The Schalke goalkeeper is on a mission to save his club from relegation and has been a key figure in their recent unbeaten run.
FC Schalke are in the midst of a relegation scrap in the Bundesliga 2022-23 season. They are currently 17th with 19 points and are a solitary point away from safety. Schalke are unbeaten in their last seven matches, and have mounted a fightback to remain in the German top division.
34-year-old goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann has made six starts in goal this season, and has been an experienced head. The custodian spoke to Bundesliga in an interview. Here is what he had to say ahead of the Rivierderby against title contenders Borussia Dortmund.
What’s the mood like in the team right now?
“I’ve said a few times in interviews that I don’t think we’re playing in a way that’s ‘usual’ for a team bottom of the table or in a relegation fight. I think we’ve been playing very solidly. We’re obviously fighting with the weapons we’ve got. We don’t have the quality in the team of the top clubs in the Bundesliga, but every opponent has really struggled against us. I think we’re playing with confidence and fighting spirit, making it tough for every opponent, no matter who we’re facing.”
Will the Schalke fans always support you when they see you’re fighting and trying hard?
“Definitely. There’s the slogan ‘Einmal Schalker, immer Schalker’ [once Schalke, always Schalke]. It’s one thing saying that, but when you’re in the stadium – and especially if you followed the last few games – you can see, whether home or away, that the whole region is behind us. I think if you go a bit deeper into the mindset of Schalke fans, you realise what region we’re in.
“It’s the closest-knit area but an area with problems, whether it’s employment figures, childhood poverty, school results. You then know how much emotion there is in Schalke supporters, how much emotion we as players can give to the people in the stands or watching on TV. And it’s exactly that emotion,
“if you manage to give that back to the people, fighting, working your backside off for the badge, leaving your heart out on the pitch and just giving everything. That you slide, bite, fight, spit – to exaggerate. The people repay that because they see that you’re just giving everything and working your backside off for this club. That’s totally appreciated by the fans.”
How important is it for the team that an experienced Schalke veteran like you has a say in the changing room?
“I think football has developed in a way that players come and go more quickly. That’s not just the case with us but everywhere. I think the important thing is just that the players who come have to settle in because Schalke has a very different charisma than most other clubs in Germany or across Europe. I think Schalke is a bit like a religion. That’s often said. Players come in and feel something is different here. And I say, yes, the fans are different, the story is different, but you automatically pick up on that when you come here as a player.
“The media presence is far greater, fans come to training, there’s a Schalke Day at the start of the season when hundreds of thousands of people come here just to see us. You see it during away games where 10,000 to 20,000 people join us. You see how big it all is. And you can add to that, the fact that we’re basically on historic ground. Next to our training ground is the old Parkstadion.
“The fan scene in Gelsenkirchen has managed to get a floodlight that lights up at night. There’s a whole lot of history in the club. It’s easier for me because I’m sort of the commentator and can explain it a bit, but it doesn’t have to come from me because the players who come here can feel it and immediately want to know what really happened, what the history is. On top of that, we’ve got the Schalke Meile (a Walk of Fame about Schalke’s history) in the city, where you can really go back into the past. The club has a lot to tell, even away from all the emotion you feel every day.”
Will you become a tour guide around the museum here once you retire?
“You can’t avoid the Schalke virus. You don’t look for it, it just happens to you. If you’ve ever been in the stadium and seen what it does to you when you get 60,000 behind you, when you win in front of 60,000, when you can stand in front of the stand, that does something to you. I think players are sooner or later infected with the Schalke virus.
“But you also see how many former players come to the stadium, watch games or speak about us or the current situation. There are a lot of players who’ve retired, be it Marcelo Bordon, Jermaine Jones, Gustavo Varela or Dario Rodriguez. They are all seasoned men who still describe their time at Schalke as the best in their career. I think that alone says it all.”
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How have things been for you personally in recent years?
“Obviously I would’ve liked to play a few more games. There’s no doubt about that. But I also think you have to look at the bigger picture. I’m a player who’s been at the club for a very long time, and the club and us, the players have made a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong decisions were made. That’s why the club ultimately ended up in the second division. I don’t think that’s a secret, it’s just a fact. And it’s often the case when you’re with a club for a long time that you try to change this or that.
” I think the important thing is that you recognize as a player that you need to separate personal matters from your sympathy for the club. Every player at some point will have a decision made against them. You just have to deal with the situation well because you can’t change the decision against you, but you can change how you deal with it. I think it’s always important that you focus your mindset in such a way that you only look ahead. You can’t change the past. You can only look ahead. I have always tried to be as fit as possible to show my best side.
“And when something happened that I didn’t really like, I just keep my mouth shut, I just try to speak about performances on the pitch because my personal ego doesn’t help the club. If I’m not doing that well, that’s how it is. But it’s important to take a step back and prioritise the good of the club.”
You’ve had spells abroad recently. Did you miss Schalke?
“Yes, obviously. I was loaned out. But when you’re away from here, you realise what you had here, what defines this place. I still tried to watch every game I could. I live in the area. My wife and I settled in Recklinghausen. She comes from Herne, so my in-laws also come from Herne. I’m basically rooted here now. And this will remain my home. Schalke hasn’t just become my club but also my home.”
Was Schalke’s relegation a tough time for you?
“Yes, definitely. If I were to say it was an easy time and not that bad… Schalke, the resonance, such a big club being relegated to the second division. We had to look at ourselves and slowly build ourselves up again. It’s a process that will still take many years to get back to where we were. It obviously does something to you and touches you, but the only way forward is to climb back up and graft, as they say here.”
You’re still in the relegation battle, but unbeaten for seven games. How have you experienced the last few weeks?
“I know how it is in football. There are lots of headlines, some people are more in focus than others. We’re keeping clean sheets, which speaks for me as a goalkeeper. Obviously I’m pleased I’m in focus in a positive sense. But it’s obviously down to the team. I think you can see with Moritz Jenz, the new centre-back we’ve got. We’ve got a new holding midfielder with Eder Balanta. We reinforced in the winter break. We also had a long winter break because of the World Cup, which meant we were able to work a lot together.
“And you can see that something has come together. I’m obviously pleased I’m playing my part in that, but it’s still a team thing. I’d like to take the praise for when we don’t concede any goals, but that’s not what it is all about. The whole team is part of that. It starts from the front with the striker. I don’t think it’s just down to me but the whole team that we’ve become a unit. You can see and sense that everyone is there for each other. Even the guys coming on are itching to get on, they leave their hearts out there. I think you can sense that – not just the 11 playing, the 18 in the matchday squad, or all 30 in the squad, including those not involved. The whole stadium and entire region can sense it.”
The team’s performances feel different from what’s reflected in the table. Why is that the case?
“I don’t think looking at the table is helpful at all. Obviously you do it from time to time, even if you don’t want to, but that’s a normal thought process. I think it’s just important that we know we’re fighting with the means we’ve got. We know we’re not the best team in terms of quality, but we know that if we leave our hearts out on the pitch, we can compete against every team. But the important thing is we perform at 100 percent, or even 105 and 110 percent, every week. Only then are we able to compete. Then we can win against every team.
” That’s how we have to go about things every week. You see after every game that the guys have nothing left and need a couple of days to come back. We’ve got injuries after every game, like muscular issues or bruises or cuts. We kick and bite and scratch out there. That uses a lot of energy, but you can’t think three, four, five or six matchdays in advance. It really is one week at a time. Football is our daily business and I keep coming out with those clichés, but we really can only take things one week at a time, one opponent at a time.
“Each week brings a lot of time for the opponent, which means preparation and post-match analysis, looking at the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. We always prepare really well for that because we have to, because we don’t have the same level of quality as the opponent, but we have a bigger heart.”
Was it more of a curse or a blessing that Manuel Neuer was at Schalke at the same time?
“No, I think I was able to learn a lot from him. I’m just grateful I was able to train with him. Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in history. He completely revolutionized the goalkeeping game. We Germans sometimes struggle to celebrate our own, but I think when you have a player like him… He’s in a category with the likes of LeBron James, Tom Brady. We made him at Schalke. I think we can all be proud of that.”
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