Germany - Team Presentation EPPAN, ITALY - JUNE 05: Jerome Boateng poses for a photo during a portrait session ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia at Eppan training ground on June 5, 2018 in Eppan, Italy The towering center-back knows defending Germany’s title will be no easy task, by any means.

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p id=”lc2IWC”>Jerome Boateng returned to full team training earlier this week for Germany for the first time since sustaining a hamstring injury in April. He featured in Die Mannschaft’s 2-1 friendly win over Saudia Arabia in Leverkusen and put in a solid 45-minute shift; you could hardly tell that the 29-year old hasn’t had any match time since mid April.

On the eve of Germany’s final tune-up friendly against Saudi Arabia, Socrates published an in-depth interview with Jerome Boateng (via Bundesliga.com), excerpts of which emerged already at the end of April.

In the full interview, Boateng discusses Die Mannschaft’s prospects in the World Cup, and what his future holds with Bayern Munich. The 29-year old was an integral part of Germany’s 2014 world cup triumph alongside Bayern teammate Mats Hummels, but defending the title, he admits, will be difficult:

When you’ve already lifted the trophy and you have the quality, then you really want to win it again. I have only one objective in Russia: to be world champion. But as we saw in the March friendlies against Spain [1-1] and Brazil [0-1] , we’re not the only ones and nothing will be handed to us on a plate. We need to play better than at Brazil 2014. The teams at the 2018 World Cup are even better than they were in 2014. Individually, we’re better, but that doesn’t automatically mean we are better as a team. Team solidarity plays a big, big role in tournament football.

Reflecting on his time with Bayern, he recalled the difficult start he had to his first campaign in the 2011/2012 season back when Jupp Heynckes was in his third tenure as manager. His first season with the club, Boateng admitted, helped him mature greatly as a footballer:

It didn’t go perfectly to start. My move to Bayern in 2011 was a massive step for me — the biggest you can take in Germany. The expectation levels were completely different and new to me. Every mistake was scrutinized publicly, but that also did me good. I became more focused.

Making individual mistakes in matches became increasingly difficult at Bayern compared to when he was at Manchester City earlier in his career. Mistakes made as a center-back, he re-iterated, are far more noticeable than mistakes made from other outfield positions, but he quickly became accustomed to that pressure at Bayern:

Most of the time, mistakes in defense are punished. You’re singled out as the one at fault and your actions are criticized publicly. But that’s the sport. You know that as a professional footballer. And believe me: strikers have to deal with pressure. It’s always there — for everyone. You get used to it.

He’s certainly no stranger to the limelight by now, but dealing with the press and media after matches, he feels, is at times unfair and frustrating to deal with:

I’m not media scolding, but I’m not going to lie either. I don’t know who does the player ratings in some papers sometimes. I have to question whether every sports journalist is truly able to judge if a defender under pressure has done a good job of playing the ball out from the back. I’m not judging, but I do question it. I find it quite annoying. If we play well as a team, the strikers score and the defenders do a good job at the back, the defenders don’t get the credit and are ignored.

In his 7 seasons with Bayern Munich, Boateng has won everything there is to win: 6 Bundesliga titles, 3 DFB-Pokal trophies, a Champions League title, and the World Cup win with Germany in 2014. At 29 years of age, Boateng realizes that he’s not getting any younger and is starting to think about what his next step should be, whether it’s with Bayern or elsewhere:

I’ve experienced everything at Bayern. We’ve won everything there is to win in club football. And a footballer’s time is limited. I don’t have to kid myself, it’s not 10 years for me any more. But I’m convinced my body has more to give, that I can still improve as a player and play at the highest level for a good few years yet. I’ve slowly come to the point where I’m asking myself: What haven’t I achieved yet? Do I want to keep proving myself at the same club with the same old objectives? It’s not just about feeling a certain way in one place. It’s about personal challenge. These aren’t just career questions, they’re life questions.