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Catch me if you can

With his explosive pace and eye for goal, Salzburg’s teenage strike sensation Karim Adeyemi has been turning heads and terrifying defences in equal measure this season. Ian Holyman caught up with the German international on a fast track to the top

PORTRAITS Simon Hofmann

Interview
There’s something about Salzburg and teenage prodigies. Top spot undoubtedly goes to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but to be fair, Mozart never won three penalties in less than half an hour of a Champions League game. That, rather, is the kind of feat that has made Karim Adeyemi the talk of the town, the latest wunderkind to emerge from a club that is renowned for promoting young talent.

I’m in Lyon, as Adeyemi speaks to me from the Salzburg dressing room via Zoom. Covid-19 restrictions have meant getting used to these online calls, rather than face-to-face interviews. Sometimes it can make for a more stilted conversation, but this isn’t one of those occasions. Adeyemi is relaxed, perched on the corner of a big table in the middle of the room. He is wearing a hoodie and looks like any other kid his age. Only this 19-year-old is a bit different. His brilliant form – and goals – for Salzburg, and recently Germany for the first time, have turned Europe’s gaze towards the city of Mozart. Adeyemi is playing to his own tune.

His personality comes shining through: fresh, bright, lively. He laughs when I mention that he is apparently faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Adeyemi only started his first Champions League game this season and his rise has been every bit as quick as the clean pair of heels he showed the Sevilla defence on Matchday 1. 

In the space of 26 first-half minutes, the striker won three penalties. He missed the target with the first, before Luka Sučić scored the second and hit the post with the third. Incredibly, Sevilla also scored from the spot in the first half – the first time four penalties had been awarded in a Champions League game – and Salzburg somehow left Andalusia with just one point.

Two weeks later Adeyemi was at it again, his electrifying pace too much for LOSC defender Sven Botman, who sliced him down after 30 minutes. Adeyemi picked himself up and rifled in the spot kick. 120 minutes played; four penalties won. Six minutes into the second half, Salzburg got a fifth; Adeyemi wasn’t responsible this time but, once again, he scored it. He slid the ball down the middle with confidence and authority. No nerves here.

Three minutes gone on Matchday 3 and Adeyemi scored his first in the competition from open play, skipping onto Nicolas Seiwald’s pass and flying clear, his speed too much for the Wolfsburg defence in a 3-1 win. The last player to burst on the scene in such jaw-dropping style for Salzburg? One Erling Haaland, two seasons ago. 

It didn’t take Adeyemi’s Champions League exploits to alert Germany coach Hansi Flick to his talents. The Munich-born youngster had dazzled in Germany’s European Under-21 Championship triumph last summer and by 5 September had already managed to score on his senior international debut, coming on late to round out a 6-0 win against Armenia.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Adeyemi, who had left Germany three years previously. Following two years in the Bayern München academy he joined nearby Unterhaching, from where he was signed by Salzburg in the summer of 2018. It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride. Contractual differences cut short Adeyemi’s time at boyhood club Bayern and at Unterhaching there were lessons to be learnt off the pitch before he was allowed to make an impression on it.

Discipline is no longer an issue. After a season on loan at Liefering, Adeyemi made the grade at Salzburg and hasn’t looked back. With 15 goals from his first 26 games across all club competitions as we go to press, it’s not hard to see why he is suddenly commanding so much attention. Champions Journal caught up with the Salzburg starlet to find out how he is dealing with this first flush of fame.

I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football.
I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here.

What are your first memories of football? Where did you play as a kid and who with?

I played with my father; he played football passionately in Nigeria. We played together and my first club was TSV Forstenried, close to the area where I lived. I was allowed to train with the older players and that’s how it began. 

Did you also play in the street with your friends?

Yes, during winter or summer when we didn’t have any indoor tournaments. We called it ‘Wacker’. There was a football pitch in Munich where a lot of boys got together, including a lot of Bayern players who were older, and we tried to keep up. We met there a lot and played in
the streets. 

Was school essentially a distraction for you? Were you just waiting to concentrate on playing football?

I think as a young boy it’s difficult to focus on both, but I was lucky in that my parents gave me a little break from school. As a young boy you want to do what you love – and that was football. I don’t want to say I was a good student, but I did my best. In the end I’m happy it worked out for me, but I’m still not where I want to be. 

Your mother has said that your time in the Unterhaching academy was important because you learnt everything necessary to become successful. True?

I had a lot of problems at school; I wasn’t focused and I talked a lot, to be honest. I got in trouble with our academy president, but he helped me a lot along the way. He told me that school is important and I gave my best. I think that in football, everything comes naturally.

Is it true that your idol at the time was Arjen Robben?

Yes. I was a huge Bayern fan when I played for Bayern in the U9s and U10s. I was a big fan of Arjen Robben and I think he was one of the best players at Bayern with his left foot and finishing skills, as well as his one-on-one abilities. He was my favourite player back then.

Would you compare his playing style to yours?

I wouldn’t compare us. He played football in a different way that doesn’t exist anymore. He used his strong left foot and knew what he was capable of, whether playing in the Bundesliga or the Champions League. But I wouldn’t put myself in that category. I think I’m more similar to [Kylian] Mbappé or [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang. 

You’ve said that speed is your greatest strength and we’ve read that you’re faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Do you work on your speed or do you focus on other skills?

[Laughs] I think you can’t change your top speed, but maybe you can improve your explosiveness and learn to start sprinting from a standing position. That’s what I’m working on. But I focus on things I can improve: for example, my first touch or scoring skills, or reading the game better. 

What does it mean to you to be playing in the Champions League this season?

It means a lot. First of all, it’s a dream come true because every kid dreams of playing in this competition – and, of course, winning it, but that’s a long way off. Being able to play in this competition is a huge honour and I think I can speak for my whole team, which is so young and playing in the Champions League. It’s a great feeling. 

Do you remember watching Champions League finals on television when you were a child?

I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football. Champions League finals are always great.

Then there was the final against Borussia Dortmund in 2013…

Yes, that was Robben’s payback. 

One thing that’s difficult to train for is pressure, but you seem to find it very easy to cope in the Champions League. How did you keep your cool when you were taking the penalties against LOSC? 

There’s always pressure, but there is a difference between playing at home and away. In that game I knew where I was going to shoot. I knew that in Sevilla too, but that was my first Champions League game and penalty, so I was more nervous. But against Lille, I was sure I was going to score. Fortunately I did score – and then scoring twice from the penalty spot was amazing. 

It was even more impressive given what happened against Sevilla. What were your emotions during that crazy first half in Spain?

In general I think we had a very good start; we set up really well. Sevilla had more possession in the first few minutes and were more dominant, but we just tried to play our game. There were a total of four penalties in the first half; it was a different kind of game for both teams. From my perspective, to be fouled three times in the box was also very unusual. It would have been very different if I’d put the first one in, but that’s in the past and now we’re looking ahead.

Have you changed your approach at all as a player and as a team, since that first game?

I wouldn’t say that we have changed. As a young team we’re always trying to express ourselves on the pitch and implement what the coach and the coaching team tell us. We’re always up for it and want to win. I think it’s important for us to keep our heads held high and play our own game.

As you say, Salzburg are such a young team. What’s the atmosphere like in the changing room?

Very relaxed. I think it’s different to having a lot of older players. We all understand each other and that’s why it’s very calm and chill here. We all get along well and go out together, so it’s different to how it is at some other clubs. 

Why do young players develop so well at Salzburg?

I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here. If you look, we have a lot of players in the first team who were born in 2003, as well as 2002 and 2001. Salzburg trust young players, let them play, let them develop, and turn them into great players.

What role do the older players play in the squad?

Of course, they also play an important role, both on and off the pitch. They are leadership players on the pitch around whom we orientate, from whom we get our feedback, in addition to the coach and captain. Off the pitch, we all get along well and often do stuff together. 

Who is responsible for the music in the changing rooms?

Rasmus [Kristensen] usually. Sometimes Noah [Okafor], but normally Rasmus. He plays everything: ’80s, ’90s music, all the way up to modern music, Danish music…
I actually have a few Danish songs on my playlist now.

And how would you describe your fashion sense? 

Very relaxed. If you ask any of my team-mates, they would say I’m probably the one with the wide trousers, oversized hoodie – always relaxed. Not that sporty, except on the pitch.

You’ve already played – and scored – for Germany. What’s the next step in the career of Karim Adeyemi?

I want to establish myself more in the national team, get to know everyone better and make more appearances for them. Best-case scenario, I want to go to the World Cup with them; that would be a dream. I’m here with Salzburg now and, of course, I want to help the team reach its goals.

WORDS Chris Burke
Past pedigree

From Ernst Happel to David Alaba, Austrian football has left its mark on Europe’s biggest stage

History was made when Salzburg defeated Wolfsburg 3-1 on Matchday 3: never before had an Austrian club beaten a side from Germany in the Champions League. And it took them onto an impressive seven points from nine in the group stage, sparking hopes among their fans of progress to the last 16. 

Older Austrian supporters may have been reminded of past continental feats. The country is better known for hosting four European Cup finals (1964, 1987, 1990 and 1995) than threatening to win them, but the two biggest clubs from the capital have both enjoyed runs to the last four: Rapid Wien lost to Benfica in 1960/61 and Austria Wien succumbed to Malmö in 1978/79.

Austria also boasts its fair share of European Cup heroes, including a pair of final winners. Most recently David Alaba prevailed with Bayern in 2013 and 2020, following in the footsteps of Franz Hasil – a key component of the Feyenoord team that triumphed in 1970.

The midfielder shared that victory with another Austrian great, Ernst Happel, the first coach to win the competition with two different clubs when he led Hamburg to glory in 1983. Happel’s name now lives on in his native Vienna at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, formerly the Praterstadion – the venue for each of those aforementioned finals.

I’m in Lyon, as Adeyemi speaks to me from the Salzburg dressing room via Zoom. Covid-19 restrictions have meant getting used to these online calls, rather than face-to-face interviews. Sometimes it can make for a more stilted conversation, but this isn’t one of those occasions. Adeyemi is relaxed, perched on the corner of a big table in the middle of the room. He is wearing a hoodie and looks like any other kid his age. Only this 19-year-old is a bit different. His brilliant form – and goals – for Salzburg, and recently Germany for the first time, have turned Europe’s gaze towards the city of Mozart. Adeyemi is playing to his own tune.

His personality comes shining through: fresh, bright, lively. He laughs when I mention that he is apparently faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Adeyemi only started his first Champions League game this season and his rise has been every bit as quick as the clean pair of heels he showed the Sevilla defence on Matchday 1. 

In the space of 26 first-half minutes, the striker won three penalties. He missed the target with the first, before Luka Sučić scored the second and hit the post with the third. Incredibly, Sevilla also scored from the spot in the first half – the first time four penalties had been awarded in a Champions League game – and Salzburg somehow left Andalusia with just one point.

Two weeks later Adeyemi was at it again, his electrifying pace too much for LOSC defender Sven Botman, who sliced him down after 30 minutes. Adeyemi picked himself up and rifled in the spot kick. 120 minutes played; four penalties won. Six minutes into the second half, Salzburg got a fifth; Adeyemi wasn’t responsible this time but, once again, he scored it. He slid the ball down the middle with confidence and authority. No nerves here.

Three minutes gone on Matchday 3 and Adeyemi scored his first in the competition from open play, skipping onto Nicolas Seiwald’s pass and flying clear, his speed too much for the Wolfsburg defence in a 3-1 win. The last player to burst on the scene in such jaw-dropping style for Salzburg? One Erling Haaland, two seasons ago. 

It didn’t take Adeyemi’s Champions League exploits to alert Germany coach Hansi Flick to his talents. The Munich-born youngster had dazzled in Germany’s European Under-21 Championship triumph last summer and by 5 September had already managed to score on his senior international debut, coming on late to round out a 6-0 win against Armenia.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Adeyemi, who had left Germany three years previously. Following two years in the Bayern München academy he joined nearby Unterhaching, from where he was signed by Salzburg in the summer of 2018. It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride. Contractual differences cut short Adeyemi’s time at boyhood club Bayern and at Unterhaching there were lessons to be learnt off the pitch before he was allowed to make an impression on it.

Discipline is no longer an issue. After a season on loan at Liefering, Adeyemi made the grade at Salzburg and hasn’t looked back. With 15 goals from his first 26 games across all club competitions as we go to press, it’s not hard to see why he is suddenly commanding so much attention. Champions Journal caught up with the Salzburg starlet to find out how he is dealing with this first flush of fame.

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I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football.
I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here.

What are your first memories of football? Where did you play as a kid and who with?

I played with my father; he played football passionately in Nigeria. We played together and my first club was TSV Forstenried, close to the area where I lived. I was allowed to train with the older players and that’s how it began. 

Did you also play in the street with your friends?

Yes, during winter or summer when we didn’t have any indoor tournaments. We called it ‘Wacker’. There was a football pitch in Munich where a lot of boys got together, including a lot of Bayern players who were older, and we tried to keep up. We met there a lot and played in
the streets. 

Was school essentially a distraction for you? Were you just waiting to concentrate on playing football?

I think as a young boy it’s difficult to focus on both, but I was lucky in that my parents gave me a little break from school. As a young boy you want to do what you love – and that was football. I don’t want to say I was a good student, but I did my best. In the end I’m happy it worked out for me, but I’m still not where I want to be. 

Your mother has said that your time in the Unterhaching academy was important because you learnt everything necessary to become successful. True?

I had a lot of problems at school; I wasn’t focused and I talked a lot, to be honest. I got in trouble with our academy president, but he helped me a lot along the way. He told me that school is important and I gave my best. I think that in football, everything comes naturally.

Is it true that your idol at the time was Arjen Robben?

Yes. I was a huge Bayern fan when I played for Bayern in the U9s and U10s. I was a big fan of Arjen Robben and I think he was one of the best players at Bayern with his left foot and finishing skills, as well as his one-on-one abilities. He was my favourite player back then.

Would you compare his playing style to yours?

I wouldn’t compare us. He played football in a different way that doesn’t exist anymore. He used his strong left foot and knew what he was capable of, whether playing in the Bundesliga or the Champions League. But I wouldn’t put myself in that category. I think I’m more similar to [Kylian] Mbappé or [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang. 

You’ve said that speed is your greatest strength and we’ve read that you’re faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Do you work on your speed or do you focus on other skills?

[Laughs] I think you can’t change your top speed, but maybe you can improve your explosiveness and learn to start sprinting from a standing position. That’s what I’m working on. But I focus on things I can improve: for example, my first touch or scoring skills, or reading the game better. 

What does it mean to you to be playing in the Champions League this season?

It means a lot. First of all, it’s a dream come true because every kid dreams of playing in this competition – and, of course, winning it, but that’s a long way off. Being able to play in this competition is a huge honour and I think I can speak for my whole team, which is so young and playing in the Champions League. It’s a great feeling. 

Do you remember watching Champions League finals on television when you were a child?

I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football. Champions League finals are always great.

Then there was the final against Borussia Dortmund in 2013…

Yes, that was Robben’s payback. 

One thing that’s difficult to train for is pressure, but you seem to find it very easy to cope in the Champions League. How did you keep your cool when you were taking the penalties against LOSC? 

There’s always pressure, but there is a difference between playing at home and away. In that game I knew where I was going to shoot. I knew that in Sevilla too, but that was my first Champions League game and penalty, so I was more nervous. But against Lille, I was sure I was going to score. Fortunately I did score – and then scoring twice from the penalty spot was amazing. 

It was even more impressive given what happened against Sevilla. What were your emotions during that crazy first half in Spain?

In general I think we had a very good start; we set up really well. Sevilla had more possession in the first few minutes and were more dominant, but we just tried to play our game. There were a total of four penalties in the first half; it was a different kind of game for both teams. From my perspective, to be fouled three times in the box was also very unusual. It would have been very different if I’d put the first one in, but that’s in the past and now we’re looking ahead.

Have you changed your approach at all as a player and as a team, since that first game?

I wouldn’t say that we have changed. As a young team we’re always trying to express ourselves on the pitch and implement what the coach and the coaching team tell us. We’re always up for it and want to win. I think it’s important for us to keep our heads held high and play our own game.

As you say, Salzburg are such a young team. What’s the atmosphere like in the changing room?

Very relaxed. I think it’s different to having a lot of older players. We all understand each other and that’s why it’s very calm and chill here. We all get along well and go out together, so it’s different to how it is at some other clubs. 

Why do young players develop so well at Salzburg?

I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here. If you look, we have a lot of players in the first team who were born in 2003, as well as 2002 and 2001. Salzburg trust young players, let them play, let them develop, and turn them into great players.

What role do the older players play in the squad?

Of course, they also play an important role, both on and off the pitch. They are leadership players on the pitch around whom we orientate, from whom we get our feedback, in addition to the coach and captain. Off the pitch, we all get along well and often do stuff together. 

Who is responsible for the music in the changing rooms?

Rasmus [Kristensen] usually. Sometimes Noah [Okafor], but normally Rasmus. He plays everything: ’80s, ’90s music, all the way up to modern music, Danish music…
I actually have a few Danish songs on my playlist now.

And how would you describe your fashion sense? 

Very relaxed. If you ask any of my team-mates, they would say I’m probably the one with the wide trousers, oversized hoodie – always relaxed. Not that sporty, except on the pitch.

You’ve already played – and scored – for Germany. What’s the next step in the career of Karim Adeyemi?

I want to establish myself more in the national team, get to know everyone better and make more appearances for them. Best-case scenario, I want to go to the World Cup with them; that would be a dream. I’m here with Salzburg now and, of course, I want to help the team reach its goals.

WORDS Chris Burke
Past pedigree

From Ernst Happel to David Alaba, Austrian football has left its mark on Europe’s biggest stage

History was made when Salzburg defeated Wolfsburg 3-1 on Matchday 3: never before had an Austrian club beaten a side from Germany in the Champions League. And it took them onto an impressive seven points from nine in the group stage, sparking hopes among their fans of progress to the last 16. 

Older Austrian supporters may have been reminded of past continental feats. The country is better known for hosting four European Cup finals (1964, 1987, 1990 and 1995) than threatening to win them, but the two biggest clubs from the capital have both enjoyed runs to the last four: Rapid Wien lost to Benfica in 1960/61 and Austria Wien succumbed to Malmö in 1978/79.

Austria also boasts its fair share of European Cup heroes, including a pair of final winners. Most recently David Alaba prevailed with Bayern in 2013 and 2020, following in the footsteps of Franz Hasil – a key component of the Feyenoord team that triumphed in 1970.

The midfielder shared that victory with another Austrian great, Ernst Happel, the first coach to win the competition with two different clubs when he led Hamburg to glory in 1983. Happel’s name now lives on in his native Vienna at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, formerly the Praterstadion – the venue for each of those aforementioned finals.

I’m in Lyon, as Adeyemi speaks to me from the Salzburg dressing room via Zoom. Covid-19 restrictions have meant getting used to these online calls, rather than face-to-face interviews. Sometimes it can make for a more stilted conversation, but this isn’t one of those occasions. Adeyemi is relaxed, perched on the corner of a big table in the middle of the room. He is wearing a hoodie and looks like any other kid his age. Only this 19-year-old is a bit different. His brilliant form – and goals – for Salzburg, and recently Germany for the first time, have turned Europe’s gaze towards the city of Mozart. Adeyemi is playing to his own tune.

His personality comes shining through: fresh, bright, lively. He laughs when I mention that he is apparently faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Adeyemi only started his first Champions League game this season and his rise has been every bit as quick as the clean pair of heels he showed the Sevilla defence on Matchday 1. 

In the space of 26 first-half minutes, the striker won three penalties. He missed the target with the first, before Luka Sučić scored the second and hit the post with the third. Incredibly, Sevilla also scored from the spot in the first half – the first time four penalties had been awarded in a Champions League game – and Salzburg somehow left Andalusia with just one point.

Two weeks later Adeyemi was at it again, his electrifying pace too much for LOSC defender Sven Botman, who sliced him down after 30 minutes. Adeyemi picked himself up and rifled in the spot kick. 120 minutes played; four penalties won. Six minutes into the second half, Salzburg got a fifth; Adeyemi wasn’t responsible this time but, once again, he scored it. He slid the ball down the middle with confidence and authority. No nerves here.

Three minutes gone on Matchday 3 and Adeyemi scored his first in the competition from open play, skipping onto Nicolas Seiwald’s pass and flying clear, his speed too much for the Wolfsburg defence in a 3-1 win. The last player to burst on the scene in such jaw-dropping style for Salzburg? One Erling Haaland, two seasons ago. 

It didn’t take Adeyemi’s Champions League exploits to alert Germany coach Hansi Flick to his talents. The Munich-born youngster had dazzled in Germany’s European Under-21 Championship triumph last summer and by 5 September had already managed to score on his senior international debut, coming on late to round out a 6-0 win against Armenia.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Adeyemi, who had left Germany three years previously. Following two years in the Bayern München academy he joined nearby Unterhaching, from where he was signed by Salzburg in the summer of 2018. It hasn’t been a totally smooth ride. Contractual differences cut short Adeyemi’s time at boyhood club Bayern and at Unterhaching there were lessons to be learnt off the pitch before he was allowed to make an impression on it.

Discipline is no longer an issue. After a season on loan at Liefering, Adeyemi made the grade at Salzburg and hasn’t looked back. With 15 goals from his first 26 games across all club competitions as we go to press, it’s not hard to see why he is suddenly commanding so much attention. Champions Journal caught up with the Salzburg starlet to find out how he is dealing with this first flush of fame.

I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football.
I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here.

What are your first memories of football? Where did you play as a kid and who with?

I played with my father; he played football passionately in Nigeria. We played together and my first club was TSV Forstenried, close to the area where I lived. I was allowed to train with the older players and that’s how it began. 

Did you also play in the street with your friends?

Yes, during winter or summer when we didn’t have any indoor tournaments. We called it ‘Wacker’. There was a football pitch in Munich where a lot of boys got together, including a lot of Bayern players who were older, and we tried to keep up. We met there a lot and played in
the streets. 

Was school essentially a distraction for you? Were you just waiting to concentrate on playing football?

I think as a young boy it’s difficult to focus on both, but I was lucky in that my parents gave me a little break from school. As a young boy you want to do what you love – and that was football. I don’t want to say I was a good student, but I did my best. In the end I’m happy it worked out for me, but I’m still not where I want to be. 

Your mother has said that your time in the Unterhaching academy was important because you learnt everything necessary to become successful. True?

I had a lot of problems at school; I wasn’t focused and I talked a lot, to be honest. I got in trouble with our academy president, but he helped me a lot along the way. He told me that school is important and I gave my best. I think that in football, everything comes naturally.

Is it true that your idol at the time was Arjen Robben?

Yes. I was a huge Bayern fan when I played for Bayern in the U9s and U10s. I was a big fan of Arjen Robben and I think he was one of the best players at Bayern with his left foot and finishing skills, as well as his one-on-one abilities. He was my favourite player back then.

Would you compare his playing style to yours?

I wouldn’t compare us. He played football in a different way that doesn’t exist anymore. He used his strong left foot and knew what he was capable of, whether playing in the Bundesliga or the Champions League. But I wouldn’t put myself in that category. I think I’m more similar to [Kylian] Mbappé or [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang. 

You’ve said that speed is your greatest strength and we’ve read that you’re faster than Usain Bolt over 30 metres. Do you work on your speed or do you focus on other skills?

[Laughs] I think you can’t change your top speed, but maybe you can improve your explosiveness and learn to start sprinting from a standing position. That’s what I’m working on. But I focus on things I can improve: for example, my first touch or scoring skills, or reading the game better. 

What does it mean to you to be playing in the Champions League this season?

It means a lot. First of all, it’s a dream come true because every kid dreams of playing in this competition – and, of course, winning it, but that’s a long way off. Being able to play in this competition is a huge honour and I think I can speak for my whole team, which is so young and playing in the Champions League. It’s a great feeling. 

Do you remember watching Champions League finals on television when you were a child?

I remember when I played for Bayern, I watched Bayern against Inter [in 2010]. Bayern lost and I was very sad. Every football player watches finals and this was one of the more dramatic. Another one was the final where Robben missed a penalty against Chelsea [in 2012]. That was very dramatic as well, but that’s football. Champions League finals are always great.

Then there was the final against Borussia Dortmund in 2013…

Yes, that was Robben’s payback. 

One thing that’s difficult to train for is pressure, but you seem to find it very easy to cope in the Champions League. How did you keep your cool when you were taking the penalties against LOSC? 

There’s always pressure, but there is a difference between playing at home and away. In that game I knew where I was going to shoot. I knew that in Sevilla too, but that was my first Champions League game and penalty, so I was more nervous. But against Lille, I was sure I was going to score. Fortunately I did score – and then scoring twice from the penalty spot was amazing. 

It was even more impressive given what happened against Sevilla. What were your emotions during that crazy first half in Spain?

In general I think we had a very good start; we set up really well. Sevilla had more possession in the first few minutes and were more dominant, but we just tried to play our game. There were a total of four penalties in the first half; it was a different kind of game for both teams. From my perspective, to be fouled three times in the box was also very unusual. It would have been very different if I’d put the first one in, but that’s in the past and now we’re looking ahead.

Have you changed your approach at all as a player and as a team, since that first game?

I wouldn’t say that we have changed. As a young team we’re always trying to express ourselves on the pitch and implement what the coach and the coaching team tell us. We’re always up for it and want to win. I think it’s important for us to keep our heads held high and play our own game.

As you say, Salzburg are such a young team. What’s the atmosphere like in the changing room?

Very relaxed. I think it’s different to having a lot of older players. We all understand each other and that’s why it’s very calm and chill here. We all get along well and go out together, so it’s different to how it is at some other clubs. 

Why do young players develop so well at Salzburg?

I think Salzburg is a great place for young players; they get their chance here. If you look, we have a lot of players in the first team who were born in 2003, as well as 2002 and 2001. Salzburg trust young players, let them play, let them develop, and turn them into great players.

What role do the older players play in the squad?

Of course, they also play an important role, both on and off the pitch. They are leadership players on the pitch around whom we orientate, from whom we get our feedback, in addition to the coach and captain. Off the pitch, we all get along well and often do stuff together. 

Who is responsible for the music in the changing rooms?

Rasmus [Kristensen] usually. Sometimes Noah [Okafor], but normally Rasmus. He plays everything: ’80s, ’90s music, all the way up to modern music, Danish music…
I actually have a few Danish songs on my playlist now.

And how would you describe your fashion sense? 

Very relaxed. If you ask any of my team-mates, they would say I’m probably the one with the wide trousers, oversized hoodie – always relaxed. Not that sporty, except on the pitch.

You’ve already played – and scored – for Germany. What’s the next step in the career of Karim Adeyemi?

I want to establish myself more in the national team, get to know everyone better and make more appearances for them. Best-case scenario, I want to go to the World Cup with them; that would be a dream. I’m here with Salzburg now and, of course, I want to help the team reach its goals.

WORDS Chris Burke
Past pedigree

From Ernst Happel to David Alaba, Austrian football has left its mark on Europe’s biggest stage

History was made when Salzburg defeated Wolfsburg 3-1 on Matchday 3: never before had an Austrian club beaten a side from Germany in the Champions League. And it took them onto an impressive seven points from nine in the group stage, sparking hopes among their fans of progress to the last 16. 

Older Austrian supporters may have been reminded of past continental feats. The country is better known for hosting four European Cup finals (1964, 1987, 1990 and 1995) than threatening to win them, but the two biggest clubs from the capital have both enjoyed runs to the last four: Rapid Wien lost to Benfica in 1960/61 and Austria Wien succumbed to Malmö in 1978/79.

Austria also boasts its fair share of European Cup heroes, including a pair of final winners. Most recently David Alaba prevailed with Bayern in 2013 and 2020, following in the footsteps of Franz Hasil – a key component of the Feyenoord team that triumphed in 1970.

The midfielder shared that victory with another Austrian great, Ernst Happel, the first coach to win the competition with two different clubs when he led Hamburg to glory in 1983. Happel’s name now lives on in his native Vienna at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion, formerly the Praterstadion – the venue for each of those aforementioned finals.

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