Michael Hector was a cup finalist in Germany this season and we caught up with the Jamaican international to hear about his productive year on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt.
The 24-year-old, who joined Chelsea in the summer of 2015, experienced continental European football for the first time having earlier in his career spent time in Ireland and Scotland. He made 27 appearances for the Bundesliga side as they finished in a respectable 11th position and were only narrowly beaten by Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final.
The official Chelsea website spoke to Hector about that huge game and the semi-final that preceded it, life in a back three and the atmosphere at top-level German matches…
First of all, Michael, how do you reflect on your season as a whole?
I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s the highest level I have played at so far.
The strikers are clever in Germany. If they feel any contact they do go down, they play for a yellow card and it’s been good for me to play in that environment. If you want to play at the highest level and in Europe, you will play against strikers of this calibre.
I got sent off in my first two games but I adjusted to it in the months that followed and I was happy with that. It did cost me my position initially and I had to fight again to play.
What areas of your game improved playing abroad?
A few different ones. On the ball I feel like I have gone to another level with my distribution from the back. My defensive marking and being aware of danger has improved. Sometimes in the Championship if you switch off the striker may miss the chance, but this year I learned quickly if I switch off, it’s a goal.
That’s improved me as a defender and helped me be concentrated for 90 minutes and not just 60 or 70. That’s been the main point I think.
Frankfurt played with a back three this season. Where did you line up?
I played all across the back three, left side, centrally and I finished up on the right. I played in holding midfield for a couple of games as well so it’s been a good experience for me.
When you’re in the middle of the back three you are kind of a sweeper, you see everything and you just help out the other two. Sometimes you can start off the attacks as well, and I enjoy playing in the centre. You can control the whole back five, and you’re also the last line of defence.
I’d played a couple of times in a back three before in my career, when I was at Aberdeen and also in a couple of other places. It’s a been a while but I enjoyed it.
You were playing in a very cosmopolitan team at Frankfurt – 10 different nationalities started the cup final - what was that like?
It was good. You learn different cultures. Because we had so many players from different parts of the world it was interesting to see how they train and how they play and prepare for games. Some players were a bit laid back, some players are loud, some are quiet and it’s good to see. You pick up bits and you think ‘I like that, I might try it for one game in case it helps me prepare better’.
The manager made sure we did our German lessons even though they speak great English over there. The language in the changing room was generally English but most people could speak German.
Playing abroad is a good thing. Moving away from your family is obviously tough but I really enjoyed the year off the pitch, too. Frankfurt was a very nice place with very nice people.
You scored one goal, an injury-time equaliser in a 3-3 draw with Hertha Berlin in September…
The manager put me up front for the last five minutes. It was a nice header, and then such a great feeling to see it go in. It was my first goal for the club and it helped us get a result, too. Berlin at the time were flying in the league and for us it was a great result to keep us in the European places.
I’d never had that feeling of scoring in the last minute before and it was a great moment.
We hear a lot about the atmosphere at German games. What were they like to experience first-hand?
Frankfurt’s home fans are some of the best in the country. It was special to play as many games as I did at home. The stadiums, the size of them, they were always full, and with the safe standing sections the atmospheres were always great from start to finish. The fans don’t stop singing and they go back and forth. It was really enjoyable to play in.
You scored a penalty in the cup semi-final shoot-out win away to Borussia Monchengladbach…
The semi-final was probably one of the highest points in my career so far, but also one of the most nervous, watching that penalty shoot-out.
I went second, I backed myself. I would much rather take a penalty than watch a shoot-out. I have control of my destiny when I am taking the penalty so I’d prefer that!
Tell us about the final itself, Frankfurt’s first since 2006…
We had chances to take the lead, I had one as well, we hit the post, but you know when you’re playing against a team as good as Dortmund you need them to go in. You need that bit of luck on the day and we just didn’t have that.
But to get to the final was a massive achievement. It was a great day out for our fans. They were just looking to stay in the league this season and for us to finish where we did and reach the cup final is good.
We were in a European spot for most of the season so to just miss out was tough for us to take, but looking back at it from where they wanted to be at the beginning to where we ended up being, it was definitely a good season.