Cologne - It is a few years now since a game between long-time Bundesliga rivals SV Werder Bremen and FC Bayern München has been as hotly, and widely, anticipated as the Matchday 25 head-to-head at the Weserstadion. For much of the opening decade of the millennium, Bremen were Bayern's most consistent challengers on the domestic front and had first-hand experience of that long-term tussle on both sides of the fence.
Off to a flier in the Bundesliga
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 of “Pizza..."
Pizarro gew up in Surco, a district of the vast Lima Metropolitan Area. He took his first steps as a professional a few hundred kilometres up the coast with Deportivo Pesquero, making his debut for the Chimbote-based club at 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.
Bavaria to London and back to Bremen
A total of 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 championship shield 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 No 24 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 to northern Germany for the following campaign on a regular three-year contract.
Club and country
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 for them in total. Not enough to overhaul Marco Bode's 101-goal club record, 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.”
And Pizarro wasn’t finished there. Several more goals followed in the green-and-white of Werder before he returned to Munich and the other love of his footballing life in the summer of 2012. His second spell at Bayern may not have yielded as many appearances but has been no less prolific. In his first season back, he scored a hattrick against Lyon in the UEFA Champions League and plundered four goals in one game against Hamburger SV. His strike in Bayern’s 2-0 win over Eintracht Braunschweig in April 2014 meant that Pizarro had scored against every team in the Bundesliga.
With 176 league goals in 378 matches to date, Claudio Pizarro is now the non-German player with the most Bundesliga appearances and goals under his belt and is evidently still hungry to add to his total. Notwithstanding the intensity of the competition for places at Bayern, the 'Andes bomber' will continue to harrass opposition defences until such time as he does he finally decide to hang up his boots.