Berlin derby is something we can grab, says Hertha skipper Boyata
Having been part of Manchester and Glasgow derbies, Dedryck Boyata knows Friday’s Bundesliga game between Hertha Berlin, where the 30-year-old has been voted captain, and Union Berlin is not quite in the same league.
“It’s pretty much new,” the Belgium defender says in a Teams call. History is on Boyata’s side here: the Manchester derby began in 1881; the Glasgow game between Celtic and Rangers in 1888. The contest between Hertha and Union is two games old, one of which was behind closed doors.
A third kicks off on Friday with Union, promoted last term, looking to build on a flying start which finds them in sixth place and on 16 points, a mere six away from leaders Bayern Munich. Hertha, big spenders in 2019-20 and having gone through Ante Covic and Juergen Klinsmann as coaches before Bruno Labbadia helped them finish one slot above Union in 10th place, are 13th with two wins and two draws after nine rounds.
Hertha, a founding member of the German FA and Berlin’s biggest club, have lost to RB Leipzig (1-2), Vfb Stuttgart (0-2), Eintracht Frankfurt (1-3), Borussia Dortmund—where Erling Braut Haaland scored four goals in the 2-5 defeat—and 3-4 to Bayern Munch, Robert Lewandowski scoring four in that game.
A good Friday evening could be what Boyata says Hertha need to “get the machine going.” “We know for sure it is something we can grab. We are not trying to find excuses for sure (but) the beginning of the season has not been what we expected. But the season is long and we have all the qualities. We showed a lot of good things at the start but also a lot of naivety. We are still preparing, working with the new players who came in this season.”
The Kruse control
The derby could hinge on how Hertha deal with Max Kruse. The 32-year-old has five assists and six goals. “Max Kruse is a threat. He is the base of every attack. He will be a player we have to look up,” says Boyata. With 12 players on loan or free transfers, Union, under coach Urs Fischer, have shopped smart but it is Kruse who has been key to them changing from a team that hoofs the ball up the park. “They will not have 80% possession but they will be compact and have a lot of energy,” says Boyata.
“The derby is a game I take very personally,” says Boyata who played four seasons with Celtic before moving to Hertha in 2019. They help you grow as a player, he says. The Berlin derby may be new but, “the challenge is unbelievable, the city splits into two and for our fans the goal will always be to be on top of Union.”
Before the novel coronavirus disrupted football, Boyata played Union away. “Their small stadium with fans next to the pitch reminded me a little bit of the game we played in UK. But on the other side, it was a bad game for us,” he says about last November’s 0-1 loss. In the surreal silence of an empty stadium in May, Hertha won the return leg 4-0 with Boyata scoring the last goal.
Rodgers favourite coach
His forehead creased, eyes closed and often stroking the chin or jaw with long fingers, Boyata ponders before delivering answers from this group of Asian journalists. He takes a long time to name the coach he has been most influenced by and then says Brendan Rodgers, now the Leicester City manager.
“When I came to Celtic, I came with certain knowledge of football. When you are young, you think you know a lot. Till you meet somebody who can actually help you improve, and he has done that with me. He has taken the time to make me understand every detail of my football parts,” he says of Rodgers who was at Celtic from 2016-19.
Ramos, Van Dyke
Asked to rate the top three defenders of the world, he pauses before naming Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dyke and Kalidou Koulibaly, in that order. Asked why he isn’t keeping himself on that list, Boyata smiles. “I didn’t want to be arrogant. I wanted to put myself first but then realised I am on camera.”
Boyata’s confidence comes through when asked about his chances of making the Belgium squad for the 2021 Euros. “Are you confident?” he is asked. “Yes,” is all the questioner thinks he will get before Boyata explains: “I am saying yes with confidence because I have been there for a while and playing well… The main concern for me is to stay fit till end of the season.”
Boyata was injured out of Belgium’s 2016 Euro squad and says, “that day felt like the worst of my life.” Then he went to the 2018 World Cup which he rates as the favourite moment in his career.