The 31-year-old Swiss midfielder was one of the standout signings for Bayer Leverkusen this summer and has immediately made an impact, with one journalist recently calling him the best player in the Bundesliga this season.
Speaking to NZZ am Sonntag, Granit Xhaka clarified that he didn’t move to Bayer Leverkusen as a “boss”, but rather as someone seeking a new challenge.
“What does boss mean? The word is a bit big. I didn’t come to Leverkusen as a boss, but because I was looking for a new challenge,” Xhaka said.
“I felt like my time at Arsenal was over for me after seven years in London.
“I came here as an experienced player and person. The other players see that I can give them something of what I have learned. That’s part of my role here.”
The Swiss international, who has played 117 international matches for his country, also dismissed claims that he moved back to Germany because of his wife.
“It was sometimes written that I was coming back to Germany because of my wife. That’s not the truth. Like me, she was very happy in London,” he emphasised.
“I made the decision solely as a footballer and athlete. I came to a top club in Germany that has a plan and wants to achieve something. Of course the change was easier for us because, like me, we used to live in Düsseldorf and it is close to Mönchengladbach, where my wife grew up.”
Xhaka further spoke about the work environment at Bayer Leverkusen and how it contrasts with that at Arsenal. “You can work in peace at Bayer Leverkusen, there is no chaos, other clubs are more in focus. This is an advantage,” Xhaka said.
“At Arsenal the pressure is different.”
He went on to mention that while he “experienced it all at Arsenal“, including scandals and unrest, things are less exciting under the Bayer cross. “I would be lying if I said that the pressure and attention was the same in Leverkusen.
“But what is much more important to me is the pressure we put on ourselves, what we expect of ourselves. As I said: We have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
Speaking about his relationship with Leverkusen’s coach Xabi Alonso, Xhaka expressed admiration for Alonso’s tactical nous and his ability to turn good midfielders into top ones. “He was extremely unpleasant [as a player]. Thanks to his cleverness, his pass security and his timing, you never even had to press against him. That’s what he conveys to us today,” Xhaka said.
As for his position on the field, Xhaka revealed that his initial conversation with Alonso centred around whether he would play in the eight or six position. “Back then at Arsenal, I mostly played further up in midfield.
“We agreed that I’m best at six and not at eight. With the ideas and the system here at Leverkusen, this six-man position suits me perfectly,” he said.