"Actions instead of words!"

Henrik Herrmann wore Hertha colours for a decade, pulling on his gloves to represent the club as a young goalkeeper. The man from Berlin played for Hertha’s academy sides between 2006 and 2016, but was unable to make the breakthrough into the first team during his time at the club. Herrmann, now 22, learned lots of helpful lessons and gained valuable experience in his 10 years at Hertha, which he has taken with him as he ploughs ahead with his career. At the start of September, he returned to the club – this time as a physiotherapist trained by HerthaMED. Henrik Herrmann gives us a detailed insight into the path he has taken.

Henrik, you arrived at Hertha BSC at age nine and played in the academy for ten years after that. Looking back, what value do you place on your long time spent at the club?

It had everything, really. It was the best time of my life, but also the most exhausting. Alongside football, I obviously went to school as well, but I didn’t go to the Poelchau school on the training ground. That meant that I always had a long way to go between here and school, which wasn’t easy. All in all, though, it was a great time! Sure, there have been a lot of disappointments despite my young age, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a dream come true. Your experiences and the people you meet create connections in the world, which is just classic sport!

What experience has had the greatest impact on you? 
The most awesome thing for me was playing at the Olympiastadion ahead of the first team’s Bundesliga match against Borussia Dortmund – I was 11-years-old and there were around 40,000 fans there! That was an unbelievable experience and it was the first time I felt that professional football was within touching distance. I realised what my life could look like if I consistently put in the effort. Another nice moment was the final of the youth DFB-Pokal, when our U19s played Hannover 96, even though we ended up losing. I realised that with a few more years of knuckling down, that was what it could feel like to play professional football. At that point it was already clear that it would be my last game for Hertha BSC, but it was still very emotional and ranks among one of the two most meaningful moments from my time at the club.

You had numerous goalkeeping colleagues during your time. Which famous names were you competing with? And who are you still in touch with?
I always trained alongside Nils Körber. Even back then he was already the outstanding talent among us goalkeepers – we have all seen that up close recently, of course. I also played in a team with Leon Schaffran [now of SpVgg Greuther], who I was in direct competition with. We pushed each other so that we both improved – that was really fun. I also trained with Philip Sprint [now of FC Viktoria 1899 Berlin]. I’m not in daily contact with my former teammates but we do text each other now and then, especially when something exciting happens. I am still in touch with Sidney Friede and Maurice Covic, for example.

Who were your role models as a young goalkeeper?
Obviously I used to be a huge fan of Oliver Kahn, even if I knew that it would be impossible to reach his level! (grins) I was capable of playing, too, so I was also interested in outfielders – it wasn’t necessarily just goalkeepers who were my role models. Even as a goalkeeper I was mesmerised by Ronaldinho. His control of the ball and how he carried it was just a dream to watch.

We have discussed competitors, teammates and role models, so now we’ll come to coaches. Which coach had the most effect on you?
Ilja Hofstädt was with me on my whole journey. I also had a ton of contact with Max Steinborn. Towards the start, I worked with Sascha Burchert and his brother Nico as goalkeeping coaches, which was also really special. I had the pleasure of working with several coaches worth mentioning who have now taken up different roles. I was coached by Frank Vogel [sporting director for the Hertha BSC academy], as well as current coaches Andreas Thom, Oliver Reiß, Zeljko Ristic, Stefan Meisel and former first-team coaches Ante Čović and Karsten Leyke. Current first-team fitness coach Hendrik Vieth was also my assistant manager – preseason training was especially good under him. (grins) I learned something from every single coach, both as a footballer and as a person. I’m really grateful for every encounter and in hindsight I have noticed for myself that these men all had an impact on the path I have followed. Hofstädt and Čović had the biggest impact on me and my career. Above all, it was Ilja’s goalkeeping sessions that were my personal motivation to go to training. They were always really fun and you just knew that you were getting better in every single session. But Ante also put a lot of trust in me, even when things weren’t going so well.

What lessons did you learn in your ten years at Hertha that will help you in your ongoing career, as well as in your private life?
The experiences I’ve had have benefitted me a lot on my journey in life, especially in regard to interactions with people. Especially in high-level football, you learn pretty quickly who you can really count on. I decided early on that I didn’t want to act like I was a professional football player – I wanted to make people notice me with my actions, not my words. Some guys did it differently, but I realised that that wouldn’t cut it for me. I’ve taken that with me into my everyday life – it’s a good attitude to have. If there are issues in my life then I prefer to tackle them calmly and with open communication, rather than being uptight or negative. You are on your own in football and so you have to know for yourself what you are fighting for. It helps if you have confidence in yourself – I learned that pretty early on in my time, and it’s a lesson I took with me.

In the second part of this interview, coming next Thursday (26/11/20), Henrik Herrmann speaks about making the career change from player to physio, returning to Hertha, and the effects of the pandemic on his day-to-day work at HerthaMED.