Speaking exclusively to Get German Football News, Schalke forward Franco Di Santo discussed his move to Chelsea and playing under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Wigan lifting the FA Cup, Leon Goretzka’s pending move to Bayern Munich and much more.
Just how good is Leon Goretzka in comparison to some players you’ve played with at Chelsea, at Werder Bremen and the national team. Can he be one of the top five midfielders in the world?
Yes, of course. I think he has all the qualities to maybe not be top five, but top 10 for sure. I’m sure about that. It’s difficult to compare him with someone of Chelsea because when I was there, there was a lot of experienced players and Leon is a young player. He’s growing step by step and I think he’s made a good step going to Bayern because he’s going to be playing with players with amazing experience and that’s going to help him improve. I think he’s going to be one of the best central midfielders in the world.
Say Bayern Munich come knocking like they did for Leon, is that something that could be interesting to you eventually?
Of course. You always want to make bigger steps and prove yourself in everyday of your life. If you go to Bayern Munich, it’s an amazing step and I think Leon made a good decision to go to Bayern.
You’re having some good experiences in the Bundesliga, is this a league you want to be in for the remainder of your career?
I don’t know. I’ve never played in Argentina so maybe the end of my career is there but at the same time I am really happy here in Germany and at this club and in that way, I would like to be in Schalke all my life but you never know what’s going to happen as a footballer.
Your move from Werder Bremen to Schalke happened very fast, why did you choose to make that move?
In that moment, I was very happy in Bremen. I found a place to play and it had everything that a player needed but in another way, I think I needed to play in European competitions and that was one of the biggest reasons. Of course, I come to one of the biggest teams in the Bundesliga and that was the reason I joined Schalke.
It’s a very hard decision to make, do you stay somewhere you’re playing regularly and then going to Schalke where there’s a little more competition for places, would you say that it’s just an integral part of your character in the sense that you’re always looking to push yourself further?
Yes, of course. I am always looking for something new, something harder, something that a lot of people say you won’t be able to do it. It’s like a motivation for me to say, “ok I’m going to do it,” because I push through a lot of things in my life. I started my career in Europe at Chelsea which was difficult for me so one of my achievements was like “ok I have to come back to a big team,” which I think I did. I’m playing comfortably in this team, we are second in the league so personally I feel happy to be here to be in a team fighting for the Champions League places, so I think I’m back in that place that I was looking for a long time ago.
I’m glad to hear that and especially important considering you missed quite a lot of football last season. What’s your physical condition like now, how do you feel? And explain as well when those injuries hit, those feelings of frustration. How important was your team and your friends and family last season when you had a significant period away from the game?
When you miss a lot of games because of injury, you just need people around with positive vibes, your family, your girlfriend and even your dog. So, I think that is the key, to remain positive even in hard moments. The support of your family and everyone around is the best thing and it helps you to recover faster.
What’s your dog’s name?
And what type of dog is she?
You made the bold decision to join Chelsea at 18, do you regret moving to Europe that early in your career?
No, I always think in a positive way. It was an amazing experience, I was really young and I came from Chile, which isn’t at the same level, of course. Getting involved with those sorts of players gave me a lot of experience and good moments.
You’ve played with some great players but who’s the best player you’ve played with and why?
In my life when I was at Chelsea I had the chance to play with a lot of players with great quality. If I had to say one I think [Didier] Drogba. Deco, Terry – if I had to say someone in defence – and Frank Lampard were excellent.
What did you learn from Drogba at Chelsea, was there something specific that you looked at and added to your game?
Yes, of course. I think one of his best qualities was his attitude, he never gave up. Even the quality he had to score but I think one of the best qualities of him is the attitude he brought to every single game and that he always played like a team.
You played under Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup winning coach, is he perhaps the manager who had the biggest impact, simply because it was quite early in your career?
Yes, I think Scolari and his team was important for me because he gave me the chance to play. He was always someone that advises. I think that every one of the coaches I had at Chelsea were really important for me, even Brendan Rodgers when I used to play in the youth team. He gave me a lot of confidence and that gave me the step forward to play with the first team so I am grateful for every one of my coaches at Chelsea and in general.
And just to talk about Schalke. Obviously, they’re sitting second at the moment, what’s the mood like, is it excitement?
The feeling is that we know we must go step by step. A lot of people talk about that because we have a new coach, a new identity and we are second in the Bundesliga but we have to be calm, we know we have to take it game by game and so we think about what we have to try and do to be in the top four. We know we have to fight every single game and there’s a lot of points left remaining and so anything can happen. We don’t think we’re the best, we don’t think we’re the worst but we fight for each other.
You referenced Domenico Tedesco there, what is it like playing under him? And explain how different his approach is to any other manager that you’ve worked under.
I think he’s the youngest coach I’ve had in my career. He’s only 32, he’s near our age so I think that’s maybe a plus. He has a really positive mind, he always thinks in a positive way and he has a winning mentality and I think this shows because we’re a hard team to beat.
What would you say his biggest strength is? Is it that motivational side, is it that positive side or is he a manager who’s more involved on the tactics side?
He has a little of everything. It’s his first time at a club like Schalke and he’s done a really good job and his winning mentality is one of the best things he has.
Are there any specific things you can point to that he is doing differently in terms of training and fitness regimes?
To be honest, he likes to train a lot with the ball but with a lot of intensity, I think this is OK. We like to play with the ball but we can never lose the intensity because in that moment unless you’re Barcelona or Manchester City, it’s very difficult to play.
You mentioned it’s quite easy for you to get on with Tedesco because of the similar age, but how has he earnt the respect from you and the whole squad? Because he doesn’t have a football playing background.
Personally, I think it doesn’t matter. I look at him with a lot of respect. I’m not thinking day by day, “ok, I’m talking to someone 32-years-old.” I’m talking to a coach and that’s how I look at him.
This is your third season at Schalke, if you had to pick one specific moment, which is your best?
When we changed the coach and I had a chance to play.
So, your worst moment was probably under that previous coach?
Yes, I think so.
Let’s focus more on you and your position now, because I think it’s fair to say that you’re playing a little bit deeper now than you did at Werder Bremen. Do you feel as though you have more impact on the game there?
I’m happy when I play. If I play as a striker, it’s better for me but I’m that person who it doesn’t matter where I play, I will always do my best for the team. Those are the things that I learnt from Drobga. I don’t feel uncomfortable where I’m playing and I try to be the most professional possible. If in some moments, I have to play as goalkeeper, I will do what is necessary.
So, if Tedesco uses all three subs and the keeper gets sent off, you’re going in the net, are you?
Yes of course. It will be a pleasure.
You’ve been praised a lot in the German media for your work rate, particularly with the deeper role behind Guido Burgstaller and Breel Embolo, is that what’s most important for you, just working as hard as possible wherever you play?
Yes, the most important thing is to play, to be in the first XI, to feel important to the team and if that means I have to run further that means I’m going to do it. I try not to lose the quality that I used to have in terms of attack but at the same time if I’m a player that has to run 1km or 2km more for my teammates, I’m going to do it.
What specific instructions has Tedesco given you in this kind of role that you’re playing now at Schalke?
I think every game is different. Personally, I don’t have a specific instruction and it’s not always the same formation for every game.
Let’s take the recent game against Bayern, which was obviously quite close. I presume when you’re playing a side like them, you’re probably tasked with looking after that deeper midfielder, that game would’ve been Vidal for example, I presume that’s usually pressuring the deeper midfield player?
Yes, of course. We know we have to attack but at the same time to defend, as I said before I think our best strength is when we play as a team and we are always focussed on this. We know we are strong as a team so when we attack we do it together and the same with defence.
Let’s talk a little about your upbringing and the national team. You come from a country that’s renowned for attacking players especially in the 21st century, but who did you look up to specifically?
As a striker, I always looked up to [Gabriel] Batistuta and [Hernan] Crespo. I think these two players were important for us in the history of Argentine football and even for young players like me in that moment.
What about more recently, who in your mind is the best out and out striker in a similar mould to yourself?
I am a really big fan of [Edinson] Cavani. I think [Robert] Lewandowski is on another level to and Harry Kane. I think they are doing an amazing job in their teams.
Take your mind back to what must have been an incredible experience, earning your first cap for Argentina. What sort of emotions went through your head at that point? Is there anything more amazing for a footballer than to represent his country?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s the best thing you can achieve as a player. To represent your country, to represent where you come from is the best thing you can imagine. It’s difficult to describe, it was amazing even because I was playing with Messi, the best player in the world and I don’t think there will be another player like him for a long time, so I was excited.
Your first cap with the international team coincided with your time at Wigan, how important was that spell for you at Wigan and describe your relationship with Roberto Martinez who seems to be one of the nicest men in football.
Yes, you’re right. I think Roberto did an amazing job at Wigan and we won the FA Cup against [Manchester] City which was an amazing achievement from him and all the group. I am grateful for him and for everything he gave me and all the advice he gave me. He always told me if you’re vocal you’re going to be in the international team and in the end, he was right.
World Cup coming up in Russia now, less than 100 days away, who would you say very early on is your favourite for this tournament?
I think Argentina. I hope they get the trophy after that you have amazing teams. Roberto Martinez with Belgium have a lot of potential and young players, even France, they’re becoming better and better and Germany with a lot of experience and young players too and of course, Brazil and Spain have the quality to win the World Cup. I think tournament will be really hard for everyone because I think the differences between the teams is very small now and everyone could beat everyone.
Just a final question, your fellow compatriot in [Emanuel] Mammana suffered a big injury with Zenit St. Petersburg, are you slightly worried about Argentina’s defence now with Mammana now out and do you want to take this opportunity to send some wishes as well.
It’s really sad news for Argentina supporters and personally too because he’s a great player but they have a lot of quality and great players to replace him and I think Argentina could find the solution.