Friday 14 December 2018, 10:38

Podolski: This tournament can be a launch pad for future success

  • Lukas Podolski talks exclusively to ahead of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland

  • The Polish-born World Cup-winner believes it is a great opportunity for the country

  • Says the tournament can help launch a career

Lukas Podolski has enjoyed a remarkable journey since shining as one of Germany's young stars at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil, which culminated in a third place finish for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side and memorable celebrations with fans in the capital city.

Having featured for giants such as Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Galatasaray at club level, the 33-year-old (130 appearances, 49 goals) is no stranger to success and capped a sparkling international career with a World Cup winner’s medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2014. Now enjoying a career in Japan, the Vissel Kobe player tells about life there and next year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland, the country of his birth. The 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup emblem was unveiled today, and it is now only five months until the start of the tournament. Of course you played for Germany and won the World Cup in 2014, but you still have a very special relationship with Poland. So what can fans expect next year? Lukas Podolski: First of all, it is a great opportunity for Poland and the Polish FA to show to the world all the good things about Poland. This country has developed a lot. There are new highways, new stadiums, the food is very good. If you ask me which dish I would recommend, I would not be even able to pick just one, as I like it all, especially when my mother prepares it (smiles). We have been living in Germany for many years, but I was born in Poland and my family knows how to prepare Polish food. It will also be a good opportunity for Poland to be well remembered by the stars of tomorrow.

It is possible that some of the players who will take part in the tournament will play one day at the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. And they will remember Poland, they will say to themselves: 'Oh, Poland, this is where it all began for me'. Really, such a tournament is a huge opportunity both for the host nation and the players. It is a germ which can flourish, in tourism for example. Fans, players… if they like Poland, maybe they would come back again or will tell others: 'Listen, Poland is really worth visiting'. The benefits are countless.

How can the tournament help the country develop, both in general and in football? As I said, if Poland leaves a good impression for the participants, it will pay off with tourism for example. Also it will be a huge opportunity for the Polish national team to experience a unique adventure. Such tournaments are always full of scouts and when you play well, you will be immediately spotted. Besides the pride and joy of playing for your national team, one can also win 'a ticket' to the wider football world as the eyes of the big clubs are always watching such tournaments.

How important are such youth tournaments for careers? Every World Cup, no matter if it is at youth or senior level gives a player a tremendous opportunity to face the best possible opponents. You cannot buy it, you must experience it and it can be a huge career boost, being such a great opportunity.

You never played at a youth World Cup. Do you feel you missed out on something? Well, it depends. If I had not achieved anything big in my senior career later on, I would admit that I lost something. But… I was a teenager when I jumped into the deep waters of professional football and I did not sink (smiles). My first big tournament was UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal. I played there being just 19-years-old. Two years later I took part in the World Cup in Germany and was chosen the best young player of the tournament.

Of course the peak of my national team career was in Brazil, when we won the gold medal in 2014. There is no better feeling for a football player than the moment when you can touch this trophy. It is a dream for thousands of players every four years and only 23 lucky ones get to touch it. Even if you count the number of World Cup winners in the whole of football history, you will realise it is not so big compared to the number of people who dreamed of achieving that goal. I was lucky to do so and wish the same to all the participants at Poland 2019. This tournament can be a base for future success. I hope some of those who will participate in it, will then open the door to senior World Cups – the best tournament a football player can take part in.

And what about your current status. How is your life in Japan? I feel really good here. It is the first time that I have lived outside of Europe, but on the other hand it was not totally new for me as I have been travelling a lot, mostly with the German national team, so I have practically been to all parts of the world. One day in the future, I will sit down and tell myself, 'You had a good life because you have been lucky enough to experience so many cultures'. Besides Germany and Poland, also England, Italy, Turkey, Japan and who knows what the future will bring to me? I do think travelling and experiencing various countries makes one culturally broader.

What is different and what do you miss about Europe? Somehow, even countries inside Europe are different, like Poland and Germany for example. On the other hand, Japan is not on another planet, so it is not like everything is totally different. In general people here are very friendly, life is very organised, you don’t have negative surprises, you don’t fear living here. To be frank, there is not too much to miss from Europe, I am with my family here and I am not living in the middle of nowhere. Kobe is a nice city with 1.5 million people, everything functions very well. I have nothing to complain about.