Paderborn, his childhood, his favorite saves, and more: An exclusive interview with Alexander Nübel
He is a character all his own right in the locker room! Once again decisive against Lens during the 38th and last round of Ligue 1, with no less than eight saves made, Alexander Nübel has become a pillar of the Rouge et Blanc‘s success this season.
A warrior for the collective
With eight clean sheets in the top flight in 2022, he is a player who always attributes these honors “to the collective”, as the German goalkeeper admits having had difficulty adapting to a new league. Now fully integrated and fulfilled at AS Monaco, he spoke frankly about his career, in an unprecedented long interview for asmonaco.com, carried out at the end of the team’s training, just before the last trip of the season, showing all of the frankness and humor that characterize him.
Hello Alex! To start, you’re coming off an Open training. How did you experience this moment with the fans?
I really like these training sessions that are open to the public, with all the children! In Germany we did that very regularly at all of my clubs, sessions that the fans can attend. Here it’s more rare, once or twice during the season, but it’s always a good time. It’s cool because they can see how we train on a daily basis.
And these are the AS Monaco fans of tomorrow, like little Valentino to whom you gave your gloves earlier in the season…
Yes, it’s true. He was also there at Open training, I saw him and he was happy to see me again! It is always a pleasure to share these moments with the supporters, because we know that we can bring them happiness, so if they are delighted, I am too (smiles).
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I come from Paderborn, a small town where the first team plays at a good level. And when I watched games or training as a child, I was happy to see the players. It became a dream for me to become a professional footballer, even if it was not my first goal at the start, I am living it today. I am very lucky.
What was your first dream then?
It’s not common, but when I was little, there was a period of 2-3 years during which I wanted to become Pope! He’s a very important person, I don’t know. I always went to church when I was little, because I come from a Catholic family, so it was part of my daily life. It’s hard to say why I wanted to be the Pope (laughs)! And then football gradually took up a lot of space in my life, even if I was not 100% certain that I wanted to become a professional footballer. I just liked to play with my friends for fun. Afterwards I got better and better and today I am here (smiles).
To come back to your start to life in in Ligue 1, how do you see this season now, looking back at it?
I knew it was going to be difficult to adapt to a new context, especially since I played very little before arriving in Monaco. Everything was new to me: the country, the language, the culture, and also my teammates. After a little time for adaptation, everything went better and better and no wI really feel very good, perfectly integrated into the team. We have a very good squad and great staff, we know each other better and better and I’m happy to play with the guys every weekend.
We feel that there’s really a great state of mind within the squad…
It’s really very good today, it’s obvious, there is a good symbiosis, and not only within the Germans on the team (smile). The connection among us is strong, and you can see it on the pitch. Against Brest for example, where we were trailing 2-0 quite quickly, but we managed a magnificent comeback, and we felt it. It is in these moments that you can see the state of mind that we have in this team.
Tell us about your two big saves against Brest to keep the team in the game…
For me, what tells in being decisive is not to dive, not to give an indication to the opponent too early. I wait as long as possible and stand up to the attacker, because the longer I stay standing, the harder it is for him to choose a side. The first stop was more of a “block” in my opinion, while the second was a pure reflex save, at the last moment. This was the most difficult to achieve in my opinion, because it called for a very quick reaction on my part. I think I had a bit of luck in the end, because if we were behind 3-0, the game might have been over. Finally we scored that goal which puts us back in the game just before halftime, and in the locker room we were determined to win this game. The first fifteen minutes of the second half were played with a rare level of intensity on our part, which allowed us to turn things in our favor. Honestly, it was a great win for us.
What a save by the German goalkeeper!
‣ 𝟬 – 𝟬 #RCLASM
— AS Monaco EN (@AS_Monaco_EN) May 21, 2022
Which match was a catalyst for the team, and for you personally? PSG?
Of course, when you win and all the ingredients are there, the atmosphere is better and we can move forward. Team building was also important to create a group spirit. That said, there was not really a match that was a catalyst for me. I think that the continuity of matches and training, having more rhythm, had an impact on my performance. The relationship with my defenders too, the fact that the communication was better, made us feel more calm, week after week. The passing of time played a very important role as well, in my opinion, in our results.
You had eight clean sheets in 2022. How do you explain that?
We have defended really well as a team in recent weeks. All of the defenders have showed more of a sense of calm. It’s team work! When I finish a match with a clean sheet, it’s not just my work that needs to be highlighted, the credit should go to the collective. That’s really my mindset.
Do you have a funny locker room anecdote you can tell us?
What happens in the locker room should stay in the locker room (laughs)! It should not be disclosed to the general public.
Going back to your early career, you weren’t a goalkeeper at the start…
Indeed I started my career as an outfield player, as a number 6 (defensive midfielder) in front of the defense. I was very solid! I scored a lot of headers. And then when I was 14, I had to choose between staying in the field or going in goal. It was a difficult choice for me, but it was explained to me that I would have a better chance of making a name for myself as a goalkeeper. Looking back, I think it was the right decision to make.
What major memory do you keep of your first years in football?
There are two things I think of: first is my debut as a professional at Schalke 04. It was an unforgettable moment for me. And I would say that the Euro U-21s with Germany in 2019 in Italy was also a milestone in my young career. It was my first tournament with the U21s, and playing for the national team is for me the most important thing you can achieve.
Do you dream of playing for the German national team now?
It is every kid’s dream to one day play for the Nationalmannschaft. I think it’s the same in France! It’s something very different from everyday life in the club. It is therefore part of my dreams to play for Germany, even if it is not an obsession, because I am already very happy with AS Monaco.
What makes the German goalkeeping ‘school’ so successful in your opinion?
It really is a very special position in Germany. There are even specialized coaches for goalkeepers in club training centres, like here at La Diagonale and in France. There is a very good level of training. And it is true that it has always been important for Germany to have very good goalkeepers. Regarding the style, however, there are real particularities. It’s hard to explain, but we have a game that is closer to that of handball goalkeepers, which is a very popular sport here, and in which we are very successful. The focus is on training, including for the very young. This was not my case, because in Paderborn there was only one goalkeeping coach for all the teams! He trained the first team in the morning, and then he took care of the U19s, U17s and U16s. There was only one session a week with all the goalkeepers, and the rest of the time we were with the rest of the team, which was an advantage for me, in terms of kicking.
Who was your role model at your position at the time?
In the past, I always liked Jens Lehmann, who played like me at Schalke and then rose to prominence at Dortmund and Arsenal. And then when I arrived in Gelsenkirchen at 18, there was Ralf Fährmann in goal. He is a very good goalkeeper, who helped me a lot to learn and progress. He inspired me a lot, with his style and his way of training on a daily basis. Oliver Kahn? I was still a little small to remember him, and I must say that I was above all a big fan of Jens Lehmann.
And if you had to describe your ideal goalkeeper…
For kicking, I think the best is Marc-André Ter Stegen. For the reading of the game, Manuel Neuer is obviously the strongest, coming off his line as he does. There is also Thibaut Courtois who is very good in front of his goal.
Tell us a bit about your life in Monaco now…
I feel very good in Monaco. I live here with my partner, which is really important for me, because she supports me a lot. After a few months we also established a good connection with the Germans in the group, on and off the pitch. It is essential for me to share something other than football on a daily basis, after training, to talk and think about something else. In any case, I find that I have adapted very well to life here over time.
Finally, do you have a message for the AS Monaco fans?
I would like to say a big THANK YOU to the AS Monaco fans for always being behind us, and for coming to see us in such large numbers, especially on the road. We are very happy to have you by our side, and hope that you will always be, in good times and in bad. It’s very important for us.
Thank you for your support this season, Monegasques ❤️🤍
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— AS Monaco EN (@AS_Monaco_EN) May 25, 2022