When FIFA.com called Arne Friedrich on his mobile recently, there was a warm and welcoming voice at the other end of the line. “It’s nice to hear someone speak German again,” said the former international, a veteran of two FIFA World Cups™. Judging by those words, you might assume that Friedrich, who joined MLS side Chicago Fire in March, is already feeling homesick. The truth, however, is quite the opposite.
“Of course, I miss my girlfriend, my family and my friends, but I’m not unhappy,” said Friedrich. “I felt at home here straight away. This city is incredible; I live on the waterside and have a view of the skyscrapers. What’s more, the people are really nice. I’ve already made several friends. I honestly feel really good in Chicago.”
It would appear, then, that Friedrich has now turned the page after difficult ends to his spells at Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg. The former German international joined Die Wolfe in the summer of 2010 following Hertha’s relegation, but missed the entire first half of the 2010/11 season after suffering a herniated disc. Back pain continued to blight his season after he underwent surgery, which led to a mutual termination of his contract in September 2011.
“The disc problems triggered several other injuries,” Friedrich explained. “Obviously it’s frustrating to find yourself unable to play, but it’s one of the risks of the job. That’s why I’ve never allowed myself to feel down in the dumps, even when I’ve been injured. They’re occupational hazards that you have to accept.”
After leaving Wolfsburg, Friedrich spent six months without a club. But while many had expected to see him call time on his career, the 33-year-old eventually returned to action in the spring after signing a one-year deal with Chicago Fire.
“I had no trouble at all in deciding to go with Chicago,” said Friedrich. “I had almost six months to think about my future. The United States was pretty much my only option and I had very good contact with the directors. I also really wanted to get to know the country and MLS. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.”
I’m sure I can return to the same level I was at in 2010.
Friedrich, capped 82 times at international level, has already made six appearances for his new club, but is currently nursing a thigh strain picked up in mid-May against Sporting Kansas City. The German is hoping to return against New York Red Bulls this weekend as his team, who lie fifth in the Eastern Conference, push for a place in the play-offs.
“I was satisfied with my performances before this latest injury,” said the robust defender. “As I played more matches, I regained my confidence and feel for the game. I’m sure I can return to the same level I was at in 2010, and that we can achieve our objective of reaching the play-offs.”
Having overcome one of the biggest challenges of his career to date, Friedrich is ready to start fighting for every ball once again. And he is eager to return to action in a league that has so far dispelled his preconceptions. “On a physical level, MLS is no different to the Bundesliga,” he said. “I probably underestimated that aspect of it in the beginning. Here, the players are all very quick and in excellent physical condition. I hadn’t been expecting that.”
Future up in the air
Friedrich’s contract with The Fire expires at the end of the season, and it seems likely he will return to Germany to see out his career. However, the defender freely admits that his American adventure has been a much more enjoyable experience than he had first imagined.
“I can’t say for certain that I will return to the Bundesliga,” said Friedrich. “Chicago would like to extend my deal but I made a conscious decision about the length of my contract. We will see how things unfold.”
“You should never say never,” Friedrich went on. “I like it here but I need to discuss it with my girlfriend. We’ll weigh things up after that,” he added, suggesting the door may, after all, be open for a possible extension of his contract.
For now, though, Friedrich is focused on winning back a place in the first team, while trying to stay up to speed with events at UEFA EURO 2012, which is currently taking place in Poland and Ukraine. “I miss being part of the national team, as I had some really good times there,” he said. “But I knew when I moved to the United States that I would be drawing a line under my international career.”
“For a few years now, Germany have been regular title contenders in major international tournaments,” Friedrich continued. “The country, players and technical staff are all eager to win, but the EURO looks very competitive. In any case, I wish my former colleagues good luck.”