Monday 21 December 2020, 07:50

Adler’s new passion: the world's most sustainable football pitch

  • Rene Adler was Germany's No1 keeper before Manuel Neuer

  • Now he's part of a project building the world's largest recycling village

  • Over 40,000 tons of plastic waste recycled, with more than 1,500 people benefiting

“We are responsible for what we do, but also for what we do not do.”

Rene Adler may not be a philosopher like Voltaire, the author of those words, but in speaking to the now retired former Germany international goalkeeper, it is noticeable that he is a man who asks himself life’s big questions and seeks meaning in the big picture.

Adler is not the kind of person to simply do nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact. He is a businessman, philanthropist, television pundit, student, family man, and much more besides. His latest passion is Project Wings, an initiative of which he and his wife have become patrons.

Listening to Adler talk about it, the sheer amount of heart and soul, dedication and conviction that is poured into it is infectious. Project Wings is a mission that combines humanitarian aid with nature and animal conservation, and is currently building the world's largest recycling village from 250 tons of plastic waste (the wider project has already recycled over 40,000 tons) in Sumatra, Indonesia - including the world's most sustainable football pitch.

“From my time as a footballer, I know and love what it’s like to be in a team and to work together towards an objective,” Adler said. “In football you get much quicker feedback regarding success and failure than you do in business, because you test yourself every single week. That said, I get a lot of joy from seeing the impact of the work we do with Project Wings. It's wonderful to see something evolve for the better."

René Adler

What is Project Wings?

  • The mission: We find a way, no excuses.

  • What is being created? The world's largest recycling village from 250 tons of plastic waste.

  • Where? Sumatra, Indonesia.

  • Over 70,000 Ecobricks (a plastic bottle packed with used plastic) collected.

  • Over 20,000 trees planted.

Eighteen months ago, four young founders set themselves the task of making the world a little bit better. Their venture has since become Germany's fastest-growing aid organisation.

“I have a lot of contact with the founders,” Adler said. “It's inspiring to see how much the cause means to them and how they put all their energy into it. It reminds me of my time as a footballer. My concern was a more selfish one, of course, and these guys are doing it for a higher cause - environmental protection. But in terms of passion, I see an overlap there with my mindset, and that's why I want to support Project Wings.”

Another overlap stems from the fact that, among other things, the world's most sustainable sports complex is being built in Sumatra, including a football pitch.

“Even the goal nets are made of plastic and are completely sustainable,” Adler said. “Football has always been something that’s brought people together. After all, FIFA [click here to visit the FIFA sustainability page] shows that with its projects too. The kids there want to play football but they usually don't have the opportunities to do so. We give those to them and also get them off the streets and away from things like crime and drugs.”

Incidentally, that Adler is involved at all is down to chance and his mother-in-law, who became aware of the project at an awards ceremony. However, happenstance is not something the 35-year-old tends to rely on in his career on and off the pitch.

Since hanging up his gloves he has sought out mentors from various industries, and is currently studying on the UEFA Masters course in Sports Management alongside the likes of Didier Drogba, Andrei Arshavin and Kolo Toure. “Life isn’t easy at all after football, because all of a sudden you're in charge of your own daily routine. It's nice, but it's also challenging. I chose to invest a lot in my education and ask myself what I really need in order to be happy.”

Adler also revealed what football had taught him the most: “I've fallen down a lot, but I've learned to always get back up. And that's not only important in sports, but in life in general. Never give up, always keep going and constantly learn from mistakes.” Looking back, it still hurts Adler that he missed the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ due to a rib injury, having been Germany’s No1 goalkeeper at the time. He was replaced by Manuel Neuer, who recently won the FIFA World Goalkeeper of the Year prize for the fifth time at The Best FIFA Football Awards™.

René Adler and Manuel Neuer at a training session with the German national team

“A lot of things went very well for me,” he continued. “At youth level I was always the best, and was captain of my club and in the Germany youth teams. I quickly became a first-team regular in the Bundesliga and then Germany’s number one. Maybe things went too well. I stopped getting regular mental coaching. Even though I can't prove it, I'm pretty sure if I had carried on with that in a more disciplined manner, I wouldn't have got injured and would have been able to play at the World Cup. Looking back, that might have been my most painful and informative mistake."

Adler only has words of praise for Neuer, his successor between the posts for Germany: “Manu totally deserved to be crowned as the world’s best goalkeeper this year. He had a fantastic season and he more than deserved it.”

A year that brought extraordinary challenges for everyone is now drawing to a close, so it is little surprise that Adler has a special festive wish: “If I could ask for something for Christmas then it would perhaps be for the vaccine to quickly show its effectiveness next year and that we finally get through the COVID-19 pandemic and get back to normal. I miss a lot of things, such as traveling.”

As Voltaire said: “One thing is certain, travel always does you good.” Here's to hoping Adler’s Christmas wish comes true.