Stephan Schrock has enjoyed steady progress up the German football ladder, rising through the ranks at Franconian side Greuther Furth to eventually help the club win promotion to the Bundesliga, then enjoying a spell at Hoffenheim before joining Eintracht Frankfurt.
The full-back-cum-winger was tasked with marking Franck Ribery for Eintracht Frankfurt this season, a further sign of how highly he is rated by coach Armin Veh; while at international level, Schrock raised eyebrows by opting for life with the Philippines rather than Germany. It is, he says, a decision he in no way regrets.
We went to speak to the Eintracht Frankfurt star.
Inside Futbol (IF): Stephan, you’re very much an icon at Greuther Furth. You started there in 2001 in the youth ranks before playing professionally for them in 2004. What was it like to leave your boyhood club behind in 2012?
Stephan Schrock (SS): It was a very hard decision for me. I had been there almost my whole life; I know every stone and every tree in Furth. I met so many beautiful people there and I owe Furth a lot. But I have to develop myself, see myself through another window and that’s the reason why I left Furth.
IF: Of course you left Furth to join Hoffenheim. How was that? What can you say about the difference in standards between the two clubs?
SS: Hoffenheim are one of the richest clubs in Germany, so the conditions there are unbelievably good. During my time at the club they had a new manager and he tried to make the team play, so that perhaps they can qualify for the Europa League or maybe the Champions League. It was like, I saw myself doing better than at Furth. When Furth were promoted to the Bundesliga, they were one of the poorest clubs in Germany so it became hard for them to survive in the top flight. Of course, I had wanted to play in the Bundesliga for a long time so for me the decision to play for Hoffenheim was easy.
IF: You left Furth and joined Hoffenheim on a free transfer when your contract ended. Were there efforts from either you or from Furth to somehow extend the partnership?
SS: Of course, there were. I was thinking about it for six or seven weeks. As I’ve said, Furth are not one of the richest clubs in Germany and Hoffenheim offered a good deal, and they showed me that I had a good future there so that’s why I left.
IF: At Hoffenheim, though, you didn’t have the best of times. You only made ten league appearances and on your debut you were sent off for earning two yellow cards in a single game. Do you think that somehow made an impact when it came to making an impression at Hoffenheim?
SS: That’s one reason, of course. During that season at Hoffenheim, the expectation was very high, but we lost almost every single league game, so it was hard to just be on the field. Everything wasn’t calm, [people] were like, ‘Why is everything going so wrong?’. Then they fired managers, fired coaches. They brought in new players, and when they didn’t perform, fired coaches again. We had three managers in one season. Of course, I was not happy there, and when you’re not happy, you cannot perform on the pitch.
IF: At Hoffenheim you had three managers and one of them was Markus Babbel. Obviously, he’s a big Bayern Munich icon. What was it like to play under such a high-calibre former player?
SS: It was definitely a great experience. I didn’t play as much, but it was great. At Furth, I could play however I wanted and they would still play me anyway. But at Hoffenheim, they showed a new side of my career. Markus Babbel is a great coach and he taught us many things.
IF: In one of your earlier interviews, you said that Bruno Labbadia had an influence on your game. You worked with Labbadia at Furth, but recently he has struggled at Stuttgart and was sacked. Overall, though, how was he as a manager for you?
SS: He’s one of the managers who see to it that everything has to go 100%. He’ll never say, ‘Hmm… this looked okay, so we’ll continue with this’. No, he had a vision, and it has to go his way 100% and if you didn’t do that, he’d kick you out.
IF: How about Mike Buskens? You also played under him and you’ve been quoted as saying that Buskens had an influence on your game, too. How did it feel to work under such a manager?
SS: To be honest, he’s the best manager I’ve ever had. He’s very human, he understands the things going on with you, if you had some things on your mind, or if you had problems in your personal life, he will support you and give you confidence. He also taught us a lot of great stuff and we had a great year with him, he got us promoted to the Bundesliga [with Furth]. Without him, we wouldn’t have made it. He was a big part of our success.
IF: Obviously many fans were saddened that you had to leave Furth. And you’ve also said that you had a lot of offers during that time. Would you mind sharing which clubs those were?
SS: All of that is in the past now, so it doesn’t matter anymore. At that time, however, I was trying to extend my contract with Furth. But I had a feeling I wanted it more than they did. I knew there were clubs in the Bundesliga offering me good deals, but I understood Furth couldn’t offer me such money. Still, they were saying, ‘Why don’t we just offer him any deal, after all he will still sign for us’. That made me very angry. I had a feeling I had to fight more to stay at the club than for them to have me.
IF: Now you are at Eintracht Frankfurt. It is interesting though that you joined your current club on a free transfer too. But I understand you originally had a three-year deal with Hoffenheim. What was the reason behind this?
SS: I didn’t play a lot of games with Hoffenheim and when a new manager came in he tried to change the face of the club. People like Tim Wiese, [Erin] Derdiyok, guys who were brought in with me during the summer, he wanted to kick out. He said he wanted to put in young blood, in an effort to achieve success for the club. With that, I said, ‘If you don’t plan to play me next season, then I want to leave’, and they said okay.
IF: Now at Eintracht Frankfurt it appears manager Armin Veh has given you a vote of confidence by playing you in the bigger games. You’ve not played in the Europa League yet, and you haven’t played that much in the Bundesliga, but you were selected to play against Borussia Dortmund and against Bayern Munich, tasked to pay at right-back. That must have been a big task for you?
SS: Yeah, it seems I’m just playing the big games [laughs]. Anyway, I like it there, at Frankfurt. It’s more familiar there; I have the feeling I’m closer to the team. Of course, we still have a long season. We’re playing in the Europa League, so we're playing almost three games a week. I’ve no problem waiting for my chance; I thought I did well in those two games, even though we lost both. I’ve got a good feeling with the club, I’m happy to be there.
IF: One of the players you were tasked to mark against Bayern Munich was Franck Ribery. He recently won the 2013 UEFA Best Player in Europe award. He’s also a top contender to win the Ballon d’Or. Obviously, you’ve had a one-on-one experience against him on the pitch. How does it feel to mark a player that’s rated to be on the same level as guys like Cristiano Ronaldo?
SS: My first thought when I played him was that hopefully, come the next day, I won’t be on YouTube and there’s footage of him killing me on the pitch. Of course it was a great feeling, it was a great experience. I’ve played against him four times now and it seems he’s not as hard to play as the previous times I’ve played him, so I think I did well and hopefully we’ll meet again in the away game.
IF: On the whole, Eintracht Frankfurt are performing nicely in the Europa League. You've beaten APOEL 3-0 and Bordeaux by the same scoreline. What do you think the chances of Eintracht Frankfurt are when it comes to actually pushing through the competition and winning?
SS: It’s very difficult to say right now. Of course, we have already grabbed two wins and if we can beat Tel-Aviv, it looks like we can pass through the group stage, and with a little bit of luck, if we knock off one of the big-name clubs, then we may have a chance to stay in the competition until the year ends.
IF: Going back to your position at right-back, I’ve had a conversation with Philippine national team head coach Michael Weiss and he said you were more adept as an attacking player, that you were a more creative and fast player. Do you agree with this evaluation of you, that you could be more of a threat going forward than in defence?
SS: I totally agree with that. I played at right-back with Furth for a long time because the player who used to play there got injured for a long time. I gave it a try and I didn’t do that badly in the role. So before the Bayern Munich game, [Eintracht Frankfurt right-back] Sebastian Jung was injured and coach Armin Veh talked to me and said, ‘Hey, I know you’ve played in right-back for Furth. Let’s try that’. I said okay and I played there. Still, I prefer to be in a more attacking position than at the back.
IF: You won a lot of youth caps for Germany, but then you were called up to the Philippines national team. At first, it almost didn’t happen, but then some FIFA regulations were abolished and you were cleared to play for the Philippines. How does it feel to now play for the Philippines compared to when you were playing with Germany?
SS: The most important difference, the main reason why I’m playing for the Philippines national team is because of my mum. I owe everything to her; she’s taken care of me so much. I’ve got family here too, so I never regretted my decision to play for the Philippines, and I will never do. I think it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life.
The conditions and circumstances are different to Germany. Filipinos are more, I don’t know, maybe the schedule is not that tight, people will say ‘let’s see how we can manage’ and I love it here. I am representing 90 million people; it’s such a pleasure for me and it makes me so proud.
IF: Of course, you are one of the more experienced players in the national team, given your role at Eintracht Frankfurt. How does that affect your approach when it comes to playing for the Philippines?
SS: I feel I’m a little bit under pressure when I’m here. Given that I’m playing for Frankfurt, I feel like the eyes are always on me. Neil [Etheridge of Fulham] and I feel we have to take more responsibility and that we have to perform. But as I’ve said, I love it here and I will do my best in every cup game and friendly, even if it is almost impossible with the flying hours and with the games not always falling with a FIFA international break schedule – I would do anything to play here for us.
IF: As you know, the Philippines didn’t qualify for the World Cup next year. Still, do you think the country has a chance to make it in 2018?
SS: I think the Philippines will have to think in smaller steps, because I’ve been here for two and a half years now. Sometimes, there’s hype and a boom, things suddenly become more professional, then there will come a time when we have to wait for so many things to come into place and it seems like nobody’s taking care of us again.
I think it will be easier for the Philippines to take the smaller steps. For example, we have a game in the Maldives in May and that will help us in our game in Australia in 2014 and create a big boom for Philippine football. Hopefully that will help bring sponsors in to support the team and people will come and support the team, fill the stadiums and cheer as loud as they are doing right now.
IF: Then again, you had your time with Germany, and they are speeding through to the World Cup in Brazil. But they have this recent history of not performing when it comes to playing against big teams like Italy. What do you think the chances of Germany are when it comes to winning the 2014 World Cup?
SS: I think Germany and Brazil are the favourites for winning the World Cup. I’ve played with some of the German internationals in the youth team and they’re now in the super age in terms of talent and fitness and I guess Germany can make it really, really far.
IF: Let’s end with something personal. About two years ago, you revealed that you smoked regularly. You decided to quit that and it appears it made an improvement in your game. Now, though, there seems to be a bit of a furore when it comes to Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and his smoking habits. What advice can you give him on that front?
SS: Every player is different. One player can smoke and drink the whole day and perform well on Sunday. Everybody has their own routine. If Jack Wilshere can smoke and perform well, which he is obviously doing, then it should be no problem. He’s just a human being as well and I’m cool with what his preference is.
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