At 36, the prolific Peruvian frontman is still going strong in his second spell in Munich and while he has been restricted to a handful of appearances off the bench this season, he is not yet ruling out the possibility of a further extension to his current one-year contract. Ahead of what is bound to be an emotional, and perhaps final return as a player to his old stomping ground, here's a slice or ten of “Pizza..."
Pizarro learned the rudiments of his future trade on the streets of Surco, a district of Lima Metropolitan Area. He took his first professional steps a few hundred kilometres up the coast with Deportivo Pesquero, debuting for the Chimbote-based club aged 17. Having moved back to the capital in 1998 to play for Alianza Lima, the following summer he became the first major signing of new Werder Bremen management duo Thomas Schaaf and Klaus Allofs.
The 20-year-old South American newcomer hit the ground running in Germany. In his first starting appearance, on Matchday 4 of the 1999/2000 campaign, Pizarro headed Bremen in front at home to 1. FC Kaiserslautern and laid on the second goal in an eventual 5-0 win. The following week he starred in another rout as Werder romped to a 7-2 victory at VfL Wolfsburg. Pizarro bagged a second-half hattrick, and a new Bundesliga star was born.
29 goals in two seasons for one of their main rivals was more than enough to pique FC Bayern's interest and in 2001, Pizarro headed south to Munich. Two years later, he got his hands on the coveted Meisterschale for the first time, as well as the DFB Cup - a double success he was to repeat twice more, in 2005 and 2006, before a move to Chelsea FC heralded the next change of scene. But the Bundesliga was not going to be deprived of his talents for long...
The following season, he was back where it all began for him in Europe - at Bremen, on an initial loan deal, under his old mentor Schaaf. News of the move sparked a run on the sale of the no24 shirt he had been allocated, demonstrating his continued status as a firm fans' favourite. Their faith proved well-placed, with 'Pizza' finished the season as Werder's 17-goal top scorer. After a summer of protracted negotiations, he returned for the following one, on a regular three-year contract.
Away from the pitch, one of Claudio's great passions is horse racing - so much so that he has made it a business as well: “I breed horses and sell them on. They're imposing animals, a bit like us. They're strong and powerful, and I like that.” Former Bremen teammate Tim Borowski shares his interest and came on board as co-owner of Black Arrow, who subsequently lived up to his name at a few German turf meets.
His family has been a pillar of stability for the striker over the course of his long career on a continent far from home. Pizarro married his teenage sweetheart Karla Salcedo in 1999 and the couple have a daughter, Antonella, and two sons, Claudio and Gianluca. All three have grown up in Germany, but he says it's important they “inherit a certain South American element. The cuisine there's delicious, for example. I don't cook myself, so someone has to do it for me.”
Despite the huge distances involved, Pizarro has turned out consistently for Peru down the years, always insisting that national team duty is “not up for debate.” Unfortunately, his playing days have coincided with an extended period of underachievement for los Incas and their most internationally renowned goalgetter never got a taste of World Cup finals action. He did, however, score their fastest-ever goal, in the opening minute of a friendly against Mexico in 2003.
Come the end of his second stint at Bremen, Pizarro had netted 89 Bundesliga goals all-told for them. Not enough to overhaul Marco Bode's (l.) 101-goal , but the current supervisory board chairman, whose own career overlapped with the former's first two years in the service of the Green-Whites, still reckons his former forward partner was perhaps “the best footballer I ever played alongside.” And it was with Werder that Pizarro set the record for which he is perhaps best renowned...
...on 23 October 2010, at Borussia Mönchengladbach. The 75th-minute goal that wrapped up a 4-1 win was the Peruvian striker's 134th in the Bundesliga - taking him past Giovane Elber and out on his own as the highest-scoring foreign player in the history of Germany's top flight. The following day he celebrated on the home front by watching a DVD of all 134 goals with his kids and reported that “they cheered every single one of them again.”
More than four years further down the line, Claudio Pizarro is now the non-German player with the most Bundesliga appearances under his belt as well and evidently still hungry for more match-time, not to mention goals. Notwithstanding the intensity of the competition for places at Bayern - that's World Cup final hero Mario Götze (l.) coming off the bench with him here - der Andenbomber will continue to haunt opposition defences until he finally decides to hang up his boots.