Claudio Pizarro’s transfer to Cologne was in many ways the signing of the summer in Germany.
Without a club since the end of last season, the Bundesliga’s all-time leading foreign goalscorer turned more than a few heads when he pitched up at the RheinEnergieStadion to help ease Peter Stöger’s injury crisis and attempt to lift the Billy Goats off the foot of the Bundesliga table.
Three weeks on, Cologne are still propping up the division, but Pizarro’s two appearances from the bench have given the team and the fans encouragement. This week the 39-year-old revealed that he’s ready for a place in the starting XI, and what better fixture in which to do so than against Werder Bremen, the club where he is adored after 144 goals in three spells over 18 years.
Claudio Pizarro, on Thursday your team-mates travel to Bulgaria to face BATE Borisov in the UEFA Europa League. How hard is it not being involved?
Claudio Pizarro: Obviously, it will be very tough. I asked Max Vollmar [Cologne’s team manager] if he could still register me, but no luck unfortunately (laughs). So I’ll just have to watch from afar and prepare myself for the next Bundesliga game. I’ll stay in Cologne and train individually to be ready for Sunday.
And what a special game that awaits on Sunday – Bremen, your old club, at home. Has the anticipation started building for you already?
Pizarro: It’s obviously a special game for me, absolutely. Playing against your former team-mates is always special. Both teams are going through a difficult spell right now, but we have home advantage. Hopefully we can use that and get the win.
Back in the summer, Werder opted not to renew your contract. Does that give you extra motivation against them?
Pizarro: No. The club decided they didn’t want to continue our co-operation and that was it. I’ll approach Sunday as I do any game: to try and score goals and win the match. At the moment, my entire focus is on Cologne and not Werder. We desperately need a victory, and we’ll give everything we have to get it.
Any goal you score could plunge your old club deeper into crisis. How do you feel when you consider that?
Pizarro: Well that would obviously be good for us (grins). That would be very bad news for Werder, but what interests me right now is Cologne. We’re also in a really tough spot, and if one team has to lose on Sunday, then unfortunately it has to be Werder. I won’t have any sympathy. If it’s me that scores the winning goal, I’d obviously be very happy. Although deep down, I won’t be celebrating a goal against Werder!
Do you still follow your old club’s progress closely?
Pizarro: Of course. I watched the game against Mönchengladbach to see what type of system they play and what I can do against them. But I still have a lot of friends in Bremen and I hope the club can find a way out of their current predicament. Werder are in my heart – just not this weekend. This weekend I’ll be trying to score goals and win. That’s the most important thing for me right now.
Watch: Cologne suffered a crushing last-minute defeat to Stuttgart on Matchday 8
How did the team cope with conceding that knockout blow to Stuttgart in second-half stoppage time?
Pizarro: It was really tough for the guys. They tried so hard to get that first win, not only in that game but in other matches too, and when things don’t go for you, you concede goals like the second one in Stuttgart. The team played well, so losing a game in that way is really tough to take. But we’re professionals and we know that we have to keep going and keep working hard to win the next game. There’s nothing else for it.
In such a situation, does your experience come in handy?
Pizarro: In the two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been able to see how I can communicate with the players. Some of them need encouragement; some need a bit of a scolding. I can assess much better now how they take advice. I’ll definitely offer my two cents going forward.
How is your fitness right now?
Pizarro: Much better. In the international break I was able to train really well and have something of a mini pre-season. Now I feel fit, and if it were up to me, I’d start on Sunday.
Peru play against New Zealand in November in a play-off to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Is it your ambition to be in the squad, and have you spoken to the coach?
Pizarro: We’re always in contact (laughs). But we speak about how the team is playing, not about me being called up. That’s the coach’s decision alone. I’ve not been fit, which has made it harder for him. But it would be a dream to be at the World Cup and it’s at the back of my mind. I’ll try to show what I can do here in Cologne to be in with a chance.
While you were without a club, did you think about retiring?
Pizarro: No. I had a few offers, all of which I considered. My plan was actually to play just one more season, and obviously it won’t be too long before I hang up my boots, but I don’t want to set anything in stone just yet. Who knows, perhaps I’ll feel good enough next summer to play another season (laughs).
Thomas Reinscheid reporting from Cologne