Bundesliga star Roman Neustädter recently switched footballing allegiances from Germany to Russia and will represent his maternal homeland at Euro 2016. He's filled us in on joining up with a new squad and the cultural differences between the two nations.
In recent days, I've often been asked why I've chosen to play for Russia when I've already made two appearances for Germany. That's been a favourite question of Russian journalists, and has been ever since I first switched allegiance to the national team. I reply that, for any professional footballer, playing at a World Cup or European Championship is the pinnacle of achievement. I've felt a deep connection to Russia since childhood; my mother is Russian and my grandmother still lives there, as do many of my friends and relatives. I speak the language fluently, and can read and write in Russian too. I've always followed the Russian side at major tournaments. When I was included in the squad for Euro 2016, it really was a dream come true.
The last few days have flown by. I was given my Russian passport, my place in the national team was confirmed, and now I'm preparing myself, training in Bad Ragaz ahead of the tournament. Last Wednesday, during our match with the Czech Republic, I was brought on in the 64th minute and played in the centre of the defence. I was obviously unhappy that we lost 2-1, but I was delighted to represent Russia for the first time. Still, I don't want to get ahead of myself: I have to get to know my teammates better and fully adapt to our tactical system. I also have to give it my all every single day, and catch the manager's eye with good performances in training.
When I met the rest of the team, I was warmly welcomed by my new teammates. I acclimatised very easily, and didn't find it difficult to fit in. I've had a lot of fun since I joined up with the group, actually. I suit our game well, since I prefer to play short, sharp passes and keep the ball on the ground. My teammates often joke: "This is the Russian team, the passing here isn't what you're used to with Germany." They like to mess about, though there are certainly some big differences to German football. I think I can bring a lot to the group, with what I've learned playing for Die Mannschaft. Still, the guys are incredibly tough and really go at each other in training. Nobody means any harm, so there are no arguments about it. If anything, the hardest change for me to acclimatise to is the music in the dressing room. Unlike in the Bundesliga, we don't play the latest chart hits from America, or German hip-hop. It is all Russian rap, house music or pop.
Except for my hairstyle and the odd pronunciation issue, not much has changed on a day-to-day basis. Contrary to what the oh-so-clever Facebook commentators might say, I didn't get my haircut for my Russian passport, but simply got fed up of looking after my long hair. Finally, I should tell you that although I know the Russian "rap squat" pose and despite the fact that it's huge in Germany, nobody in the Russia team has a clue what the Russian rap squat is.
All the best,
Transcribed by Benedikt Nießen