Nati’s teammates Manuel Akanji and Ulises Garcia were on the pitch as opponents in the match between YB and Manchester City.Image: Cornerstone
Manuel Akanji, 28, is the most successful Swiss footballer at the moment. For the first time since the treble with Manchester City, he talks in detail about victories, family and coach Guardiola – and explains what is needed in the national team after recent setbacks.
November 7, 2023, 9:27 amNovember 7, 2023, 9:50 am
Manuel Akanji, we actually thought we’d have a chat with one of the defenders. Are we wrong? They score goals all the time! With Nati against Belarus, against YB in the Champions League, and now also in the Premier League against Bournemouth at the weekend…
Manuel Akanji: I’m not the typical goalscorer and I’m not known for scoring a lot of goals (laughs). I’d say I’ve had some luck lately.
And now you’ll do it again on Tuesday against YB and take down the Swiss champions again?
I hope so! But I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself right now. Let’s see what’s next.
Akanji beat YB goalkeeper Racioppi 1-0 in the Champions League match between YB and Manchester City.Photo: Keystone
I won three trophies with Manchester City this year – the Champions League, the League and the Cup. In short: What does the trio mean to you?
It’s simply incredible. I don’t think it gets much better than that. All these titles in the first season..
Can you describe what this treble has done to the perception of City within the city and across England?
Calm down a little. Above all, of course, because of winning the Champions League. It was the first in Manchester City’s history. The final against Inter Milan was the last match of the season and it was clear that this match defined our season. The joy in the city streets was abundant in return.
Which moment from the celebrations do you particularly remember?
View across town. It rained, but no one cared, everyone just wanted to celebrate. At one point, we players stood on the bus and took off our shirts, which were warmer than they were due to being wet (laughs).
Celebrated 3 titles with Manchester City in 2023.Photo: EPA
What’s life like as a family in Manchester?
We are doing a great job, and we are very happy in Manchester. We live a little out of town, so we’re only in town every now and then.
When you moved in you told me about a soccer room for your two kids, is it still there?
No, now we’re playing football outside! Aiden has a bit of a more accurate shot now, so we don’t want to risk breaking anything… If we have the opportunity to play outside on grass, I think we should take advantage of it. His little brother Kian started walking a few weeks ago. He’s coming along step by step, and he’ll definitely want to start kicking soon.
Two weeks ago in Switzerland, coach Pep Guardiola warned that the season of confirmation would be more difficult. How does he maintain the burning desire to achieve more success?
So it’s not like he talks to us about it every week. He mentioned this once or twice in preparation and perhaps before the first or second match. We know that we have to perform well in every match and that it is all about winning. I don’t think we players think: “Be careful, we won the treble, we have to be careful now because of this or that.”
How is it like for you yourself?
I don’t need any extra motivation, it’s a new season and I just want to win everything we can. that simple.
At the end of last September, Manchester City lost three times in a row on English soil, to Wolverhampton and Arsenal in the English Premier League and to Newcastle in the Carabao Cup. Is this then considered a major crisis?
We didn’t exactly talk about the crisis. But one thing is clear: after every game we don’t win, there is not a good atmosphere in the locker room. When this happens three times in a row, the disappointment is, of course, great. The good thing is that we performed well in the Champions League away to Leipzig. Which led to increased self-confidence again. Arsenal is a strong opponent and it is possible for us to lose, even if that is not what we want. But the reaction was good, with two wins in the league and in YB.
What development have you personally witnessed at Manchester City during your 14 months at the club?
A very positive one. In this team, with this technical staff, everyone can learn a lot. I’ve noticed that for myself this year, I’ve learned to play in many different positions that I wasn’t used to before. At the end of the season, I played in a different position in almost every game – I still felt comfortable and was able to achieve a certain level of consistency to perform well over a long period of time. Another point: the older you get, the better you know your body. I was able to get through last year without injury. I hope it continues like this and I am doing a lot for it. And finally regarding football: if you are challenged like this every day in training, by your teammates, by the coach, it automatically does something to you. You want to get better every day and learn from your teammates.
What does Pep Guardiola do in daily training?
It’s intense… I just miss the German word, ‘claim’…
exactly! I am now more proficient in English (laughs). He is very demanding with us. He knows what we can do. That’s why these things are expected of us as well. As soon as something doesn’t fit, he speaks to us directly. He also analyzes our opponents very well and prepares us for challenges in the best possible way.
Manuel Akanji with successful Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola.Photo: AP
Is this also the case against YB? Is the match against YB the same as the match against Manchester United for him?
The derby against United is something else. You go there, it’s a different mood. But the match against YB is no different from the preparation for it against Brighton, for example. But he never goes into a match underestimating the opponent or just thinking: We will win easily. He takes every game seriously.
This season, you have already occupied the position where you can move into midfield when you have the ball. Do we see this more often now?
we will see! I couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to. These are tactical things we look at from match to match. I don’t always know (laughs) what he’s up to with me.
This is the way to keep the player on their toes!
Let’s get back to your goals. At least in the national team, your goals have been linked to disappointment lately. This was the case after the 1:6 defeat to Portugal in the World Cup Round of 16. And also in a 3-3 draw with Belarus in the European Championship qualifiers. Does Switzerland hope not to score again for the national team?
Of course I forgot my first goal with the national team! It was a ‘good’ away game against Spain in the UEFA Nations League, I also made an assist and we won 2-1. The goal certainly didn’t have much impact against Portugal. But my goal against Belarus sparked something and started the comeback, so that we ended up with a score of 3-3 thanks to Amdouni’s goal. This point can become important for us. But of course, we didn’t imagine this last match that way.
How do you see the development of the national team? There have been some disappointments recently.
It happens sometimes. Sometimes you have a bad phase. But we also had some good matches before. The most important thing is that we are now focusing on the three games we still have in November. We can no longer change what happened in the past. We can only learn from our mistakes. We definitely scored a lot of goals, which is something we are not used to. We have to defend better as a team again. We’re there at the back to sort things out if something goes wrong at the front. That certainly hasn’t been good enough the last few games. We will need that when we play against Israel, Kosovo and Romania because they are the three strongest opponents in our group.
Akanji’s goal against Belarus could be important for Switzerland in the European Championship qualifiers.Photo: Keystone
“I remember a time when it was difficult to score goals against us,” you said recently. I’ve lost that power. There was also the unfortunate statement from coach Murat Yakin that there was no need to prepare the defense against an opponent like Belarus. How do you see all this?
We will go into a match like this and prepare ourselves so as not to concede any goals. Our goal is always to be able to maintain zero. Hopefully we can get an early goal in front, which makes it a little easier, and then extend the lead. We actually took the lead, but then we scored three goals. It is not that the three fell in the same way, but rather that they all fell in a different way. You can always concede a goal. But conceding three goals at home to Belarus and falling behind 3-1 is not something that can be accepted. We have to learn from this in the next matches.
Do you understand that after three meetings, each of which was a huge disappointment – 2:2 against Romania, 2:2 in Kosovo, with goals conceded in stoppage time, and 3:3 against Belarus – the coach was questioned?
It is not my job to deal with discussions in the media. My mission is to give my best performance the next time I’m on the field. I can only influence what happens in the coaching discussion through my performance. I always try to do my best on the field
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