What was it like to play in front of that yellow wall?
Those were always, and still are, really great moments. Going to Dortmund with their huge stadium and playing in front of their amazing fans, that was the first difficult step in my career because it was the first time I’d played abroad. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the culture – everything was new. It was a big challenge for me. The first three months were very difficult, especially the training under Jürgen Klopp. As a young player I wanted to show I could do it all, so I gave 100% in every training session. To be honest, it broke me a little and I needed the next two months to recover. It was a fantastic time and we did a great job to achieve the success we had. The first time I played at home felt awesome and I never expected 80,000 fans to chant my name. I had goosebumps and it makes me proud to think back to it. I’d only heard what it meant, what it’s like. With the yellow wall, you have 25,000 fans alone standing behind the goal; until then I’d only played in stadiums with 25,000 in total. It felt incredible and it’s exciting for every player. There are not many places in the world where you play with 25,000 in one stand behind the goal. For young players, like I was back then, it is really special.
And then Bayern München. Tell us about that move…
We already knew at that point that it was high time to take the next step in my career. And we already knew that we wanted to go to Bayern. I wanted to go to Bayern because I wanted to compete at the highest level and to win the biggest trophies. When I found out that Bayern were interested in me, it became very clear to me that I wanted to go there. Also, on a personal level, it was like going one step higher on the ladder, and it was nice to see how things are handled at an elite club. For me, it was the logical next step. However, I was conscious that I needed to show even more. The very first day at Bayern I realised that, with the players around me, I would benefit a lot in every training session. After two or three months, I felt I’d already become a better player. Now we want to – and must – compete at the highest level and achieve everything possible. I’ve had a lot of coaches, including Pep [Guardiola] and many others, and I’ve taken as much from all of them as I can.
Which coach contributed most to you winning the 2021 Best FIFA Men’s Player award?
I think every coach I’ve had in my career has taught me many things. First it was Jürgen Klopp [see panel, previous spread], then the first coach at Bayern was Pep. I learned many things from him. After my time with Pep, I saw football from another perspective. And, honestly, from a tactical point of view, I talked a lot with him, not only about my position, but also why we were playing the way we were actually playing. All these things made me change my thoughts about football completely; now I see football from another perspective. Then there was [Carlo] Ancelotti. He transmitted self-confidence. I gained a lot of self-confidence with him. He trusted me. He wanted me to carry responsibility on my shoulders, and to give even more than before. Those are things I learned from him. Then there was Niko Kovač – and Jupp Heynckes, of course. I learned a lot from him as well, not just from his experience as a football player but as a coach. That was a good time, honestly. And then Hansi Flick arrived. With him we achieved everything possible. We won everything there was to win and achieved everything we planned to achieve. It was a spectacular season. The way we were playing then was absolutely incredible.
You won every trophy going with Bayern in 2019/20 and scored a staggering 55 goals in 47 games. Talk us through that amazing season.
It wasn’t exactly easy at the beginning of the season. We didn’t start very well, didn’t play well. Then Hansi Flick arrived and everything changed. Victory after victory, we worked amazingly well. With the football we played, every opponent was afraid before the game. And we won every single match in the Champions League. That was historic. Never before had any team won every single game, from the group stage to the final. But we did. But it was not only about winning all the matches: the incredible thing was how we won them. In the group stage, we beat Tottenham 7-2. In the quarter-finals it was 8-2 against Barcelona, and we won the semi-final 3-0 [against Lyon] as well. And then the final against PSG… Everything is possible in a final, but that day we just knew we were going to win. Our self-confidence was extremely high. Of course we respected our opponents, but deep down we felt – and knew – we just had to win it.
How did it feel when you knew you’d done it?
After the Champions League title we were crying with happiness. We had a lot of fun and simply felt happy about what we’d achieved. One special moment for me was just after the final whistle. I realised my dream had become a reality. With all the difficult moments I’d had before, I finally saw and realised why I’d been working so hard to be successful. The Champions League is something very special. If I think back to that time when we won all the trophies, there are just no words to describe it. It was everyone’s dream. We won the cup, the league and the Champions League in one season. It was an incredible year. What we achieved was a huge story, not just for me or for Bayern but for the whole of football, and that makes it really special.
You marked your 100th appearance in the Champions League by scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 win against Benfica. How proud does it make you feel to have joined that select band of Champions League centurions?
I’m very proud. I remember very well being at home and watching the Champions League on TV. I’d always dreamed of playing in the Champions League and scoring in this competition. Today I’ve played 100 matches in the Champions League and scored over 80 goals. That means a great deal to me. Every game feels very special. These are matches that everyone around the world watches, and that’s a bonus that makes me very proud. I still have a very special feeling ahead of every Champions League game. I never thought I’d play so many matches in the Champions League and score so many goals. That day [of my 100th match] I got three goals. It felt incredible and I’m very proud. I really had a lot of fun in that game. I’m delighted about everything I’ve achieved, every goal I’ve scored in the Champions League, but also about every match I’ve played in. It’s the dream of every player to play so many Champions League games.