You were born in Karlsruhe, grew up in Freiburg and now live in Hoffenheim – you seem to like it here in Baden!
Definitely! It's my home and I feel great being here. My debut was also against a team from Baden-Württemberg.
That was on January 22nd 2010 against VfB Stuttgart?
Yes that's right. It was Friday evening game. I had to mark Aleksandr Hleb and we lost 1-0. Robin Dutt had told me that morning that I would be playing. (Laughing) I was really nervous and spent a lot of that day on the toilet, because I'd drunk so much water!
You were coached at SC Freiburg as well. Was it there that you developed into a player who could to use both feet?
I think I was able to do that already, I noticed that I often used to change wings from left to right. Playing out wide like that gave me good stamina. In modern football, full-backs and wingers are the players who cover the most ground
Your favourite position is ‘number six', in front of the defence.
Yes. I think I can play to my strengths better in that position. But I also know it's a position with a lot of responsibilities.
What specifically appeals to you about this position?
As a central midfielder protecting the defence you always have the game in front of you. You have to distribute, either directly to the forwards or out to the wingers. And tackles are very different in central midfield to those when you're playing at full-back. Players come at you directly, and you have to keep your shape quite differently to when you're in the back four.
It's a positon where you have to do a lot of ‘mopping up.'
Yes definitely. You can't be weak in the tackle, and you have to keep your discipline positionally. In a team with a lot of individual quality, like Hoffenheim, that's particularly important. You can only put those qualities into practice if you're set up well enough to win the ball back quickly.
How did the team respond to you and did you already know some of them?
The guys have been great with me, even those I didn't know that well. Andreas Ibertsberger was at SC Freiburg when I was in the reserves there, so we crossed paths a few times. As a youth player I played against Sebastian Rudy, Peniel Mlapa and Matthias Jaissle, so I knew them a little bit as well.
And your girlfriend is a friend of Ryan Babel?
(Laughs) Yes! That's been a popular story in the media recently. It was by total chance that she happened to know him. Ryan and I have joked about how small the world is.
What role do your family play in your life?
Because I never got to know the American side of my family, and my German grandparents are deceased, my family is very small. It's just my parents, my brother and my niece. But they're a great source of support for me. That's one reason why I like living in Baden, to be near to them still. Moving to Hoffenheim was a great opportunity for me.
You grew up in a city. Do you like living in the country here?
To be honest, I prefer the city environment. But it doesn't have to be a big city. I think I'll be looking for something around Heidelberg or Mannheim.
The area of Karlsruhe in which you grew up is frequently described as a ‘problem quarter.'
I think ‘problem quarter' is a bit strong. You find more concrete there than green spaces, but there's also a lot of football pitches and grounds. I spent all my time there. But it was great for my development when I moved to Freiburg at the age of 15. If I had stayed there, I don't know what would have happened to me. I think it's good if a player knows the harder sides of life. And there are plenty more people who have found life more difficult than me.
Shortly before your transfer to Hoffenheim, USA coach Jürgen Klinsmann called you into his squad, and he came to the training ground to watch yourself and Fabian Johnson. Have you had a chance to think about that?
At first I was of course delighted. I'm only beginning to get to know the country of my father's birth. I went there for the first time this summer and I really enjoyed it. Whether it works out with the national team or not, I'll try not to worry about it. Right now I'm in Hoffenheim to help the team, enjoy success and cement a first-team place for myself. Then we'll see what happens.