World Soccer: Last season there was a lot of speculation that you would leave Schalke, but in the end you signed a contract extension until 2015. What brought you to that position?
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar: I have never played in England and that was on my mind, so I asked myself if I wanted to move to the Premier League or to carry on in the Bundesliga. I talked to Schalke first and then I tried to understand what I wanted to do. I went deep inside my own mind and tried my best to listen to my heart. After a lot of soul-searching I told my agent to talk to Schalke with the instruction that I was ready to stay.
Apart from spells in Spain and Italy, you’ve played for clubs close to your home in Angerlo, Holland. How important is it that Gelsenkirchen is only 100km away and that your father can drive you to training?
It did play a role in my decision to join the club, as I enjoy living in Holland. I normally go abroad on holiday or to play a match with my club, but not to live. It was strange to live in Spain and Italy, to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language, but I am happy I did it and I do not regret it. Now I have a new two-year contract at Schalke and I am enjoying it. I can understand and speak German quite well, and this makes my life a lot easier.
On the pitch, is it realistic to think Schalke can break the supremacy
of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the next few years?
Yes, I think we can. We are a good team, but not good enough yet to better Bayern or Dortmund over the course of a season. I think we’re on the right path though, so we should keep doing what we’re doing and maybe buy a couple of quality players to bring us closer next year.
The Bundesliga is the rising force of European football isn’t it…
The Bundesliga is, for me, the best league in Europe at present. The Premier League is very good, but if you look at German clubs, they are all economically solid and healthy. It’s very well organised. Each team can beat everyone else, which
isn’t like Spain, where Real Madrid and Barcelona are in a league of their own. The Bundesliga is more balanced and better in terms of quality.
You joined Schalke from Milan. How did you find life at the San Siro?
I loved the Italian way of life. In fact, everything was great in Milan apart from the football we played, which was a bit too defensive for me. This is the way Italians play and, as a result, unfortunately I did not play many times as a proper striker. I was often used instead on the right wing, which didn’t suit me. My time with Leonardo as coach was quite difficult.
And before that you were in the Spanish capital with Real Madrid. What was it like there?
It was great, but also strange at the same time. I had spent all my life in Holland, then all of a sudden I was playing abroad, with different people and a new language. It felt like I was on holiday, despite working hard and playing my football. It was very unusual for me and I had the feeling I didn’t belong there, not in that country.
I had to absorb a lot of new things, to assimilate a new culture, to learn new ways to communicate. It was nice, but it was not easy. Cristiano Ronaldo was there, and Real Madrid wanted to buy Karim Benzema and Kaka, so I knew I would
play less. Raul was also there, and so were Gonzalo Higuain, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Javier Saviola and myself. We almost had a special bus only for us strikers!
Any regrets about those short spells with the two European heavyweights?
No, I don’t regret anything. I had a very nice time, and personally they were two important experiences which helped me develop as a person. I learned that things in football don’t always go the way you expect them to.
As an Ajax fan, was it hard joining PSV youth academy in your early career?
Obviously PSV was not my favourite team, but at that time it was the right place for me to improve as a player, to learn new things and to develop my game. It was a bit strange for me, and I was hoping for Ajax to call me as that would have made things easier, but to move to PSV was the right thing to do at that stage.
After scoring 17 goals before January for Heerenveen in 2006, the call you had been waiting for from Ajax finally came. How did it feel when they asked you to join them?
I felt a surge of energy, but also pressure because you badly want everything to work out well. It is like a dream, and you don’t want that dream to end in a negative way. Thankfully it all turned out very well for me at Ajax.
How proud were you to wear the historic Ajax number nine shirt?
It is true that many great players have worn that number nine, but for me it was not about the number. What counted most was wearing the Ajax shirt. I had always been an Ajax fan, I had always looked out for them on TV, my whole family were Ajax fans too. It was just great to play for them.
And under Marco Van Basten too…
Yes, back then Marco Van Basten was a very young coach so he spent most of his time with the whole group. Unfortunately, us strikers rarely had the opportunity to work alone with him. What he really taught me was how to be critical towards myself and the need to do everything properly in order to achieve my goals. Without that attitude it’s impossible to succeed.
Were these your happiest days?
At that point, yes, for sure, but I have loved every single step of my career and every club I have played for. I always tried to do my very best to develop and make the next step. I’ve tried to approach all experiences with that same attitude. However, back to the question: I must admit representing Ajax was something very special for me.
Interview by Daniele Verri