Veteran Mike Wunderlich is having a strong season with 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the 3rd division and has the best chance of promotion shortly before the end of the season. A good ten years ago, the 36-year-old was one of the top players in the 2nd league before he returned home to the NRW league due to burnout.
In an interview with SPOX and GOAL, the midfielder looks back on the most difficult phase of his career, explains why he will probably “never find his inner peace” and why things didn’t go on for him in the Bayer Leverkusen youth team.
He also reveals why he stayed there for ten years after his return to Viktoria Köln and why he ended up at FCK in the autumn of his career.
Mr. Wunderlich, in June 2011 you announced that you had been suffering from burnout syndrome for months. At the age of 25 you therefore switched from FSV Frankfurt from the 2nd division back to your home club Viktoria Köln in the NRW league. How do you remember?
Whimsical: That was a very difficult time. At some point you learn to deal with it. That’s why I publicly communicated at this point in time that I don’t currently feel able to stay in Frankfurt any longer and took the step home. It wasn’t planned that it turned into ten years. (laughs)
How did you perceive the illness?
Whimsical: It is unusual when you suddenly lose interest and lack drive. I asked myself: What is wrong with me? At first I was a bit overwhelmed. It was definitely the most complicated phase of my career. That should probably be the case in retrospect, but of course it was very annoying.
Especially if you look at your sporting achievements at the time: In the kicker ranking list after the preliminary round in 2010/11 you were classified in the midfield in the “Outstanding” category and voted the best player in your position.
Whimsical: Exactly, it went very well. I then had to take two steps back even though I was on a good way to get even higher.
How close was the leap into the Bundesliga for you back then?
Whimsical: In the winter of this season there were some requests for the summer and also for the transfer period after the preliminary round. That didn’t work out in the end. I don’t know if I put myself under too much pressure after the winter break because I really wanted to do it. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a perfectionist. I was never satisfied, always wanted more. And then at some point you are empty. Whether that was a burn-out is another matter. The media made a lot of it. The fact is: my head was empty and I just wanted to relax and play football at home and find my fun again. But of course: the leap into the Bundesliga was within reach and I look back now and then with tears in my eyes.
Kaiserslautern’s Mike Wunderlich: Bayer? “Wouldn’t have made sense to stay”
There wasn’t much to indicate that when you were younger: you were born in Cologne and initially played for Viktoria before moving to Bayer Leverkusen from 1995 to 2003. Why did it end there at 17?
Whimsical: During the transition to the U17s, I was told that it would be difficult to get assignments. That was openly communicated, I should decide for myself. In addition, Viktoria was promoted to the U17 Bundesliga for the coming season. I decided with my father that a change makes sense, because at this age regular match practice is the most important thing. It wouldn’t have made sense to stay in Leverkusen.
When you were at Bayer, did you have teammates who made the breakthrough there?
Whimsical: Gonzalo Castro was younger than me, but he played with us. He didn’t just have a top career in Leverkusen. Otherwise there were also a few players who made it into the 2nd league or Bundesliga. But Gonzo was already one of the most conspicuous players in his youth and has also proven that in the senior section.
As a result, they gained their first regional league experience with 1. FC Köln and Rot-Weiss Essen before going to Frankfurt. After your illness you played again in Cologne since 2011. They led the Viktoria from the 5th to the 3rd league, achieved unbelievable statistics in a few seasons. How long has health come first?
Whimsical: It was about health for just under a year. Then we had made the leap into the regional league. In the seven years before promotion to the third division, there were always opportunities to go to the second division, but I just felt good. The club helped me a lot during my difficult time, especially Mr. Wernze, the main sponsor of the club. He made my transfer from Frankfurt possible. His goal was always to get into the 3rd division – and that became my personal goal. So it was a mixture of gratitude and personal ambition. In 2019, after many attempts, we finally made it.