Friday 07 August 2020, 09:40

Pizarro: The only thing missing was a World Cup

  • Shortly after retirement, the Peruvian star conversed with

  • He discussed key moments, milestones and people from his stellar career

  • Former striker also assessed Peru's chances in Qatar 2022 qualifiers

It came as no surprise when Claudio Pizarro formally announced his retirement in June, as it had been widely expected that Peru’s most successful footballing export would hang up his boots at the conclusion of this year’s Bundesliga, the league where he spent 20 of his 24 years as a professional.

Two things were in abundance on the day the curtain fell. The first was his impressive playing stats. With the national team he played 85 games, competing four times in the Copa America and five times in World Cup qualifying campaigns. He also bowed out as Peru’s fifth-highest scorer courtesy of his 20 international goals.

At club level, the man they dubbed the 'Andean Bomber', won 20 titles and set several records in Germany. He also became the top Peruvian marksman in Europe with 253 goals, and the fourth most prolific Latin American in European Cup/Champions League history with 48 goals, surpassed only by Lionel Messi, Alfredo Di Stefano and Sergio Aguero.

The second thing that came in droves was praise for the player, which he described as "special, because it means that I created something lasting."

Pizarro, who encouraged his compatriots with an emotional letter before Peru’s World Cup play-off with New Zealand despite not having been called up for the game, and who extended his contract with Werder Bremen by six days to help the club avoid relegation, chatted about all this and more in an exclusive interview with How does retirement feel?

Claudio Pizarro: So far, nice and calm! (laughs) After so long and after extending my career by a year several times, it was clear to me that that the time was right. It was the end of a process that had reached its conclusion.

Is it too early to ask if you’re missing anything about it?

It's now time to enjoy the holidays, to spend time with my family, and I'll do it without football. At some point I'll miss the dressing room, the camaraderie and the fun you have as a group, but for now, I’m not missing anything.

What part did the pandemic play in your decision to retire in June?

None at all, although there were people who suggested I should bow out in front of the fans. But I always knew it’d be my last season, no matter what. I’d like to have a testimonial match when it’s ok for people to return to the stadiums.

Is it true that you considered going back to Peru to play for Alianza Lima again?

It was a possibility until the end of 2019. I never won the Peruvian league championship so there was a desire to return. However, I decided that I should end my professional playing career at Werder Bremen and explore new avenues.

What direction are you considering? Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich fans will both claim you...

Being in the middle of two clubs that gave me so much is a compliment! Whatever I do, it’ll be 100 per cent football-related, and it's likely to be at Bayern. However, it's not yet defined what exactly I would do there.

As someone who has set Bundesliga records with both clubs, what do records mean to you?

Things I couldn't even have imagined when I was a kid. I aspired to play in a major league, but as my career in Germany developed and opportunities came my way, I looked to set those records. It’s about your name and your country's name going down in history. And I hope they don't all get taken from me! While [Robert] Lewandowski broke my record for the most (Bundesliga) goals (scored by a foreign player), they'll have a hard time getting the record for the oldest Bundesliga player to score a hat-trick off me!

Much of your career was in Germany. What did that country teach you?

A lot. Coming here, I found a country completely different to mine and somewhere very organised. It helped that my father was in the marine forces, because I had a disciplined education, which made my adaptation much easier. The hard part was the food, the weather and the question of family, but I knew my profession was the most important thing. Today I live here and have adapted to German culture.

Claudio Pizarro of Bayern Muenchen poses with Karla Salcedo in front of the ensemble of the Bavaria statue

Have you considered the idea of coaching Bayern, Bremen or some other German club?

No! Pep Guardiola once told me I’d make a good coach, but I doubt I’ll become one. I'd be obsessive, very intense to work with, and right now I need to spend time with my family. Being a coach would deny me that.

On that subject, could you single out a coach, a team-mate and an opponent that has had a big impact on you?

The coach would be Pep, one of the best I’ve ever had. I've never worked with someone who analyses opponents the way he does and chooses the perfect players to beat an opponent. The team-mate would be the Brazilian Ze Roberto, who was a tremendous player and a great person on and off the pitch. For the opponent I’d say the Uruguayan Diego Lugano. We had a nice rivalry; on the playing field we wanted to kill each other, but off of it we had mutual respect and a cordial relationship.

Could you pick out the three best memories of your career?

(Reflects)... I'll give you two. At club level, the 2012/13 season with Bayern, when we won everything: the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League. That was the best year of my career. And with the national team, our third place at the Copa America 2015. It was the tipping point that led on to major accomplishments.

 Pep Guardiola, head coach of Muenchen shake hands with his palyer Claudio Pizarro

Speaking of the national team, what did it mean to you?

Everything! What kid doesn’t dream of being part of it? I was lucky not just to realise that dream, but also to have a long international career. I was a captain and got to experience important things, like qualifying for the World Cup after so many years.

What did it mean to be part of that process?

It meant something very significant. When I came into the national team in 1999, I was leaving for Europe, and I started to see complicated situations. Changes were required, such as in our mindset, but also in terms of being more professional, and that's what I've tried to convey ever since. I felt that, being one of the few playing overseas, that I could help with that. In the long run, that change was key to our qualification.

How much did Ricardo Gareca have to do with it?

A lot. He gave Peruvian football back its identity, playing dynamic football, keeping the ball on the ground, with a touch of mischief or seasoning, as they say in my country. In addition, he restored confidence to the players who had lost it, and that brought Peruvian football back to its roots.

Today, two years on, how do you view his decision not to include you in the squad for Russia?

I’ve said it before and the feeling won't change: it was a big disappointment not to participate in the World Cup. It hurt then and it will continue to hurt – it was the only thing missing in my career. But I always respected the decisions of my coaches, knowing that I just had to accept them and move on.

Claudio Pizarro (L) of Peru struggles for the ball with Wilker Angel (R) of Venezuela 

What are your expectations for Peru in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers?

The team have grown a lot in recent years, but there are things I'm worried about. For example, I expected several of those who performed well in the last qualifiers and had a good World Cup would further their careers with important Europe clubs. But that hasn’t happened.

Nor do I see many youngsters breaking into the European leagues, as was the case with several of the current generation who are nearing the end of their careers. They provided a hierarchy which, without young players to follow in their footsteps, could be lost, and that’s a very important factor in the playoffs.

Would you consider Peru a candidate for an automatic qualifying berth?

Based on dispassionate analysis no, because of what I said before. But thinking with my heart, I certainly hope so. The qualifiers are a marathon, and many things can happen. As of today, I’d say it’ll be difficult, but we have to wait, play some games and re-evaluate things later. That said, I’ll always be cheering on the team and hoping they do well!

Finally, above and beyond your individual achievements, you have been an ambassador for your country. Who do you think might be the next Pizarro?

I'm not in a position to suggest a name, but I'd love it to happen. What's more, I'd like to help one or more of my compatriots to have a career similar to mine. I think that would be beneficial to Peruvian football.