Right-back Atsuto Uchida came to FC Schalke 04 this summer after three successive Japanese titles with Kashima Antlers − and says the passion for football in his new home has blown him away.
The 22-year-old did not play in Schalke's opening UEFA Champions League loss at Olympique Lyonnais but since then has been ever-present in the run of 13 points from five games that took the German club into Friday's round of 16 draw as Group B winners, belying their Bundesliga struggles. However, while Uchida has taken the football in his stride, he has been taken aback by the fans.
"Schalke are really popular home and abroad − even when we are at an away stadium people take pictures of us on the bus," Uchida told UEFA.com. "
Germans love football as if it were the only thing that matters to them. Unlike in Japan, ordinary people seem to naturally love football.
"Our fans complain when we lose and bless us when we win. They would will be happier if we could climb a little further up the domestic league, but I believe they are not satisfied even with the results in the Champions League so far, so I hope we can go further."
The contrast between Schalke's European heroics and Bundesliga slump has been a conundrum, one the Japanese international cannot fathom despite his own superb league record with his previous club. "It's not that we are trying to play harder in the Champions League than in the domestic league, but it would help if we could find the reason why we are good in Europe," Uchida said.
"I think the hard schedule is not the reason because other teams playing in Europe also have that many matches. Though we've been unable to spare enough time for training, we just try to work hard game by game."
There is no doubt, though, that Uchida's hard work to adapt to German football is succeeding and he has certainly impressed Schalke centre-back Christoph Metzelder. "
Uchida is not only a good player, but also a good person," the 30-year-old former Germany defender said. "He and I often eat at the same table. He taught me some Japanese words. He speaks only a few German words and a little English, but we always try to help him because his ability is worthy of that."
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