SOCCEROO Robbie Kruse is no longer the next big thing. The 24-year-old attacker is delivering on his early promise, enjoying a breakthrough season in the Bundesliga with four goals and as many assists.
The former A-League star is playing a key role in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s topflight survival and with Australia at the pointy end of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers the nation’s fortunes could hinge on his ability to bring his club form to bear on a tricky campaign.
Recently au.fourfourtwo.com pinned down the fleet-footed Aussie and asked him everything from his new defensive attitude to mastering the Humba and the colour of his new Nike boots.
Robbie, Last season you were a peripheral figure in Fortuna’s campaign to win promotion to the topflight – this season you’re a first XI regular. What’s changed?
Moving from Australia was quite difficult initially but you know I worked a lot on aspects in my game to make sure I got into the team here. Now I’m starting to get the rewards. I’ve had a really good season so far and hopefully I can help Fortuna stay in the top league.
What aspects of your game have improved?
I think in Australia I was only really attack-minded and probably shirked my defensive duties a lot. Moving here to Germany they’re massive on work rate and doing both sides of the game so I definitely worked on my defending and getting my body into good shape. They look at a lot of statistics – how far you run and all that stuff. In Australia I think I was maybe pushing 10km but here I’m over 12 easily every game. It’s a little thing but it’s definitely helped me a lot.
You made an impressive topflight debut, setting up two goals for a 2-0 victory over FC Augsburg. Any nerves before running out onto the pitch?
There were I think. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think if we had lost that game maybe I would’ve been out of the team pretty quickly. I’m just fortunate that we got a fair few points that first five games. It definitely gave me the platform to keep working on my game. Eventually I got better and better and the trainer now shows a lot of faith in me. So I’m really happy with that and hopefully I can help Fortuna stay in the first league.
Your spectacular brace against VfB Stuttgart last month didn’t look nearly as difficult as that totally bonkers Humba celebration afterwards in front of 40,000 frenzied Fortuna fans.
Yeah I was quite nervous. I’m not really a good public speaker but I had one of the players telling me what to say. But still trying to speak German – that was probably the first time I’ve tried to speak in front of that many people. I was quite nervous but thankfully I got through it. It didn’t sound too good though.
You busted some pretty interesting moves.
I think it’s a typical German thing – you just start jumping around, it’s crazy.
That 2-0 victory over Hamburger SV back in November when you scored a goal, provided an assist and got a standing ovation must rate as a season highlight.
Yeah – it was great. Like I said I kept working my way into the season and I think through the middle patch of the first part of the season I had a really good stretch of games. The fans here are quite tough but once they see you putting in 100 per cent and working hard they start to appreciate you a lot. So a standing ovation was pretty special. Also my parents were here recently for the Stuttgart game when I scored two goals so that was another highlight.
After that Hamburger game Fortuna’s sporting director Wolf Werner told bundesliga.com: “One or two of the newcomers haven’t quite delivered whereas Robbie Kruse has surpassed all expectations.” Are you still feeling the love?
Definitely, (the coaches) are really positive. They want me to stay and the club and they’re trying to negotiate a contract with me. It’s really good to get the feedback. The trainer usually plays me every game and I’m playing almost the whole of every game so that’s always a confidence boost. But I also feel I’ve done a lot in return. I’ve worked really hard, they’ve seen that and I think Germans appreciate players who work hard for the team.
So where are things at with your contract?
Well my contract runs to the end of 2014. They’ve started talking with my agent. Obviously my main goal is to stay in the first league. I don’t see myself as being able to go back playing in the second division so I want to stay here. Hopefully I can help Fortuna stay up.
Tell us a little about the fans.
I think ours are some of the best in the country. We’re a small club and a few years ago we were in the fourth league. So for us to get into the first league - it’s a dream for them as well. They know we’re one of the underdogs but we’re always giving it our best and if we’re doing that they’re really proud. It’s a massive honour to run-out in front of our fans.
Well it’s been a long wait for them – 15 years since Fortuna was last in the topflight.
Exactly, and we’ve gotten ourselves into a wonderful position to keep ourselves in the first league. We’re still seven points clear of the relegation playoffs. We’ve set the platform and we’ve got a tough three games ahead of us now but hopefully we can do the job and at the end of the season and stay up.
You were one of the most fouled players in the A-League. What’s the punishment like in the Bundesliga?
I think I’m the second most fouled player here in the Bundesliga – that’s what I get told every day at training anyway. It doesn’t really bother me. I don’t really care. If I’m doing my job for the team that’s all I care about. I think in the A-League I wasn’t too liked but that’s my job to take players on. I’m not the biggest of people so it’s easy to knock me over, but as long as I’m doing my job and getting into good positions that’s all that counts I guess.
What’s life like outside of football?
My friend Mitch Langerak (goalkeeper) is at Dortmund so it’s only 40 minutes down the road. He has his girlfriend here as well so my girlfriend and his try and catch up a lot. And Dusseldorf is a wonderful city so there’s plenty of stuff to do here. There’s really good shopping and nice cafes so we just try and get out as much as we can.
You’re a key figure in head coach Holger Osieck’s plans for Australia’s World Cup qualifiers. What are you expecting from Oman in Sydney on March 26?
It’s going to be difficult. You’ve got to show big respect to the Arab nations. They actually play quite decent football and it’s going to be a tough game. Obviously the travel is quite difficult. Most of us will be flying back from Europe and other places. It’s a long journey and then to try and back up and play a couple of days later. But it’s a vital game for us because if we win hopefully it gives us a platform to win the remaining games and qualify.
There’s clear air between Japan and the Socceroos who are on five points with Iraq and Oman but have a game in hand. What’s your take on the campaign so far?
You don’t want to make excuses but the schedule has been quite difficult for us. The opening game in Oman was in June and about 45 degrees. It’s almost impossible to play in those conditions. I think kick-off was at four o’clock in the afternoon as well. Then we immediately flew back to face Japan. They played their first two games at home before travelling to Australia. But there are no excuses – we had a poor showing against Jordan which was a difficult game to lose but I think we’re on track. We win our catch-up game and then we have two more home games so it’s in our hands. If we win those can make the World Cup and obviously that’s the goal.
There’s been a lot of talk about the age of the squad. Do you think regeneration is happening quickly enough?
There’s a fairly good blend of youth and experience. You’ve got to have a lot of experienced players particularly in the qualifiers. You can’t just chuck in a whole lot of young players and expect them to do the job. I think you’re massively honoured to be able to share the pitch and train with some of the players that are in our team. You look at the captain (Lucas Neill) – he sets a wonderful example for the rest of the players in training and in the game. I think it’s up to the younger players to nail down a starting spot at their clubs and to play really good each week to be able to get into the team. Until everyone is doing that there’s not much to complain about.
What do you think of the quality of young players coming through?
Adam Sarota was doing really well and it’s really devastating for him to get the injury (cruciate ligament). James Holland is playing every week for Austria Vienna which is in a very good league and performing really well. And there’s Tommy Oar and (Michael) Zullo and obviously (Tom) Rogic has come over just recently. There’s plenty of others who can keep pushing (for a position), hopefully making it a really good national team.
It must feel like old times when you play alongside former Brisbane Roar team-mates, Zullo, Oar and Sarota?
Yeah – I’ve grown up with Michael and Adam since I was a little kid. And it was really hard when I saw what happened to Adam. He’s a really good friend. It’s disappointing and bad timing for him but I’m sure he’ll come back really good. I think I was starting to leave (Roar) around the time (Oar) was coming in the team but I still know him, he’s a great kid and he’s going to be really important for us in the national team so hopefully he can keep playing well at Utrecht.
You’ve notched up more than 20 caps for the Green and Gold. Feeling like part of the Socceroos furniture yet?
One hundred per cent. I feel I’ve started to cement my spot in the side. If I keep performing at my club like I’m doing now hopefully I can kick-on in the Socceroos team and be there in 2014.
Do you keep in touch with what’s happening in the A-League?
Definitely, I still try and watch it as much as I can. The league’s getting better every year and it’s really exciting to watch the games particularly Victory. I like to see my old team-mates do well, especially Archie (Thompson) who’s been really good for me. And it’s good to see Western Sydney doing so well and (Tony) Popovic doing such a great job there – it’s really good for Australian football.
Any thoughts on former Roar coach Frank Farina’s return to the A-League with Sydney FC?
I saw he got the job and I’m really hoping he’s does well and gets a long term future there. He’s a wonderful coach. He gave me my debut as a professional so I’m really grateful for that. I’ve always liked Frank and maybe I can play under him again – but hopefully that’s a long way away.
When bundesliga.com interviewed you in November they asked if you were a star in Australia and you said no. Do you think that’s changing?
No. I definitely don’t see myself as that. I mean a star in Australia is someone like a Harry Kewell, a Tim Cahill or a Lucas Neill. They’re massive players in Australia and many people who don’t even follow football know who Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell are. I call them stars. I’m just a footballer who comes from Australia.
Finally, tell us about the new speed control Nike Mercurial Vapor IX boots you’re wearing. Some of the lads at FourFourTwo tried them out but their results weren’t as pretty as the boots.
Yeah – mine are purple (fireberry) – a great boot, really light and beneficial for people who want to use their speed to maximum effect. I’m really happy with the boot and hopefully I can keep on scoring more goals with them. Actually all the Vapors Nike bring out are really good.
*Robbie wears the new Nike Mercurial Vapor boot. For more information on this and other Nike football boot visit http://www.nikestore.com.au