"I’m not the kind of guy who’s prepared to hang around and be patient." In one curt phrase, Lutz Pfannenstiel provides the neatest possible summary of his remarkable career.
At the age of 18, the budding shot-stopper rejected an offer to join the Bayern Munich reserves. If everything had gone according to plan, the ambitious and inquisitive youth would have been all but guaranteed trophies with Germany’s most successful club. But sticking to a plan has never been the player’s forte. Nowadays, the 35-year-old looks back on what even for the colourful world of football is a genuinely unique career. Pfannenstiel’s 'collection’ is astonishing, not for its trophies and medals, but for its continents: he has played professionally on all six.
Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo were the objects of the world’s biggest transfers. Real Madrid laid out astronomical sums to secure the services of the France and Portugal superstars. However, looking not at the size but at the frequency of transfers, Pfannenstiel is in a league of his own. The globe-trotting goalkeeper recently joined his 24th professional club.
After stints in exotic destinations such as Malaysia, Brazil, New Zealand, Albania, Canada and South Africa, he currently calls Norwegian capital Oslo home. As keeper and assistant coach, he is aiming to win promotion to the top flight with Manglerud Star. "Football is much more to me than just a well-paid job. I’ve seen the world thanks to football. That counts for so much more," Pfannenstiel told FIFA.com.
Real-life adventure yarn
"No-one can take my experiences away from me. Obviously, I’d like to have played in the Bundesliga, but I’ve achieved other things instead. I’m in the Guinness Book of Records as the first professional footballer to have played on all six continents. The decision not to go to Bayern back then can’t have been that bad after all."
The 1.86m keeper speaks with true conviction and almost boyish enthusiasm, his statements containing not a trace of subterfuge. "My boyhood dream was to play in Brazil. Believe me, I’m so incredibly proud of achieving just that, for Clube Atletico Hermann Aichinger."
The footballing odyssey undertaken by the man from Zwiesel, a community of 10,000 souls in Lower Bavaria, has included spells with Orlando Pirates, Haka Valkeakoski, Geylang United and Calgary Mustangs. But he is basically an unknown in his country of birth. Almost inevitably, his incredible journey has occasionally pushed him to the limit of human tolerance, but that has in turn contributed to a cast-iron personality. Unhaltbar (Unstoppable) is the title of his autobiography, to be published in October this year. "It reads like an adventure novel – except that it all actually happened."
There is no yardstick by which to measure this unconventional, truly global goalkeeper: "When I was younger, I was a bit of a living cliche. You know the kind of thing, fast cars and beautiful women. But I saw some terrible things, and it forced me to reappraise my life. Nowadays, I’m lucky enough to be able to see beyond the immediate horizon. My career has made me a lot more far-sighted."
As a result, success on the field of play, stunning saves and trophy celebrations have slipped a long way down Pfannenstiel’s list of priorities. "I’ve discovered the importance of social involvement. I want to use football as a way of raising global awareness of climate change, the number one issue facing the world right now. And the world loves football. Using this combination, I’m hoping to reach people who would never normally confront the problem."
To this end, Pfannenstiel has established the FC Global United project. The initiative aims to gather former football stars for exhibition matches in spectacular locations which are threatened by climate change. All funds raised will be donated to Klima-Allianz (Climate Alliance), a grouping of some 100 political and aid organisations campaigning for climate protection.
The likes of Giovane Elber, Krassimir Balakov, Aldair, Fredi Bobic and Sergej Barbarez are already on board, with many more to follow. The planned highlight of the project is a match on the Antarctic ice. "The game is already scheduled for next December, but we’ll probably have to move it, as it clashes with a match at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen."
Determined as ever
As his playing career slowly nears its end, the world’s most restless pro appears to be following a plan, possibly for the first time in his life: "I’m 100 per cent committed to this and I’ll see it through. FC Global United is my life’s work." He intends Norway to be the last stop in his career, ideally crowned by promotion for Manglerud Star. The club coached by Kjell Sverre Wold shares with its goalkeeper a commitment to social and community action. "If it all works out, it would be the perfect farewell."
And after that? "I can imagine putting down roots in Germany," Pfannenstiel suggests, before drawing a deep breath, pausing for thought, and adding a proviso: "Well, at least as my country of residence!"