Berlin – Berlin to Hamburg to Belfast and now back to Berlin. Niklas Stark has travelled around Europe with the national team over the past few days. In their European Championship qualifying games, Joachim Löw’s side fell to a 4-2 defeat to the Netherlands, before picking up a 2-0 victory in Northern Ireland. The Hertha man was called-up to the squad for only the third time, but is still yet to make his first appearance. The centre half returned to the capital for training on Wednesday, with his sights set solely on the important upcoming match against Mainz 05 on Saturday (11/09/19, 15:30 CEST). The defender talks to herthabsc.de about his position in the national team, finding the right balance between defence and attack, and the upcoming Bundesliga match.
herthabsc.de: Nik, from Hertha’s point of view, it would be interesting to hear what your thoughts are on the international break. You have now been called up to the national team on three occasions but are still yet to make your first appearance. Does the joy of being selected for the squad outweigh the disappointment of not being able to make your debut?
Stark: I am an honest man and of course it’s disappointing not to play. However, being on international duty with the national team is always a really special thing. I can learn a lot from training with these guys because they play at such a high level. I won’t take the experience for granted; at the end of the day I’m a part of one of the best national teams in the world, and we are still in a period of transition. We have a very important tournament ahead of us next summer.
herthabsc.de: So you finish the international break with a win and a loss – there are both positives and negatives to take from it. The most important thing is that qualification for the European Championships is still in your hands. What are your thoughts on the current squad?
Stark: We didn’t play as well as we wanted to against the Netherlands. We were up against a very good opponent but, unfortunately, the game didn’t exactly go to plan, despite having chances to win the game. Looking at the table, it was a missed opportunity for us. The game against Northern Ireland was difficult, they pressed us aggressively and it was a hostile atmosphere. But we stayed calm and played our game. More and more space became available as the game went on. Of course there were lots of ups and downs but we still have time to improve before next summer.
herthabsc.de: Ante Covic was in the stadium for the game against the Netherlands, what did he speak to you about before kick-off?
Stark: Of course, we didn’t have much time before the game (smiles). Firstly he told me that he has complete confidence in me. Since Ante also has a good relationship with the national team’s coaching staff, we also spoke a bit about my position within the team, which was nice. We also spoke briefly about Hertha, but not in too much detail since it was right before the national team game. Of course, Ante wanted me to play as well. That’s my aim, and I strongly believe that I will achieve it. Perhaps I will make my debut against Argentina in October, and I will play against Lionel Messi (laughs).
herthabsc.de: Moving away from the national team and back onto Hertha: You haven’t made a great start to the season. Has the international break given you some time to think about where you may have gone wrong?
Stark: The two defeats against Wolfsburg and Schalke have been on my mind a lot. After the Schalke game I received some nice messages, but of course you can’t take them too seriously (smiles). The mood around the camp isn’t great, but it never is after a loss. At the end of the day, we’re sportsmen and we’re not currently in the position we want to be in. Nevertheless, it’s important to stay positive and keep in good spirits. A win against Mainz would be a huge boost.
herthabsc.de: Eight goals conceded after three games is simply too much. How can you succeed in shoring up the defence, while also playing attacking football?Stark: It’s clear that we need to defend with a better structure, and be stronger in the tackle. Above all, we need to win the ball back in the crucial areas and defend in numbers, rather than allowing them one on one opportunities. We have already proven in the past that we can defend well. We need to be more aggressive and to enter games with a different mentality. herthabsc.de: One player who’s always ready for battle is Marius Wolf, who you played with at youth level for 1. FC Nürnberg. How quickly can he make a difference for you?
Stark: I can’t remember how long I’ve known Marius for; I think he came to the club as a 13 year old. We got in contact shortly after he completed his transfer, even thought I wasn’t in Berlin at the time. He knows that I’m a good person to ask about the club. I have always followed his career. He has worked incredibly hard to get where he is and I really respect him for that. He’s a fantastic player and I’m delighted that he’s here. Marius has a great mentality and he always gives it his all.
herthabsc.de: On Saturday (14/09/19, 15:30 CEST) you travel to FSV Mainz 05, who are currently bottom of the league and desperate to pick up their first points of the season. What are you expecting from the game?
Stark: We are going to Mainz to come home with the three points. If we aren’t motivated enough at the weekend, then something’s not right. However we must not forget: We have had phases in the past where we have struggled to find the right balance between attack and defence. The basis for a successful performance is always to defend in numbers; we need to keep that in mind. The first step is to defend well, and then the chances will come.