With his wife in the passenger seat, his two children in the back, a glint in his eye and a huge smile across his face, Martin Harnik made his way down the Osterdeich, destination: Weser-Stadion. Back at last! After nine years away, Harnik has returned to SV Werder Bremen. "I know I am happy here – it’s like coming home," said the 30-year-old, who will be seeing a lot of old faces back in Green-White territory. Despite his busy schedule, Martin took time to speak to us at WERDER.DE and WERDER.TV about the years gone by, the years to come, and the realisation of his dream with good friend Max Kruse.
WERDER.DE: First of all, welcome back to Werder! How were you feeling this morning on your drive from Hannover to Bremen?
Martin Harnik: "I was excited. It’s like coming back home – I never lost contact with Bremen: Friends of ours live here, my best man lives here, my wife and I used to live here together, lots of old teammates are now in a coaching role or even sporting director. Not much has changed on the one hand, but in another sense a lot has. I’ve seen a lot of old faces and I’ve already had a lot of fun, but when I saw the changing rooms and saw how much progress has been made, it made me even more pleased to be able to play for the football school that is Werder Bremen once again next season."
WERDER.DE: You mentioned seeing a lot of old faces again – was this one of the reasons you returned to Werder?
Martin Harnik: "It was definitely one of the reasons, yes. I knew who and what was awaiting me here, I know that I’m happy here and that’s always been one of the most important factors in my career in order to be able to perform. My wife and I had huge grins on our faces when we left Hemelingen, because the route is so familiar to us. These are all factors that contributed to my decision, which I didn’t spend long considering."
WERDER.DE: This hasn’t been the first contact...
Martin Harnik: "I never lost contact to Max – we always supported each other, met up on our holidays if we had the time. Werder first made contact over Christmas with a request, and Max got involved straight away. I said at the time how appealing that is to me and that I’d love to do it. I did also make clear though, just as I will now, that I would respect Hannover’s decision and stay on the contract if they so wished. There were no problems, and despite missing Bremen, I always felt comfortable in Hannover."
WERDER.DE: Assistant coach Tim Borowski and sporting director Frank Baumann aren’t the only old acquaintances at Werder – you share some special memories with the current head coach as well...
Martin Harnik: "Yes, definitely – he’s the first manager I can speak to informally (laughs). Flo and I played for the amateurs together – he was third choice goalkeeper and often trained with us. We got along really well back then, but I would never have expected him to pursue a career in coaching, and I never knew he had that in him. I was chuffed when Flo was given the chance. Even when he was an assistant coach I’d heard only good things about him, and the fact that he started so well as first-team coach, unfortunately with a win against Hannover as well, I thought was a really nice story."
WERDER.DE: So Florian Kohfeldt was another reason for you wanting to play for Werder again?
Martin Harnik: "The coach is the most important position for any player. If there’s no understanding between them, there’s no point. During our talks we got on really well, just as we used to: his ideas sound good and I like his philosophy – I want to be a part of that."
WERDER.DE: You left Werder when you were 21 to go down a different path. Now you return as an experienced Bundesliga player. Was that always your plan, to come back here and show everyone?
Martin Harnik: "I don’t feel the need to show everyone – we had an unbelievably strong team when I was at Werder, played on an international stage, so there wasn’t much chance for a young player. That was the same for Max Kruse, so I never saw myself as a failure, I just had to gain experience. I did that at Düsseldorf and at Stuttgart I took my chance, but I never lost my love for Werder. I loved returning here as an opposition: the fans always gave me a warm welcome, and now I’m pleased to be returning as a player."
WERDER.DE: How does it make you feel when you think about the packed stands here in the Weser-Stadion?
Martin Harnik: "Werder and the fans have always had a special relationship; I really enjoyed it as a player here, playing in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. I came here as an opposition when Werder were fighting relegation, when everyone pulled together and supported the club until the very last day. Werder always get the job done, and the fans play a huge role in making that happen."
WERDER.DE: So what are you most looking forward to?
Martin Harnik: "First and foremost, to play with Max. It was always our dream to one day play for the same team in the Bundesliga, and I’m not sure we ever played together for Werder."
WERDER.DE: In the Weser-Stadion you have, but not in the Bundesliga.
Martin Harnik: "That’s right, against St. Pauli in the DFB Pokal. That was a good game as well (laughs). It would just be something really special to be able to play with Max. We both came from a little village team, we’ve both had decent careers and now we could potentially play together, which I didn’t think would be possible again."
WERDER.DE: You had a chat with Per Mertesacker as well didn’t you?
Martin Harnik: "I was at his book launch in Hannover earlier this week, and we met up for something to eat afterwards – I let slip that I was in touch with Werder again; he was chuffed for me! He too has a personal relationship to both clubs, to Hannover and Bremen."
WERDER.DE: The “Werder family” often gets brought up. Does it really exist or is this just our imagination?
Martin Harnik: "It definitely exists – I’ve been away for ten years, come back and haven’t bumped into anyone who I don’t already know. Clemens Fritz is a coach, you lot at WERDER.TV are the same lads, Florian Lauerer is still the physio and I was in recovery training with Jens Beulke back then. It’s mental. I don’t think it will take me long to settle in – in a way I’m already back home."