World champion Mats Hummels exudes confidence – and the bad news for Germany’s rivals is that they’re massively motivated to become the third nation to retain the trophy
Two things populate the internet: cat memes and how-to guides that will supposedly boost your self-confidence and help you make decisions, set goals and challenge yourself. After all, dogs don’t chase parked cars, do they? You don’t need to bother with any of them. Just stand in a room with Mats Hummels. From the moment the Bayern Munich and Germany defender walks into FFT’S temporary studio deep in the bowels of the Allianz Arena, he exudes the sense of serene self-assurance you’d expect from a world champion who has recently won yet another Bundesliga title.
But Hummels is no arrogant prima donna, nor is his demeanour an overcompensating façade. The centre-back’s got an aura, a healthy, almost infectious confidence. “It’s so important,” he tells us, shortly before posing for the FFT cameras. “If a team has any doubts about its quality or performance, it will show out on the pitch and that team automatically becomes weaker. We have really confident players, so I don’t think this will ever change, especially going into the World Cup.”
The holders have never been ones for self-doubt. Hummels plays at the heart of a near all-bayern Germany back five, assuming Manuel Neuer wins his fitness race, and further forward they’re so good that Leroy Sané may not even start.
In fact, they only thing Hummels is worried about is how he’ll fill his time between games. “Well, I’ve got through all of Game of Thrones, but I’m sure I’ll find something else to watch!” he laughs. “As soon as a match is over, I’m done with it.”
Spoken like a truly confident winner, ready to do it all over again…
What’s your first World Cup memory? The first thing I remember was 1994, when Bulgaria beat Germany with Yordan Letchkov’s header. I remember that goal vividly. What I always come back to is France 98 and our quarter-final defeat to Croatia. I watched that match with some Croatian friends and thought, ‘This will be fine, we’ll beat Croatia’. Germany lost 3-0. We had a sleepover at their house afterwards, so that was a really tough night for me. [Laughs] I wouldn’t make that mistake ever again!
How would you rate Germany’s chances in Russia? We’re one of the five or six nations who are most likely to win it, but we all know how difficult the World Cup is. We have great quality, a good coach and good mentality. We know it’s doable, but many things have to come together to win a World Cup.
Who are those four or five other teams? To begin with, Spain. We played them recently and they were brilliant, then a few days later they beat Argentina 6-1. France are so strong. Brazil, of course. Then there’s Argentina – any team with Lionel Messi in their squad has to have a chance. Maybe England, too. These would be my top nations, but you saw with Portugal winning the Euros that anything can happen. Just like Greece in 2004.
How do you deal with the pressure of being favourites? I don’t think it’s something we have to deal with, because as soon as the tournament begins our goal is to win the World Cup. The mindset stays the same. We know what it’s like to go deep into a tournament.
What would it mean to Germany to retain the World Cup? It would mean a lot to the whole country. Only two countries – Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 – have ever won back-to-back World Cups, and it’s a massive motivation for us to do it.
You take on Mexico, Sweden and South Korea in the group stage. What do you make of those three? It’s a good group because there’s no team who’s guaranteed to finish bottom. We are the top seeds and know we’ll have to win it because of our quality. We’ve faced Sweden a lot and Mexico during last year’s Confederations Cup, but I don’t think I’ve played South Korea.
How does Joachim Löw get the best from his players? First of all with his tactics and training. He expects a lot from us, and in these tournaments he knows how to handle players to keep them focused. We’ll spend seven weeks together if we make it to the final, so it’s hard to stay motivated the whole time. He knows how to do it.
Does your Bayern Munich relationship with Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Joshua Kimmich help the national team? It’s a big help. There are certain things that happen in a game without you even thinking about it. It becomes second nature. They’ll react to a situation and you know what they want to do. Even before I joined Bayern we had played together in the national team, so we’ve been doing this for a long time.
You captained Germany in last November’s friendly with England. How proud a moment was that? It was the first time I’d started a game as the captain and was a huge honour. It’s something special for any German player, especially when it comes against England at Wembley.
How did it feel to beat Brazil 7-1 in 2014? It felt strange. At half-time, with the score 5-0, we said, ‘Don’t try to humiliate them because we will lose our concentration’. We wanted to maintain focus, as even a five-goal lead can get blown away in football – it’s possible. For us it was special, but I know what defeats feel like so I know how Brazil were feeling.
How different is a World Cup final to any other game? The whole world is watching – you feel that. They’re the games I’ve spent my life whole dreaming about. You get so nervous before the game, but once you kick off it becomes a great test for your mind not to go crazy, as much as anything.
What was it like holding the trophy for the first time? Amazing. I had seen Lothar Matthaus, Franz Beckenbauer and others lifting it and even held a replica, but nothing can prepare you for holding the original – it’s incredible.
Mats Hummels wears adidas Football Predator 18+ for pure control. For more information, visit adidas.co.uk