Lukas Podolski is a bona fide Bundesliga and Germany great, a FIFA World Cup and German top-flight champion who graced pitches from his beloved Cologne and Bavaria to Turkey and Japan.
bundesliga.com picks out five highlights from Prinz Poldi's regal footballing career.
1995: From Podolski to Poldi
Born on 4 June 1985, in the Polish city of Gliwice, Podolski moved to Germany with his parents, former footballer Waldemar and international handballer Krystyna, in 1987 to be reunited with his paternal grandparents. Four years later, he joined local club Bergheim in the Cologne suburbs before joining 1. FC, aged just 10 in 1995. Because so many of his teammates were also called Lukas, the new arrival was christened 'Poldi', and it stuck.
"I just went for it and took on the challenge," explained Podolski of how he established himself. "I was this kid from Poland, an immigrant kid, who didn't let himself get pushed around in training. I said to myself, 'So, now you're here, train!' Of course, you also need a little luck and a coach who has faith in you. That was my case, too. And everyone knows what came after that."
That coach was then Cologne first-team boss Marcel Koller, who handed his promising young forward his Bundesliga debut on 22 November 2003, with Podolski aged just 18. The 1-0 home defeat to Hamburg was the first of 139 Bundesliga appearances he would make for the Billy Goats in two spells in which he netted 55 top-flight goals.
To say he's attached to Cologne — the Domstadt, the Cathedral city — is an understatement. He has the city's crest tattooed on his arm, sang Viva Colonia at his initiation after joining Arsenal, and the now-36-year-old owns a number of businesses in the city, including a kebab house.
"For me, this club, this city, these fans are really home," he said of Cologne following his move to Japanese outfit Vissel Kobe in 2017. "It remains my dream to wear the Cologne shirt again."
13 December 2003: First Bundesliga goal
Hansa Rostock were the first Bundesliga opponents to feel what it was like to concede a goal to Podolski. They would not be alone. In total, he netted 70 in 210 Bundesliga appearances, including 15 in 71 top-flight matches for Bayern Munich in a spell with the Bavarian juggernauts that did not fully live up to its promise.
But that first strike was special, and was followed by nine more as Podolski finished with 10 goals in just 19 Bundesliga outings that maiden season. That remained the highest tally in the top flight by an 18-year-old until Florian Wirtz — another Cologne youth academy product — claimed the record from him in September 2021.
Watch: Lukas Podolski's top 5 long-range goals
6 June, 2004: Germany debut
"No one suggested to me to play for Poland when it was still possible," said Podolski. "The officials missed their chance." It could have been very different had Podolski put his gifted left foot to the service of his birth country. Instead, the Nationalmannschaft gave him his senior international debut — they can thank then coach Rudi Völler for that — in a 2-0 home defeat to Hungary that did not reflect the success Podolski would enjoy over the following 129 appearances for his country.
A key part of Jürgen Klinsmann's plans for the home FIFA World Cup in 2006, Podolski was named the tournament's Best Young Player ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, after scoring three times in helping the hosts finish third.
Those strikes were among the 49 he netted for his nation, starting from the two he scored against Thailand in a friendly in December 2004 to the thunderous blast he tallied on his swansong to win a friendly against England in Dortmund on 22 March 2017.
He wore the captain's armband that night as he was given a fitting send-off by then coach Joachim Löw, who — initially as Klinsmann's assistant — had been a constant in Podolski's international career.
"Our relationship has grown closer and closer over the years," said Podolski of Löw, who was replaced by Hansi Flick in summer 2021. "He's the coach who has encouraged me the most and taught me the most on and off the pitch. Our best moment was of course winning the World Cup."
13 July 2014: World champion
Podolski played a central role in Germany's tournament challenges at UEFA Euro 2008 and 2012 — finishing runner-up and semi-finalist respectively — as well as at the 2010 FIFA World Cup where he also reached the last four. His part in his country's fourth global crown was more limited, at least on the pitch.
An Arsenal player at the time having ended his second, three-year spell at Cologne with a move to England in 2012, Podolski had been hampered by injury all season long. In fact, he only fully proved his fitness in a majestic performance in Germany's last warm-up friendly before the tournament in which he scored one and set up three in a 6-1 win over Armenia, a game in which he came off the bench to replace the seriously injured Marco Reus.
The Borussia Dortmund captain must have looked on ruefully from his sofa as Podolski, who played just 53 minutes in the tournament, & Co. collected winners' medals and — in Poldi's case — a selfie with Chancellor Angela Merkel in the victors' dressing room.
"I've often been asked the question, 'What was your best moment in football?' Honestly, I don't have one," Podolski said. "From 2003 to now, I'm totally happy with the whole of my career. Numerous cities, wins, defeats, goals, assists — it's all part of me and defines me."
Only Lothar Matthäus (137) and Miroslav Klose (150) have ever played more times for Germany and only Klose (71) and Gerd Müller (68) have scored more goals. So if you're trying to define Podolski's international career, 'legendary' would probably do it.
11 August 2006: Bayern debut
Following relegation with Cologne, Podolski signed a four-year contract with Bayern and began what was expected to be a logical and successful step up in his career.
Felix Magath gave him a two-minute cameo in the Matchday 1 win over Dortmund, and it was to prove an omen for a three-year stint in Bavaria in which Podolski all too often played only a bit-part role in the team's success.
He did win the domestic double in 2007/08, however, and featured in two UEFA Champions League campaigns, his first taste of elite European competition.
Watch: Podolski's top 5 Bundesliga goals
Podolski transferred back to Cologne and later played for Arsenal, Inter Milan, Galatasaray, Vissel Kobe and Antalyaspor, before signing a deal with Gornik Zabrze, the club of his birthplace, for the 2021/22 season where he brought up his 700th competitive senior appearance.
"When, like me, you're so often in foreign countries, you must always be open and ready to adapt to cultures," said Podolski, explaining his success across clubs and continents. "It's not easy, and sometimes you have to overcome certain things. But without these new experiences life would soon get boring, wouldn't it? In any case, I've never regretted any of the clubs I've joined in my career."