More than six months had passed between you last game for Michael Hartmann’s team and the semi-final second leg. Did you feel at all unaccustomed to taking to the field with your U19 teammates?
Maier: For me, it wasn’t a big change. Before the semi-final second leg, I was able to train just a few times with the team because the glandular fever was out of my system, but I was just happy to be able to stand on the pitch again and play football. You could see I was lacking a little fitness and that I wasn’t completely back to my full strength, but that’s normal. Also, ten days separate the semi-final second leg and the final on Sunday, which I can take advantage of. By the final, my fitness will be much better.
herthabsc.de: How will you manage to stay focussed in the ten days you’ve mentioned?
Maier: Every footballer wants to play in finals, that’s where everyone wants to be, so it’s not hard to motivate yourself. I’m sure that every one of us will be focussed.
herthabsc.de: How well do you know your opponents in the Schalke team
Maier: I know Flo Krüger and Jannis Küble from the national team. I haven’t followed Schalke too much this season, but they got past Hoffenheim in the semi-final very confidently.
On staying grounded
"I see myself as a normal guy. There’s no reason to see myself as anything more."
herthabsc.de: What will it come down to in the Schalke game?
Maier: We have to play patiently. We know that anything can happen in a final, you saw that in the DFB Pokal when Eintracht beat Bayern. No one would have said that was possible before the game! In the final, the card are reshuffled and in the end, the better team will win.
herthabsc.de: In the 2017/18 season, you contested 21 games for the Blue-Whites an when you were just 18, you became a first-team regular very quickly. How do you keep yourself grounded?
Maier: Close contact with my family is always something that keeps me grounded. I see myself as a normal guy. There’s no reason to see myself as anything more.
herthabsc.de: You made the big step up to the senior team very impressively. Almost ten years ago, you made the move to Hertha BSC, you’ve played in many of Hertha’s youth teams and now you’re a first-team player. What advice can you give to young players with similar aspirations?
Maier: You can’t do it without discipline. You should always do more than the others, work hard and you can't stop if things aren’t going right for you.
herthabsc.de: In the past few months, you’ve experiences some personal highs. What was your favourite moment from this season?
Maier: Of course, my first Bundesliga appearance against SC Freiburg was one of those great moments. Also, the away game against Hamburg when we were trailing at the break and turned it around to win 2-1, that was super. I’ve really had so many moments this season that I look back on fondly.
A step ahead of the rest - Maier set up the goal that sealed the game against BVB.
herthabsc.de: …and hopefully you’ll have any more in the future. Your path at Hertha is far from over. Just a few months back, you extended you contract with the Old Lady. Irrespective of the result on Sunday, what are your goals for the upcoming season?
Maier: I’d like to play more for the senior team than I did last season. Also, I’d like to establish myself as a regular starter and together with the team achieve more than last campaign.
herthabsc.de: To what extend has your role in the U19s changed since you made the step up to the first team?
Maier: Even if I’ve only had 20 minutes of playing time, I’d like to – also in training – take responsibility and give commands on the pitch.
herthabsc.de: At just 19 years old, you have more senior football experience under your belt than most of the other boys in your age group, so a lot of attention will be directed your way on Sunday. Does that put you under more pressure?
Maier: I don’t see that as pressure, but more as an honour. Besides, the game will be decided on the pitch, your name alone doesn’t win you anything! (laughs)
herthabsc.de: Before your team, a Hertha U19s side had never been in the German Championship final. Why do you think Hertha will win their first final on the first attempt?
Maier: We’re motivated, focussed and will do everything to win.
herthabsc.de: Hertha’s class of 1999 is often called a “golden generation”. What kind of significance would that have for you if you were to become champions?
Maier: It would be a nice end to the season if we were to win. Particularly as we won’t play again together with the class of 2000 next season.