Bayern Munich’s Jérôme Boateng has become one of the world’s top center backs, and he has the trophies to go with that success: The World Cup (with Germany), the UEFA Champions League and three Bundesliga titles with Bayern. (There’s also a fantastic story involving SI and Boateng’s Champions League medal, which you should definitely read.)
The Bundesliga starts up again on Friday after its winter break with Bayern Munich traveling to Hamburg (FS1, 2:30 p.m. ET), and SI.com spoke to Boateng this week about a number of topics, including Pep Guardiola’s last season at Bayern, his desire to face Barcelona in Champions League and that play against Lionel Messi last year.
Here’s what Boateng had to say:
SI.com: What’s the hardest part of the first game back after winter break?
Boateng: The hardest thing is that you’ve just had a kind of preseason [in January], but it’s not very long and you don’t know exactly where the team is yet. So it will be good to see [against Hamburg] where we are. We hope to be back on the level that we were at before [the break].
SI.com: Bayern Munich is eight points up on Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. How are you feeling about Bayern right now?
Boateng: I think the first [half] of the league was really good. We lost just one game, and the rest we really dominated. We had some good games and some not-as-good games. For the second half it’s important to get better. And Champions League is coming [with a round-of-16 matchup against Juventus). We have to keep on going, because the other teams don’t sleep.
SI.com: The biggest news of the winter break for Bayern was that Pep Guardiola announced he would be leaving at the end of the season, and his replacement at Bayern will be Carlo Ancelotti. Does Guardiola’s decision give you any extra incentive to win the Champions League—which he has yet to win with Bayern?
Boateng: Yeah. Now everybody knows, and it’s kind of a little special motivation—and also for him—that he leaves with great success or some trophies at the end. At the end of the day, we’ll play as we always do, and we want to win what is possible to win. So I don’t think that has changed at all.
SI.com: What’s the most important thing you have learned from Guardiola?
Boateng: I think the most important thing is I open the game now. It starts with me. He gives me good advice to be better on my game with the ball, when I have the ball on my foot. I’m more calm, and I’m tactically better now.
SI.com: You’ve won the Champions League, so you know how difficult it is to raise that trophy. Last year Bayern fell to Barcelona. Do you want another chance at Barça again after last year?
Boateng: Yes, of course. It would be nice to play against them and maybe have all our players healthy. They had their best players [against Bayern last year], and our quick players in our offense were missing. We didn’t have our wingers, [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribéry, and [David] Alaba, and they had everybody. So it would be nice to face them again with our team, with some of our new guys who are fit. Then I’d want to see that game.
SI.com: Last year against Barcelona you had an unfortunate play where you slipped and Lionel Messi scored a goal. You’ve accomplished a lot in your career. Was it tough for you to see that replay on TV around the world? And how much support did you get from other players you know?
Boateng: A lot of people who are friends of mine texted me and called me. [Mario] Balotelli made a nice comment on Instagram. I had a lot of positive comments. Of course I was angry because it became a goal. I wasn’t angry because I fell, because that happens sometimes, or because I looked bad in that situation. In football that can happen to anybody. Messi is for me the best player in the world. He’s so quick. So it was unlucky. One year before [when Bayern beat Barcelona] I was in the better position. It’s always like that. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but I keep going.
SI.com: Does this Bayern squad have a chance to be the best Bayern team you have played on?
Boateng: Yes. I would say we have the chance. The quality is there, the players are there. It’s a good mix, but at the end of the day you have to bring it on the pitch.
SI.com: What’s different about this season’s Bayern team compared to previous ones?
Boateng: We have more options. Last year we had people injured who were important. Now we have more players like [Douglas] Costa, like [Kingsley] Coman. We have Ribéry back soon. Robben, [Robert] Lewandowski, [Thomas] Müller. More options. We have [Arturo] Vidal, a really aggressive guy in the midfield. It’s good to have those guys.