He scored a ‘poker’ at the age of 34, so what’s next for Pizarro?
By Ross Dunbar
Saturday’s 9-2 victory over rivals Hamburg SV wasn’t enough to clinch the Bundesliga, as results elsewhere went against Bayern, but they did re-write the 50-year-old record books with the heaviest defeat enforced on the Dinosaur since a thrashing by the it wasame scoreline, ironically, against the blue-half of Munich in the first league campaign in 1963/64.
But the sheer assertiveness of Bayern’s victory certainly struck at the heart of the 10,000 travelling Hamburg supporters. The reward of a free barbeque mid-April ahead of their match with Fortuna Dusseldorf might not repair the mental damage, of fans, and players. Keeping an eye on a Champions League Quarter Final, Jupp Heynckes handed Claudio Pizarro the chance to grab the glory – and he made no mistake.
The timing was perfect for the Peruvian. After all, inside 90 minutes, he brushed aside club supremo Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to become the 10th highest-scoring player in the Bundesliga history, whilst adding his first league strike this season and enhancing his position as the league’s all-time leading foreign goalscorer and in the top-10 Bayern marksmen.
Pizarro was influential in six of the nine goals, opening his account on the half-hour mark, leaving his run to late from a corner-kick to connect perfectly from just a few yards out. He turned his hand to creating goals with a deft back-heel for Arjen Robben, which he went on to replicate in his hat-trick goal, meeting Robben’s cross at the front-post with strength and an ingenious flick.
His second on the stroke of half-time was to tap-in the rebound from Xherdan Shaqiri’s long-range effort that clipped the post before falling in the path of the veteran. Pizarro held his run efficiently to tap-home Thomas Muller’s cross into an empty, minutes after shrewdly holding-up play for Bayern’s Dutch winger who up-staged his team-mates with a majestic chip over the inauspicious Rene Adler.
“It was the best match of my career” said Pizarro, described as an “excellent player with great qualities” by chief trainer Jupp Heynckes in the wake of their win. To eclipse that, Franz Beckenbauer reacted, “We have Mario Gomez, Mario Mandzukic and we have Claudio Pizarro, who is actually the best of all, if he is fit,”
Pizarro might lie claim to a regular seat on the Bayern bench but his vast experience and composure was a refreshing commodity for a side that capitulated towards the end of last season, and freezing on the final stage, against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in their home Champions League final. He points to the trend over the last decade of clubs building around a core of experienced, knowledgeable players to be one of the lead players on the pitch.
He told TZ-Online.de: “This is a phenomenon that I have observed always in German football. Guiding players with temperament is important on the pitch, and there has always been a hierarchy. I think that’s very important. It takes a leading player within a group. In Bremen, I have shown that I am someone who can lead a group.”
Abreast from his two spells in Munich, Pizarro’s first stint in the Bundesliga was at SV Werder Bremen, where he endowed an abiding relationship with the club for four-and-a-half seasons. At 17, he debuted for local side Deportivo Pesquero and earned a move to Allianz Lima, averaging a goal every two games that alerted then Peruvian NT coach Francisco Maturana. Pizarro was one of the first signings under Werder’s newly-appointed head coach Thomas Schaaf, who had spared the club from relegation weeks earlier, as he cleaned up the untidy mess left by Felix Magath.
The striker settled quickly into life in Northern Germany, which he noted was “similar” to the working-class lifestyle of South America and he immediately became a cornerstone of Schaaf’s early side. Two strong campaigns with 10 and 19 goals respectively, he was signed by FC Bayern for £7m, turning down offers from Borussia Dortmund, among others. His relationship, though, with the club and boss Ottmar Hitzfeld became detached eventually with the “laid-back” culture of Pizarro, clashing head-on with the demands of Hitzfeld.
In 2003, Pizarro played second-fiddle to Dutchman Roy Maakay and he branded the pragmatic style of Hitzfeld as “too defensive” which angered the most successful Bundesliga coach of all-time. The 62-time Peruvian internationalist out-stayed Hitzfeld who departed and replaced by Magath, a year later, and still, the striker found himself behind Maakay in the pecking order.
Only in his final season, Pizarro reclaimed a regular starting berth in Magath’s last season with the club, and with a number of clubs eager to sign the South American on a bosman, he tested the water and switched to the Chelsea revolution, under Jose Mourinho. With the likes of Hernan Crespo and Mateja Kezman trodding on his toes, Pizarro was content to remain in London for a season, before agreeing to return to Bremen in 2008.
Rated as “the best ever” by former Werder friend and championship-winner Ailton, Pizarro claimed he back to win on the Weser-Strand and his 35 goals, in all competitions, steered Schaaf’s side to guaranteed Champions League football, and a memorable run to the UEFA Cup Final, losing to Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donestk. His initial loan-spell turned into a permanent move, worth around £2m to the Blues, and Pizarro would score a further 42 league goals in three extra seasons in Bremen.
Yet, the demise and struggle of the River Islanders to secure Champions League football on a regular basis led to a streamlining of the club’s playing staff. Pizarro – one of the club’s highest-earning players – was one, followed by Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Naldo, to be ushered out of the exit door. He signed a 12-month-deal with his old employers FC Bayern, appeased at a place on the bench behind Mario Gomez and Mario Mandzukic with the Bavarians competing on all-fronts.
Away from the training pitch, Pizarro looks after breeding horses in Peru and following the progress of two racing horses, one co-owned with Marseille midfielder Joey Barton called ‘Crying Lightning’ and the second with former Werder Bremen team-mate Tim Borowski named ‘Black Arrow’. The latter has a good record on the German circuit winning the Derby Trial in Hannover, two years ago, which he went on to sell for a profit following that race victory.
As for his future, Pizarro’s goal-fest against Hamburg was a sign of his qualities and ability to keep FC Bayern topping the Bundesliga, and holding strong in other competitions. The coach-in-waiting, Pep Guardiola, has raised the yardstick and elevated expectations with the former Barcelona coach looking to emulate the success of Heynckes next season, whilst implementing a change in style on the park.
He might be approaching the final few years in his career, but Pizarro’s contribution is one that could continue into the new era for Bayern. His style will be welcoming for Guardiola and the motivation of increasing his goal haul will keep the 34-year-old hungry for future success at the Allianz Arena, or indeed, elsewhere in Germany.
This article is written by Ross Dunbar, an AFR Senior Writer and Bundesliga specialist. You can follow him on twitter @rossdunbar93. Comments below please.
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