Hamburger SV has made it into the relegation play-offs. How did you experience the season and the emotional last step in Rostock?
Sebastian Schonlau: “The game in Rostock was an accurate representation of our season. There were highs and lows and there were times when we did really well. There were also times where we felt we were playing well but couldn’t get the results we wanted. Nevertheless, at the end of the season we find ourselves in the relegation play-off and nobody thought this was possible a few weeks ago, apart from maybe the lads who work here every day. We are really pleased to be where we are.”
How did you feel when you scored your goal against Rostock and when the game was finally won?
Sebastian Schonlau: “You don’t really know what to do with yourself in a moment like that. I must admit that I don’t really score too many goals, so even if I had thought of a celebration in advance, I would have forgotten it in the moment. I was just so happy to have scored, so it’s maybe a different feeling to when my teammates score. It was an extremely important goal for us, and it was just a feeling of ecstasy, but then you immediately start thinking about the game again because we still had 15 minutes to play, and we needed to see it through.”
How did you deal with the pressure of having to win, especially after the first half and the half-time result from Darmstadt?
Sebastian Schonlau: “There is generally a lot more going through your mind ahead of a game like this during the season finale, in comparison to a game earlier in the season. The pressure is a lot higher, including the pressure you put on yourself because you want to achieve this big victory. I think we felt this, especially in the first half when we did not play particularly well. Rostock put a lot of pressure on us in front of a sold-out crowd and they went into the lead early. It was difficult, but you have to give credit to the lads for not giving up, just like we have done for the whole season. We always believe in ourselves, in our game plans, and in what we are capable of.
HSV was already written off as far as promotion was concerned, went behind in games and then dealt with all the setbacks. Where does this mentality and strength come from?
Sebastian Schonlau: “We have gone about this every day for the last year by playing our own game regardless of what the result is and want to concentrate on ourselves and not let ourselves get distracted in any way. We want to play our football whether it’s 3-0 for the opposition or 1-0 to us. This is why we can turn things around.”
Robert Glatzel scored 22 goals in 34 league games and is a difference maker. How do you see him, what makes him special?
Sebastian Schonlau: “He is a great guy and he is also important for us in the dressing room because he has already fought quite a few battles. We know that we can rely on him. There was a time earlier in the season when he went a few games without scoring, but he stayed true to himself. He trains extremely hard, and he always wants to develop and improve. He knows where the goal is and he is there in the decisive moments, so he is doing very well.”
Why were you successful this time in chasing the leaders and didn’t slip up in the season final?
Sebastian Schonlau: “That’s a good question, though I wasn’t here in the years before. It’s often been written about how HSV have failed in the second half of the season, and to put it simply, it was completely different this year. If I remember correctly, I think we picked up 29 points in the first half of the season and 31 points in the second half of the season. This shows that we have found a good balance, even if we could have picked up one or two more points here or there. The mental strength of the team is definitely there, and we are one unit together with the fans, who continually push us forward. This also helps us on the pitch.”
What part do the fans play and how important are they?
Sebastian Schonlau: “They are very important. We saw in the games against Hannover and Freiburg how much of a push this can give us. We went behind early against Freiburg meaning that the full effect was not really felt, but it’s no secret what the fans mean to us. When there are 57,000 people here cheering us on, then we surge forward. When I see the passion the fans show to push us on, I know that we must show this passion as well on the pitch, and that is what we try to embody.”
Does the team know how significant these two games and the possible promotion are for the HSV fans and the city of Hamburg?
“Yes, definitely. When you come here as a new player, you get the general impression that this is a big club, but when you are actually here, you really start to understand this. This club creates a stir not just in Hamburg, but across German football. Even when we play in the south, we are so motivated when we see how many fans are supporting us and it makes me very happy to be at this club. We know what this would mean to the city and the club, but we also know what it would mean to us. Everybody wants to play in the Bundesliga and if we manage this, then it would be a great achievement.”
How big is Tim Walter’s role in the success?
“Tim and his whole coaching staff play a huge role. They know how to motivate and push us. There were a lot of new things to learn with his playing style, but he always gave us the feeling that we were the exact right players for his system and that we were the exact players he wanted. I think we demonstrated this, and he demands bravery from us and that we are passionate and motivated to win games. He embodies this passion on the sideline and I think you see this in our game as well. He has played a huge part in this success story.”
Your style of play is very attacking, and there has been criticism of this. Tim Walter is sticking to it and the success proves him right. How do you see that?
“It’s clear that it is an attacking style, but we have the best defence in the league and have conceded the fewest goals, which also speaks for his style. We put a lot of emphasis on our play with the ball, but our internal focus is equally on our work off the ball. We think about when we can lose the ball and how we can press the opposition to win the ball back as quickly as possible. I can understand that some people get nervous when we play out bravely from the back, but I think our success speaks for itself.”
How do you utilize the current euphoria and focus on Hertha Berlin?
“We can take the euphoria with us and the confidence from the last five games and the results we were able to achieve. This is exactly how we should play in Berlin because we are HSV, and we have a great squad. We are really motivated for the games, and we want to win them. This should be our mindset from the start, and this is how we want to play. Of course, we know that we are the second division side and Hertha is the Bundesliga team, but we are convinced of our ability, and we want to play our game.”
Is the momentum with HSV or Hertha?
“The pressure is on Hertha, and I think that is always the case for the Bundesliga team in the play-off. We have two games and nothing to lose. It is an unbelievable opportunity that we can take and that is what we want to do. We will see in the games which side has the best momentum. Nevertheless, we will travel there with confidence, and that is the only thing we can influence, so I am looking forward to it.”
How do you approach these two games tactically?
“We want to possess the ball, which has been the case for the whole season, and we want to play our game, regardless of what Hertha do. In the league, they often sat quite deep, so we will see if they continue to do that. However, we just want to focus on ourselves, and we know exactly how we want to play. We want to be as brave as we have been in the last few games, and we won’t change our style in any way because this would not do us any good. We will play our football and we will see what happens.”
Do the games in the DFB Pokal against first division clubs give you encouragement?
“Definitely. I think we had a good game against Freiburg, and we showed that we can beat first division teams, as was the case against Köln. The tempo in the Bundesliga is completely different, but we can take a lot from the Freiburg game and prepare ourselves even better. We now generally know what to expect, so these games were certainly important.”
Why will you beat Hertha Berlin and end up being promoted?
“Because we want it. We are hungry and we are unbelievably motivated to get promoted to the Bundesliga with this squad, with this club, and with these fans.”