Former Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner has a wealth of experience to pass on to his new teammates at Augsburg. - © imago images / Sven Simon
Former Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner has a wealth of experience to pass on to his new teammates at Augsburg. - © imago images / Sven Simon
bundesliga

Old warhorse Stephan Lichtsteiner fit for Bundesliga battle with Augsburg

He may be pushing 36, but former Arsenal and Juventus full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner still has plenty to offer Augsburg. bundesliga.com explains why…

Augsburg had a busy summer, bringing 12 new players to the club in a bid to improve on their 15th-place finish in the 2018/19 campaign. They included goalkeeper Tomas Koubek and young defenders Reece Oxford and Felix Uduokhai, as well as attackers Florian Niederlechner and Ruben Vargas. Among the later arrivals was Switzerland international Lichtsteiner, who – along with Czech veteran Marek Suchy – will seek to bring his leadership and know-how to a defence that lost Kevin Danso over the summer.

Signed a day before Bayer Leverkusen loaned versatile Croatian defender Tin Jedvaj to Augsburg, Lichtsteiner put pen to paper on a one-year deal after leaving Arsenal.

"Tin Jedvaj is a great help," Augsburg head coach Martin Schmidt said of the battle-hardened right-back. "Stephan is also an unbelievable asset to have. He fits into the team brilliantly and, above all, he can use his experience to help the younger players."

Augsburg defender Lichtsteiner spent last year with Arsenal, making 14 appearances in the English Premier League. - imago/ZUMA Press

It's easy to see why Schmidt was so enthusiastic. Lichtsteiner – who turns 36 in January – has been there and done that. He made over 100 appearances for Lille, Lazio and Switzerland as well as over 250 for Italian giants Juventus.

He won the Italian Cup in his first year in Italy, and – after scoring in the Rome derby – was nicknamed Forrest Gump by a local commentator. A reference to the relentlessly hard-running character played by Tom Hanks in the 1994 film of the same name, that moniker has stuck. That comes as no surprise to those who have watched Lichtsteiner frantically shuttling from one end of the pitch to the other as a marauding right- or wing-back for club and country.

"I don't mind my nickname," the Augsburg number two said during UEFA Euro 2016. "It's good because it means the fans are happy with me. And I'm happy too."

The happiest period of the Grasshopper academy graduate's club career no doubt came in Turin, when – as a first-team regular – he helped Juventus win seven Serie A titles in a row as well as the Coppa Italia four times.

Lichtsteiner enjoyed similar success with his country, appearing at two European Championships and three World Cups. He even captained Switzerland at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup as they climbed into the top 10 of the world rankings.

Former Juventus stalwart Lichtsteiner (l.) got up close and personal with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (r.) in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League. - imago/MIS

"We can really use a guy like Stephan with all his international experience," said Augsburg forward Alfred Finnbogason, who predicted that both Lichtsteiner and Jedvaj would "really improve" the squad.

A starter in the 2015 UEFA Champions League final, Lichtsteiner was keen to prove as much after an at times difficult year with Arsenal.

"FC Augsburg are a team that have really been developing in recent years," the veteran said following his arrival in Germany.

"This will be a real challenge for me, but one that I wanted after my time in England. I feel that I can bring a lot to this young and hungry side, and I'm looking forward to doing so. The atmosphere in the Bundesliga is something I've always wanted to experience."

On Matchday 2, having got to sample crowds in Switzerland, France, Italy, England and at countless other grounds worldwide for both club and country, Lichtsteiner finally got a taste of top-flight football in Germany. Days after signing, he slotted in at right-back – alongside five other debutants – in the 1-1 home draw with Union Berlin.

Famed for his combative nature, Lichtsteiner won plenty of challenges and showcased his organisational ability on the pitch. But after fading in the second half, he also acknowledged there was more to come. The 2015 Swiss Footballer of the Year was making his first appearance of the season, after all, after leaving Arsenal in June following 23 games across all competitions in 2018/19.

"The legs weren't yet where they needed to be for such a match," he admitted afterwards.

Lichtsteiner (c.) also took on Eintracht Frankfurt and Serbia's Filip Kostic (r.) while captain of Switzerland at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. - imago/Camera 4/International

Missing a full pre-season with the team and a lack of match practice was no doubt to blame for Lichtsteiner's early red card against Werder Bremen a week later. The tough-as-nails defender earned 105 caps for Switzerland but is no longer in the squad, meaning that the September international break has allowed him to get fully up to speed – and to get to know his new surroundings.

One former colleague is convinced that the man also known as 'the Swiss Express' will prove an invaluable acquisition. Ex-Austria goalkeeper Alex Manninger, who played with Lichtsteiner at Juventus before a four-year spell at Augsburg that ended in 2016, is in no doubt that his former teammate will add value "to the whole team."

"For Augsburg, he's almost a guarantee that they won't be relegated," Manninger told German sports magazine kicker. "He is a model professional who is always there when it matters. There are very few players who have such a drive to get better, to deliver on the pitch and to be successful."

Alex Manninger (l.) played alongside Lichtsteiner (c.) and Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini (r.) at Juventus, winning Serie A in 2011/12. - imago sportfotodienst

Another player who knows him well is Switzerland U21 attacker Vargas, who made a fast start to life in the Bundesliga with three goals in his first three games for Augsburg. The pair both hail from the municipality of Adligenswil – population just over 5,000 – near the city of Lucerne.

"I've known Stephan since I was a kid," Vargas told the Augsburg website. "He is probably the most famous athlete from my hometown. It's a small village so everyone knows each other."

Vargas also hinted at the added value Lichtsteiner can bring when he discussed what he thought when he had realised the fourth Swiss player to get 100 caps would continue his career in Bavaria.

"I was very surprised but also very happy that I would be able to play with such a big personality in the team," he said.

Personality, character, leadership and experience. Lichtsteiner has those qualities in abundance, and Augsburg will make good use of them in the Bundesliga.