Christoph Metzelder returned to Germany this summer after a stop-start three-season spell at Real Madrid CF, and while his FC Schalke 04 side have struggled in the Bundesliga, the arrival of his old Santiago Bernabéu team-mate Raúl González has helped them shine in Europe. The 30-year-old centre-back is now feeling positive as he returns to Spain to face Valencia CF in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
What do you know about Valencia?
Christoph Metzelder: The two teams are a bit similar. We have had big changes as well. Valencia lost key players in the summer. I think both teams are saying, 'It will be hard, but it's doable.' Maybe it's a small advantage for us that the return leg will be here in Gelsenkirchen. I was involved in some great games at Valencia. They were always passionate matches when they played Madrid.
How does it feel to be back in Germany?
Metzelder: My time in Madrid was a very nice experience. In footballing terms, unfortunately it wasn't very successful. I didn't have much match practice over the three years – I had to catch up and have a very long preparation phase here at Schalke. Physically I'm feeling better. I'm getting into the rhythm of playing. It was important to join a club where I get the chance to play.
How was it to be a Madrid player?
Metzelder: Well, it is indeed the biggest club in the world in aspirations, charisma and everything that happens around it – in the media, in the streets, in the countries we travelled to. People know Real Madrid and their players everywhere. Being part of the team that won the Spanish title in my first season was a huge experience. Nonetheless, the amount of time I got to play just wasn't enough for me. I got to know a new country, a new club, a new city, a totally different culture and above all another language. I really devoured those three years. My life as a top athlete may be over when I'm in my mid-30s, but there will be a time after that and no one will be able to take that experience away from me.
Raúl was one of your team-mates in Spain. Did you have anything to do with his transfer to Schalke?
Metzelder: I think I explained to him what it means to play football here in this region. I explained to him how passionate people are. Leaving Madrid and joining Schalke may be a different level for him, but in terms of atmosphere and people it is not a big step.
He is now in a new city. Have you helped him settle?
Metzelder: We see each other every day anyway, so I think he is happy when he can go home and spend time with his family. But of course he knows he can call me any time and that I'm here for him any time if he needs my help, if he needs a translator. He knows that.
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