Thomas Delaney may have only arrived in Bremen in January, but he has quickly made a strong impression. With Werder Bremen fighting hard to survive in the Bundesliga, the Dane told DW how much he loves the Bundesliga.
Thomas Delaney speaks about football at Werder Bremen with the excitement of a young child on Christmas Eve.
The 25-year-old arrived in January from Copenhagen and has quickly established himself as a key part of the club's battle for Bundesliga survival.
"The Champions League is top of a footballer’s career. The problem is playing in Denmark you only get to play four games in the competition a year. Now I kind of play Champions League every weekend. That’s the biggest difference," he told DW.
"It's nice to be in a good league like the Bundesliga - full stadiums, big expectations and every newspaper has a section on Werder Bremen. In Denmark, it’s a little more low key."
His first goal for the club was also his first-ever goal from a free kick. He admits, with a broad grin, that he has since tried to replicate it on the training ground but without success.
Bremen have had to work hard for their victories this season, but since Delaney's goal in the win against Mainz, Alexander Nouri's team has been on afive-game unbeaten streak. Delaney does not see himself as the savior though.
"The thing is, I try to ease down the expectations because I felt there were big expectations for me here and I'm fine with that, but you never know how early you will be relaxed in your role and your position. I still have ups and downs. I hope I'm helping the team, but not alone," said one of the team's acknowledged leaders - with or without the captain's armband.
Serge Gnabry and Max Kruse are two others who have stepped up for Werder Bremen in their time of need, but Delaney’s arrival during the winter transfer window has notably boosted the green-and-white club in the north.
"You can go two directions when you sign for a new club. You can go for the money or you go to improve and that's why I'm here. Werder is a big club, maybe one that's underperforming. I'd like to see myself be a part of a good development here," Delaney says matter of factly.
"I always believed that where I come from in Copenhagen there's a great pressure, but it’s nothing," he admits, laughing. "I've found out that that's nothing. It's way bigger here. I was prepared for that but it also had an impact."
A perfect fit
Delaney feels at home in a high-tempo, intense Bundesliga game. "I don’t like the subtle games. I like to run and be in duels," he says. His new teammates quickly made him aware that he would have far less time on the ball than back home. "Normally I could have a ball in a position where I was not being covered when I should be covered, but here nine out of 10 times you are covered."
That was something Delaney noticed the most when facing two of Germany’s top clubs.
"When we played Dortmund it was troubling. Of course, we were a man down but they ran so much… When you play Bayern, you know what [Arjen] Robben is going to do… He's going to cut in, but still you can’t do anything because he’s an amazing player, but there are more question marks playing Dortmund. Of course Bayern is the greatest team, but we were struggling against Dortmund."
Above all the technical and physical adjustments Delaney has had to make, he says the mental one that has been his biggest challenge.
"Here, they'd rather score one more than the other team, prefering a 4-3 win over a 1-0. That's maybe the biggest difference to where I'm from. It's an attacking mentality in the Bundesliga and I see that from almost every team."
Once, Werder Bremen were that team. For five consecutive seasons between 2004 and 2009, the club was in the Champions League - twice losing in the last 16. When Bremen last graced Europe’s elite competition in the 2010-11 season and finished last in Group A with Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and Twente, Delaney was qualifying for the knockout rounds with Copenhagen after finishing second behind Barcelona.
Glory days a distant memory
Both Delaney and his new club have swapped European nights for survival Saturdays. While Delaney's transition has been relatively smooth, Bremen have found stability difficult to come across after 14 years of former head coach Thomas Schaaf.
"I think he [Alexander Nouri] is a great motivator and he is young of mind. He loves football and I like that," says Delaney, who is only 12 years younger than his head coach. "He comes in and says, 'oh, it’s amazing, we're playing Bayern today' and maybe in the back of your mind of some of the players, or all of us I don’t know, you think 'crap, we’re playing Bayern.' You need to have that respect for opponents, but also that eagerness,"
Delaney is keen to make a difference at a club desperately seeking one.
"I didn’t come here to play relegation every year. I came here to make an impact, to be an important player. I can promise you Max [Kruse] and Serge [Gnabry], they don’t think of themselves playing relegation so that spreads to all of the team."
Werder Bremen will need that belief as they head into the final stretch, one where they will face everyone in the top eight other than Bayern and Leipzig.
"If there is one thing I have learned from the Bundesliga, it's that there are no easy games."
Delaney wants to get it right, on Saturdays as much as in his career. He doesn't want to repeat the mistakes many other talented Danish players have made by returning home after two quiet years at a big club.
"I think I can see myself being Premier League one day, that shouldn't be a secret, but I think this is the best step for me to improving. It is a big step, from Denmark to the Bundesliga but maybe even a bigger step, Denmark to the Premier League so I want to have the right career."
Keeping Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga is the first step, and if Delaney can deliver that then maybe Werder Bremen can slowly start taking the steps that will one day return them to Europe's promised land.