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Sören Ahlers: uncomplicated, yet not without ambition

The role of third-choice goalkeeper is often considered a thankless task. Whoever has it wants to be rid of it as soon as possible, or so it goes. At FC St. Pauli, Sören Ahlers has had to content himself with runouts in friendlies and Under-23 matches to date, yet the chemistry with fellow shot-stoppers Nikola Vasilj und Dennis Smarsch is clearly evident. That friendly relationship does not equate to a lack of ambition, however, as a conversation with the 24-year-old soon reveals.

Sören Ahlers settled in very quickly on arriving at the club six months ago, "I have uncomplicated teammates who make it easy for you here and I really like the city, too," he said. "The success on the pitch does the rest, the mood in the camp is superb." And if you ask Mathias Hain about Ahlers, you will hear lots of praise for his social skills, which would suggest that his successful integration is largely down to him. "That doesn't go without saying and it makes it incredibly easy for me to work with him," the goalkeeper coach said. Ahlers was primarily acquired for other reasons, of course. "To be well placed for every eventuality, we looked for a keeper who we thought could fill the role between the posts without too much start-up time. You have to consider all possible scenarios, such as injuries or a red card for the No1. The same can happen to the No2. We obviously did our research and were absolutely convinced of Sören's ability."

His senior career so far has seen Ahlers have stints at Wuppertaler SV and 1. FC Bocholt followed by four years at FC Schalke 04, where he kept goal for the second team. Sport had always been an important part of his life but it was by no means certain that he would make the transition to the professional game. "When I joined Schalke, it was the first time that I'd had the prospect of making a living from football. I would describe my progression as more unusual than most because I wasn't part of any academy," added the 24-year-old, who was invited for a trial by Schalke Under-23 goalkeeper coach  Christian Wetklo and went on to make 58 appearances for the Royal Blues.

The chemistry between Nikola Vasilj and Sören Ahlers is good despite the competition for the spot between the posts..

The chemistry between Nikola Vasilj and Sören Ahlers is good despite the competition for the spot between the posts..

At St. Pauli the roles are clearly defined at the moment, with Nikola Vasilj keeping goal in the league and Dennis Smarsch in the DFB Cup. Ahlers was aware of that division of responsibilities from the outset, of course, but he is not about to settle for the status quo: "I was signed as the third-choice goalkeeper but that doesn't mean I want to stay third-choice goalkeeper. I'm very ambitious." Resorting to digs or the use of the elbow is not an option, however: "You don't do yourself or the team any favours like that. Roles can change, but not through bluster or overconfidence. You always have a chance to play yourself into contention with talent, hard work and good performances."

A view shared by Hain: "We need healthy competition for places, but I also expect a good relationship between teammates. Sören has played a major part in that. He's also incredibly ambitious. I've rarely seen anyone work and live so much for football." Despite putting in all the effort, Ahlers still finds time for other things and spends a good two hours a day studying for his distance learning course in sport management. "Football is far and away my number one priority, but I live on my own in Hamburg and my girlfriend's in Düsseldorf, so I try to make sensible use of my time instead of sitting around at home all evening watching one series after another."

His books have also made the journey to the Benidorm training camp. It is clear, though, that Ahlers also has to take some time to relax, so how does he spend his holidays? "I like to be outside in the open air with as few people as possible." Scandinavia is among his favourite destinations. "A cabin by the lake, out in a rowing boat or on a bike or hiking during the day and firing up the barbecue in the evening," is how he described his perfect day. He had actually been planning to go to Finland during the winter break, but Covid-19 and a busy schedule put paid to that, but at least that gives him time to work on another skill: "I've developed a love of baking. The best thing I make is Donauwelle [eds: a plain and chocolate pound cake containing sour cherries and topped with buttercream and chocolate glaze]." With that in mind, his teammates may well be able to look forward to some homemade cake when he turns 25 in September.


Photos: Witters/FC St. Pauli