Aaron Hunt: "We are a proper team"
HSV captain Aaron Hunt looks back at a historical year, explains the development of the team and his wishes for the new year.
HSV will end 2018 at the top of the 2. Bundesliga table. It has been very positive ending to a historical year, which unfortunately included the first relegation in the club’s history but also an impressive turnaround in form with a very young team in the second half of the year. Aaron Hunt experienced all the ups and downs first hand and has also become an important leading figure within a young squad. The captain extended his contract in the club’s darkest hours and has shown his commitment and leadership so far this season. The 32-year-old looks back at an eventful year and explains the development of the team and takes a look at what the future might hold.
Aaron, at the end of the year, people like to reflect on what has happened in the past 12 months. Are you the kind of person that likes to take some time out and look back at the past?
Hunt: Not necessarily. There have been a few specific moments this year that have stuck in my mind. I am not the kind of person to stick in the past. You cannot change the past and I like to look towards the future.
That means you are already planning a New Year resolution?
Hunt: There are a few people who plan something for the New Year, for example a change in diet or something like that. However, most people have probably given it up by the middle of January (laughs). This is something I did when I was younger. However, I am not someone who plans something specific for the New Year.
Hunt: Personally, things constantly change and you receive things in like that are unexpected and you cannot prepare for. Therefore, it is tricky to plan ahead of a New Year.
The last twelve months didn’t exactly go to plan for HSV. Nevertheless, we will quickly review 2018. Six months after the 2017/18 season drew to a close, how do you look back on the end of that season? Were you able to come to terms with what happened or does it pop up in your mind every now and again?
Hunt: It is still always a topic which gives me bad memories. Relegation always hurts and no footballer wants to experience it. I never would’ve thought that it would happen to me. It was something that could’ve happened a couple of seasons ago. We were very close to the drop over the previous couple of years. We were unable to avoid it last season. We were also missing that little stroke of luck necessary to avoid relegation.
What do you especially remember?
Hunt: I always think about that match in Frankfurt when Tatsu (Ito) had a goal disallowed because his hand was offside. If that goal stood, we may have avoided relegation. In football, it is so often these little things that can be decisive in football. Consequently, it is pointless to dwell on these little things because only one of the teams went down. I quickly turned this switch off.
And you’ve extended your contract with HSV. How do you feel about that today?
Hunt: It still feels good because we have a very exciting task ahead of us. One of the reasons that I want to stay here is so that we can achieve something with the team, namely getting promoted straight after being relegated. That has inspired me since we first got in the second division.
This summer, you simulated how things will develop at the club. Did these ideas correspond with what happened over the last six months or so?
Hunt: I can’t say that I imagined everything like this. We had surprises, for example a change of managers. That’s never great for the players because a change of management means that we haven’t been working at 100 percent. I imagined that differently but the sporting situation is quite like I expected.
Do you think about the sporting development of the team or the current 2. Bundesliga standings?
Hunt: Both. I believe we have the potential, we have the individual quality, we’re capable of achieving things with the best team in the league. In the beginning, we had one or two games in which we were taken aback slightly, but we came out of those moments together. That shows the quality within the team. It’s not that easy to shake off games like the season opener against Kiel or the game against Regensburg and to come out of those games stronger. We managed to do just that despite being such a young group of players. That confirms what I think of the team and what I’ve come to expect.
Which qualities stand out for you?
Hunt: We’ve put together a team this year, which really wants to play the beautiful game. Everyone on the pitch really wants the ball, which hasn’t always been the case over the past few years. The coaches and managers have definitely done a really great job in putting the squad together. We also have lots of strengths to our game. Lots of pace up front, which you don’t always find, midfield players who can get past their man and also the men at the back, who give the team incredible stability.
In the world of football business, as you’ve experienced at HSV, it’s always said that a club can be rebuilt from the ground up. Do you see this happening? And how is the mood within the team at the moment?
Hunt: At the moment, there are a lot of satisfied faces around the club because lots of good decisions are being made. Of course, it all depends on what we do on the pitch on Saturdays. That’s the most important thing. If we take care of that, then we can keep the club calm and content to a certain extent. When it’s going well on the pitch, there are very few complaints. That makes a lot of other things easier.
You’re taking a special role within the team, not only due to your selection as captain, but also on the pitch. How has your role developed and what do you think of it?
Hunt: My role hasn’t changed greatly. As captain, I definitely have more responsibility than before, but it’s the same as before in the way that I want to help the team through my playing style, which I always have.
What do you mean by your playing style?
Hunt: I think I can help the players around me with my playing style to make them better and bring out the best in those players. On top of that, we have lots of young players. I’m aware of how important it is for me to sometimes take a player, who is perhaps lagging behind, to the side and give them some pointers. It’s vital for me, as a more experienced player, to show my instinct. I know exactly how the players are feeling. Come the weekends, every player wants to be on the pitch, but only 11 can start.
How is the team coping with the competition within the squad?
Hunt: They’re doing an excellent job. I’ve experienced the opposite before. Absolutely no feelings of discontent have come up. No one’s backing down or spreading negative vibes. That’s making us really strong at the moment. We’re a real team.
Do you have any examples?
Hunt: For me, the best example is Baka, who played absolutely no role in the first few games of the season and sat in the stands. He’s had to wait a very long time for his chance and he’s done great in the last few weeks. We always knew that he was fast, but now he’s become more technically talented too and his passing is precise. He’s clearly made a big step forward.
What are your general thoughts on the development that the team has made in the second division? Have we got used to the league?
Hunt: We’ve developed well and we’ve filled up on confidence, but that’s separate from the league. We don’t want to adapt our game massively for each opponent; we just want to impose our style every week, no matter who we’re playing. We know what we’re capable of and how much potential we have. That’s why our main focus is on ourselves.
When you look at yourself, have you changed anything?
Hunt: Not a lot has changed for me. My style is perhaps now a bit more productive and is flashier because we have a great amount of possession and we play into space. And because we have three players up front and I know exactly how I can and must set them up. It’s working well at the moment.
Thinking about all the happenings of the year as a whole, how would you describe 2018?
Hunt: Difficult. Because we were relegated, I’d rather forget this year. It shouldn’t happen, of course. There have been two sides to the year – the bad side is that we were relegated, we didn’t have a good season and a lot of things went wrong within the club. On the other side of the coin is the fact that we got another chance, that we have new goals with the club and that things are going right again.
How would you reflect on the situation?
Hunt: In my head, the positive feelings outweigh what happened previously. Especially when we play at home, it doesn’t feel like the second division at all. We have 50,000 fans in our stadium at almost every game; even when we’re away from home, we always have lots of fans with us and tickets are sold out. We don’t take that for granted.
Does 2018 seem like it was a lot longer to you because so much happened?
Hunt: Shorter, actually. Everything happened so quickly. The fact that we’ve finished the first half and one game of the second half of the season in the Bundesliga 2 is crazy. But we can’t sit back now. We have to keep pushing, match by match.
What are your wishes for 2019, then?
Hunt: We all have a big goal in May. We’re already on our way there, but it’s only half-time now. We have a strong points tally up to now, but no one’s wandering around the changing room boasting about how good we are. No one was easing off the gas in the final week before the Kiel game and that’s how we have to continue.
What are the steps necessary for that?
Hunt: We have to regain our focus quickly after the winter break and prepare well. Time is scarce. We’re getting back to it at the end of January with three fixtures in less than a week. Everyone hast o go into that in peak physical condition so that we can hit the ground running right from the first game.
We wish the team all the strength they can get for that and now a few relaxing days off.