DURBAN - Former Bafana Bafana goalkeeper, Rowen Fernandez, played in the Bundesliga for Arminia Bielefeld from 2007 to 2011. Speaking to Minenhle Mkhize here, he gives his impressions.
Rowen, how would you sum up your stay in the German Bundesliga?
I had four years of good times in Germany. I wished I could have stayed longer than that. It was a fantastic experience.
What makes the Bundesliga to stand out from other top European leagues?
Kids and fans are obsessed about their teams. In Germany you support the local team. It is not like here in South Africa where you will support Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns. Fans are passionate about local teams and that’s why stadiums are always packed week in and week out in Germany. The development starts at a very young age in Germany. Yes, they do buy foreign players but they rely much on their development recruitments.
What was the highlight during your tenure in Germany?
Everyday was a highlight. Each and every week I came up against top stars. I faced the likes of Oliver Kahn, Franck Ribery, Mesut Ozil, Luca Toni, and Arjen Robben. That made me grow as player. It was an awesome experience. Every game it was packed. We really punched above our weight.
Who’s the best player you played with in Germany?
Sibusiso Zuma, our own boy. He was a special player. I really enjoyed playing alongside him in Germany and during my time in the national team. Zuma was a beast. Very talented footballer.
What made you to stay so long in Germany?
I was signed by my former coach, Ernst Middendorp. That made things much easier for me. I knew what he wanted from me and he knew how to get the best out of me. My teammates welcomed me with open arms. The vibe was cool in our team. We didn’t have prima donnas. My girlfriend helped me to make quick adjustments. I also went for language classes. It was nice.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt in Germany?
Always be on your toes. There was no room for errors. You couldn’t afford to have off days. Consistency was the name of the game in Germany. You can’t be making mistakes against top players because they are going to punish you. You had to stay focused for the whole 90 minutes.
Which game stood out for you while still in Germany?
It was a game against FC Nurnberg. I made some telling saves in that game. It was in 2007 and we were trying to avoid relegation. That game contributed massively in us staying up in the top league.
You had Zuma and then the team signed Chris Katongo. Did that help?
Yes. I had a good relationship with both of them on the field of play and off the field. Katongo was our biggest signing. I knew him during his time with Jomo Cosmos.
Can Bayern Munich be stopped this season?
It won’t be easy. It is going to be a difficult task. Bayern are massive. They attract top players.
They are very consistent. Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and Schalke can challenge Bayern but they have to be on top of their game all the time.
Germany introduced the VAR, what is your take on it?
It worked well during the World Cup. I think it was also a wise move. It will help to minimise the mistakes. Good step by Germany’s football authorities.
Lastly, who’s your money on to win the league?
Bayern Munich are the favourite.
It will be nice to have an upset along the way. It is nice that the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen FC are also looking strong. Having said that, I still fancy Bayern to win the league.