1. FC Kaiserslautern has been in the training camp in South Tyrol for almost a week. Managing Director Thomas Hengen takes stock in the exclusive SWR Sport interview, talks about the goals for the season and where he still sees a need for action.
SWR Sport: How are the conditions in the training camp, how is it going so far?
Thomas Hengen: As we were used to from last year, things are going very well. Like every year, we had rain in the first game. Luckily we didn’t have to cancel it. But everything great. The pitches are good, we have a sauna, a swimming pool, a weight room, great food and nice people at the hotel who take care of everything we need. So very good conditions.
SWR Sport: What are your impressions of the team and training?
Thomas Hengen: Normal preparation. Sure, the boys don’t always feel like the tough days at the beginning of the season, but that’s part of the game. Yesterday it was crisp units, they really pulled along really well, that’s why they deserve a free afternoon.
SWR Sport: One or the other has already said: ‘The preparation is different than in previous years, the coach lets us run properly.’ Is it just what you need when you get promoted to the 2nd Bundesliga?
Thomas Hengen: 100 percent! We have to do more than the others because they have a head start. This is our first time in this tough league and we have to prove ourselves. We simply have to invest a lot more, we’ll realize that soon enough, but that’s where we start. That is one thing, the collective another. And then we try to gradually strengthen ourselves. Whatever it is, it works until the start of the season or until the end of the transfer.
Ben Zolinski should strengthen FCK with his experience and offensive power in the 2nd Bundesliga. At the training camp in South Tyrol, the newcomer speaks in an exclusive SWR Sport interview about his move to Kaiserslautern, the mood within the team and coach Dirk Schuster.
SWR Sport: The trainer Dirk Schuster has the two relegation games participated and now the preparation. What is your impression of him, in dealing with the team and around it?
Thomas Hengen: He’s been in business long enough. He knows the whole thing and is totally unexcited. He is open to people, not prejudiced. Everyone has a chance to show their best image and they line up by merit. And it is up to each player himself to then set scent marks.
SWR Sport: What are your goals for this second division season?
Thomas Hengen: Anything other than staying up would be presumptuous for a promoted team like us. We haven’t been in the second division for a few years now. Accordingly, the gap has also increased a bit. And now we have to reduce it as quickly as possible, which will be a big task for us.
SWR Sport: You went shopping. There are also some big names. How satisfied are you with what the squad is doing so far?
Thomas Hengen: We are actually right on schedule with what we were able and wanted to implement. We hope that there will be no further serious injury. Unfortunately, our Gekos (Angelos Stavridis, editor’s note) has a severe ankle fracture. These are things that are unfortunately part of it, but we hope that we don’t have to change anything anymore. But we always have to keep our eyes and ears open in case something happens. In one or the other position we are not quite so well occupied. The market has calmed down a bit again at the moment, the Bundesliga teams have just started and I think that when we start the season there will be a little more movement.
SWR Sport: Tyger Lobinger’s commitment is now official. What do you expect from him?
Thomas Hengen: He’s a player with potential. That’s what we need: players who want to progress, players who are hungry and want to take the next step with us. He’s an athletic player with uncanny dynamism. But despite his size, he still needs to improve a bit in the header game. He knows that too, he’s working on it. He’s the player who strengthens us tremendously across the board and that’s important to have alternatives in every position. At the moment we are very, very well positioned as goalkeepers and that’s one goal, that we can manage every position in the team. That’s why we signed him, because we’re also convinced of his character, his mentality, that he’ll absolutely fit in with us.
SWR Sport: Well-known players have also come here: Andreas Luthe from Union Berlin, Erik Durm is world champion. How proud are you that such players come to FCK?
Thomas Hengen: What does proud mean? It’s always a process that then developed. Just like the last few weeks here in Kaiserslautern, also with the fans, with the base, with the region. Sure, if you’re successful, it’s always easier to get such calibers, but the guys have to be up for us, for this region, for this fan base. And they both had. Erik is a boy from the region and Andi Luthe really wanted to attack again. You just felt that he was in the mood for the whole thing. And I think that’s also what makes it so that you can get guys who don’t want to sign their last contract but still have goals. This is very, very important.
With Erik Durm, 1. FC Kaiserslautern has presented another prominent new signing. The 2014 world champion is returning to his homeland in the Palatinate, which he also values for the culinary delights.
SWR Sport: How is it for you personally? It was of course a courageous step to release Marco Antwerpen shortly before the relegation games and get a new coach. That worked. And now, at least in the environment, when you talk to the fans, everyone is absolutely happy with what you are doing here. Are you enjoying it right now?
Thomas Hengen: I always enjoy my job, right from the start. It’s just a dream, still, to be able to work in your hobby and you have to remain humble. I turned pro early on and have been able to stay in football ever since. It’s just fun to work with such young people. We have a very good team in the office. The committees work hand in hand, even if it may not always appear that way to the outside world. But I do think that we have become a big unit. Of course, this also shows up when things don’t go so well. And that will show up now, in the 2nd league, because the grapes are a bit higher there. It will be more difficult for us there. But I think that we are on a very good path, but only at the beginning of the path.