He was a legend in Green and White, a Peruvian who provided Werder Bremen fans with plenty of delight, and now Claudio Pizarro is set to return with Cologne for perhaps one last time to where his European dream first took flight.
He’s still the leading foreign goalscorer in Bundesliga history, and just several months shy of celebrating his 40th birthday, Pizarro is continuing to score in Germany’s top division. His Matchday 25 strike for Cologne against Stuttgart may not have been enough to help the struggling Billy Goats gain any points, but it served to prove that the forward still has what it takes to trouble his former side when the teams meet on Monday.
Watch: Claudio Pizarro's Werder Bremen wonder strike!
Pizarro scored an incredible 144 goals and provided 51 assists in 271 games for Werder during three spells at the club, the first of which began way back in 1999. His goal last weekend means he has now scored at least once in all 20 calendar years since then and although the memories of wearing the famous Werder shirt down through the years are as fresh as ever, the South American would have no hesitation in putting a goal past his former employers, should the opportunity arise.
"Of course it's a special game for me. I'm looking forward to meeting old friends and all the fans. But we want to win and I'd like to score goals against Werder for us to achieve that," the Cologne striker said ahead of Monday’s game in Bremen.
In Pizarro’s maiden season with the River-Islanders following a transfer from Alianza Lima, he registered 10 goals in 25 Bundesliga matches. Following that with 19 strikes in 31 games meant the player became one of the hottest prospects on the continent with teams in Spain and Italy among those interested in bringing the physically powerful, yet wonderfully nimble forward into their ranks.
In the end, Pizarro chose Bayern, the club he would go on to win six Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League with during two spells in Bavaria. A highly decorated trophy cabinet includes winner’s medals from the 2009 DFB Cup and DFL Supercup, along with a runner's up medal from the UEFA Cup final that same year, all earned at Werder following his loan move from Chelsea.
Watch: Pizarro has scored a Bundesliga goal in each of the last 20 calendar years
Yet it is far from silverware that the Peruvian marksman finds himself these days, with Cologne propping up the Bundesliga standings and embroiled in a desperate fight to save their top-flight status. Indeed, the Billy Goats' situation will appear all the more precarious should they fall to Pizarro’s former side on Matchday 26, a prospect Pizarro does not want to contemplate.
"Of course [the current situation] is very difficult,” he said. “We have to think from game to game and that’s why against Werder Bremen we have to try to win. I can talk and say a lot and support the young players with my experience,” Pizarro continued. “We’re trying everything, but it doesn’t always work. Only victories help us now."
Yet it’s the victories that have been so hard to come by for a Cologne side that has managed to take maximum points on just four occasions this season. For their part, Werder are also in a perilous situation, with Florian Kohfeldt’s men just two points above the relegation play-off place. Still holding out hope of one final shot at the FIFA World Cup finals with Peru, Pizarro knows he must prove his fitness and reliability on front of the target is true. Gaining hero status for Cologne at a home where he will forever be a legend would be a strong statement of intent for one of the Bundesliga’s all-time greats.