Injury is an occupational hazard in the life of any professional footballer, but Claudio Pizarro has certainly suffered more than his fair share of knocks in recent months. The Peruvian striker has only been sporadically available to help his club Werder Bremen in what is proving an immensely challenging season but the 32-year-old is fit again, and determined to lend his weight to the Werder cause during the crucial run-in.
Pizarro hit the headlines for positive reasons late last year when he became the Bundesliga’s highest-scoring overseas player of all time, with 136 goals scored over the course of almost a decade in the German top flight. As a mark of Pizza’s continued hunger and ambition, he is now keen to add to his 56 caps for Peru after almost three and a half years away from the national set-up.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the former Chelsea and Bayern Munich striker explained his return to the Peru fold, and revealed his targets for the forthcoming Copa America.
FIFA.com: Claudio, late last year you overtook Giovane Elber to become the top-scoring import in Bundesliga history. Are you proud of that record?
Claudio Pizarro: Obviously, I’m very proud of setting a record like that. I take it as a major compliment. It's great, and I’ll keep on trying to do my best for the team.
Werder Bremen are having a miserable season. You were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League, and you’re battling relegation in the Bundesliga. What’s gone wrong, and how hard has it been not being able to lend a hand in a crisis?
It's very hard when you’re stuck watching from the sidelines for such a long time. And it’s not been just me either; we’ve lost the likes of Naldo, Wesley, Tim Borowski and Daniel Jensen for long spells. Just when things look like they are picking up, we seem to get another injury to set us back.
You’ve played for big-name clubs including Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Werder. Where have you enjoyed it the most?
Every club I’ve played for had its good points. Munich was very special, because I won lots of trophies there, and Bremen was my first club and my big break in Europe. That was very special too, after I came over looking to play well and put myself in the shop window. Chelsea was a very worthwhile experience too. I didn’t play as often as I wanted to, but I gave it my best shot, trained with some superb players and the best head coach of them all.
There’s much more short passing in Germany, and more technically good football. There are only two or three teams in England playing genuinely good football.
What are the essential differences between the Bundesliga and the Premier League?
The playing styles are certainly different. You get lots of direct, long passes in England, and lots of physical contact. There’s much more short passing in Germany, and more technically good football. There are only two or three teams in England playing genuinely good football.
How much longer do you intend to keep playing?
I don’t know. It all depends on how I’m feeling physically in two or three years, but I’d certainly like to keep going for many years yet.
Do you know what you’ll do after you finish playing?
I don’t think it’ll be coaching, but it would be great to stay in the game. I have lots of friends and contacts in the world of football.
Turning to your national team, you last played for Peru in November 2007. You’ve said you’re available for selection again: how much are you looking forward to your comeback?
I’m massively proud and really looking forward to it, because it means a great deal to me. It's always special when you represent your country. I’ll always give everything when I’m selected. I’m always up for it when I play for Peru. I hope I’ll be back very soon.
There were reports that Peru boss Sergio Markarian paid you a visit in Bremen. Is that true?
Yes, it’s true. He came to see me, and he’ll come again before the Copa America, which starts in July. It mattered to me that the national coach met [Bremen boss] Thomas Schaaf to discuss the plan for this summer, as I’m supposed to be on vacation at the time but will have to interrupt my holiday. I wanted that clarified, so there’s no nasty surprise for anyone afterwards.
What do you think of Markarian?
I’ve yet to train under him, I’ve only spoke to him so far. He’s a very experienced coach who focuses on getting the best out of the players at his disposal. I think he’s a very intelligent and tactically astute coach. We’ll achieve something significant with him, I’m convinced of that.
He’s already announced that he wants you to lead the attack. How do you feel about that demonstration of faith?
It's a good feeling, no doubt about it. I speak to him often and at length. I’ve not had the chance to be part of the group recently, partly because of the long flights involved, and partly because our matches weren’t so important. It was all very complicated. But the situation at the moment is that I’ll be picked for the next match, in March. I’ll do whatever I can to play.
People are wondering who’ll partner you up front, Paolo Guerrero or Raul Fernandez. Who would you prefer?
I have no preference. I played alongside Paolo for a long time and I know him very well. I’ve never played with Fernandez, but he’s done well for the national team and scored twice in two games. Other players could do the job too. At the end of the day, it’s the team that matters, and the coach decides. I can play alongside any other player.
Juan Vargas is captain at present. What’s your opinion of him?
I’m constantly in touch with a number of the national team players, and especially Juan, because he’s a close friend. He’s captain at the moment, but the coach will decide who’s the best man for the job.
Could you see yourself wearing the armband, both for your club and your country?
Of course. I’ve often done it in the past, and I’d happily do it again. But I’m an experienced player now, and I don’t need the armband as a reason to accept responsibility.
I’m massively proud and really looking forward to it, because it means a great deal to me. It's always special when you represent your country.
Certain players are suspended from the national team at present, including Jefferson Farfan. What’s your view of that? Is it damaging to the team?
He’s an important player, very talented, with bags of quality. It's a shame he’s not part of it, although I believe the coach has said he’s considering giving him another chance. It's a tricky situation for everyone, but we’re hoping he makes a comeback.
At the Copa America, Peru face Uruguay, Chile and Mexico. All three went to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
It means we’ll be even more fired up, even if it’s obviously not going to be easy. They’re all good teams and we’ve landed in a difficult group. But we have great belief in ourselves. We’re a young team, but we’ve shown we’re determined to go places. We hope we’ll show the world what we’re about at the Copa America. But the first task is to survive the group, and then we’ll see.
Who are the favourites for the trophy?
I guess it’s Brazil and Argentina, as ever. They’re always good and always play impressive football.
How important is football in Peru?
We’re going through a tough time at present. Football has always mattered to the nation and the people, but we’ve had no success of note and we’ve lost a lot of sympathy. That’ll return once we achieve something as a team.
Peru last appeared at the FIFA World Cup in 1982. What’s been the problem in the intervening years?
It's a hard one to answer. Naturally, we’ve given it our best shot, but it’s not worked out. We have to keep working hard, keep giving it our all, and hope it works out next time.
What do you lack compared to the bigger names on the continent?
We need more belief in ourselves. If we won something, our confidence would increase, and then we’d go on and achieve even more. We have a good team and the quality is there, but we lack the belief which is so important in football.
Finally, what are your targets in 2011?
The important thing now is for Werder Bremen to climb away from the drop zone and up into mid-table. That's the priority.