Arrived last summer in the Bundesliga, the Swiss right back Kevin Mbabu, “physical beast” of Wolfsburg, returns to “new football”. And also evokes its dented journey, between injuries, pride and grip.
Eight weeks of truce is a long time. How did you keep them busy? I took advantage of these eight weeks to work on the points where I felt I could improve, such as explosiveness. I was missing something, I was not as good as last season, so I did a specific job. And obviously my first touch of the ball which I try to improve regularly. Collectively, we did a lot of physical work, we really suffered. But I felt good, and the team too. That said, I don’t think I’m 100% physically yet. It’s almost impossible after this break.
Precisely, with the health instructions, how were these trainings organized? On the ground everything has resumed normally for two weeks. We were in small groups of four, and each group came at a different time so as not to cross paths. At first it was difficult since there weren’t a lot of balls, but we made up for that with a lot of racing. Also in the locker room, we are separated into groups of four players. Besides, we no longer change at the stadium, but at the training center.
There were also instructions on the ground, as for the celebrations. Not easy when you make the victory in overtime? My first reaction was to jump on Gini (Daniel Ginczek, editor’s note) who scored, but he told me not to get too close (laughs). We were told during the week to try to find original celebrations because we will not be able to jump on each other. In the field, we did not receive any other specific instructions.
“It’s weird when we get into the field, it sounds a lot”
Before this match, have you been tested with coronavirus? We had a test the day before the match between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. We did this so early because the laboratory is quite far from Wolfsburg and all tests must be negative before allowing the team to travel.
In camera, how did you experience it? It’s weird when you get back on the field, it sounds a lot. There are no songs, no applause. But after a few minutes, we’re in the game, focused on doing our job, and we’re not really paying too much attention.
“Football will live – your business is sick!” Augsburg fans placed this banner in there stadium ahead of kick off with Wolfsburg today. pic.twitter.com/GaPKvJADn8
“Football is going to live, your business is sick”, banner of Augsburg fans in their empty stadium against Wolfsburg.
“I don’t think we have much to envy in Dortmund or Leverkusen”
With hindsight, is this early return to the Bundesliga a real success? The League has calculated everything to make it perfect. Obviously there is no such thing as zero risk, but they have done a tremendous job in making sure everything goes well. It is a real success, and I hope that the other Championships will try to draw inspiration from it, to collaborate with our federation to resume. Everyone wants to watch football on TV again.
You will face Dortmund and Leverkusen. Are they a cut above Wolfsburg? I would say they have a little more staff. If we hadn’t lost a few points stupidly, we wouldn’t be far from them. And that’s what we’re going to try to show in these five weeks, to catch up with them. I don’t think we have much to envy them. We were on a very good dynamic before the coronavirus, and we must succeed in keeping it.
Today you are undisputed holder, but when you arrived, it was more complicated … At the beginning we were playing 3-4-3, and it is true that it took me a little time to have minutes. It was my first preparation in Germany, and I had a hard time at first. I got a big slap because I didn’t expect that at all. It was intensive, and I was not used to chaining efforts like that every day. I struggled for the first four weeks. Then I fell a little behind the others so I had to keep working to get my chance.
During this period, you played the right piston. Is it different from lateral? No. There is a lot of defensive work because you have to cover the entire corridor almost alone. Physically you have to have a large volume of play. But it’s really a position that I appreciate, because I have all the side for me. I can run and do both jobs, offensive and defensive. What is perhaps more advantageous in a defense with four, it is when your wingman comes to fix, you can make passages in the back in full race.
“At Newcastle, I didn’t realize there was still a lot of work to be done in the first team”
Have you always held this position? When I was very young, I was rather a winger, attacking midfielder. And overnight, my coach put me in defense. I didn’t like it at all, but I had a good game and after that I didn’t move from the defense. I didn’t sulk anymore, but it still took me a little time (laughs).
You said you got a slap when you got to Wolfsburg. Is there a gap with the Young Boys in Bern? There is really a very big difference in intensity. In six days we trained maybe eight times. I couldn’t recover quickly enough for the next workout, even if I was just sleeping (laughs). All players entering the Big Five need some physical adaptation time. Even for me that everyone calls a beast, a machine. Today I no longer feel it, but I really struggled at first.
See :Kévin Mbabu’s profile
You have often had injuries, but not today. Why ? I don’t know if my body was ready for this intensity as early in my career. I had a lot of muscle imbalance. I compensated a lot and I had a pubalgia for almost two years, accompanied by a lot of muscle injuries. When I returned to Switzerland, I started working with a physical trainer based in Toulouse. We changed all my nutrition, and worked on a lot of physical points. He helped me get out of this vicious circle of injuries and since I have been working with him, I have been touching wood, I only had a small muscle injury.
Let’s talk about your journey. You arrived in Newcastle very young. It was hard ? When you arrive at 17 in a legendary English club, you have stars in your eyes. I see Ben Arfa, Cabaye, Sissoko, I am like a kid. What I hadn’t realized was that there was still a lot of work to be done as a first team player. I remember I had a great first game against Chelsea. I said to myself : “Wow I finally succeeded, now it’s going to be fine”. A week later, I play against Manchester City and injure myself. I said : “But what is happening to me, why me?”. My body was not ready to chain as much intensity. I took time to be a physical beast like today. There is really a lot of substantive work.
“At MU, Pogba took care of me a little”
So you’re on loan to the Glasgow Rangers, where you don’t play. Why ? We got four players there. The coach who brought us back resigned for family reasons two weeks later. A new coach came up with his ideas, and I didn’t even play a game on the bench. But I was able to chain a lot of matches with the reserve, it’s been a long time. I still left there with positive.
Before that, you almost joined another club … I had a try at Manchester United when I was 15, and I remember I met Paul Pogba. He was one of the few who spoke French so he took care of me a little. When we ended up in a Champions League match (Young Boys – Manchester United, in September 2018, Editor’s note), I asked him if he recognized me, he said to me: “You tell me something”. Then I explained to her and we were able to talk, especially since we finished the anti-doping test together after the match.
To bounce back, you have decided to return to Switzerland. Was it a complicated choice? At first I was not too much to come back. There was this pride not to return to Switzerland and that people say that I failed in England. But I was well advised, and it was the best choice I could have made, because it revived my career. I managed to have two titles, come back to the national team, play the Champions League and be elected player of the year. With the Young Boys, I walked on the water. We were a big family. I had never seen such a team spirit before. For example, Guillaume Hoarau always brought his good humor with his music and his little jokes. He didn’t let go of me during my three years there (laughs).
You play with the Nati. Don’t you think it’s an underrated team? Absolutely ! Often by the French, because we are called “The little Swiss” (laughs). In recent years, Switzerland has released very good players with Xhaka, Shaqiri, Akanji and others in very large clubs. We don’t really have the status that we deserve to have in everyone’s eyes, but we’re trying to show that we have a very good level. Switzerland has a very beautiful generation. Several play in the Bundesliga. Now all eyes are on us, and it’s great to be known to the world.