'Magic Mouse', the ardent Nürnberg fan
The Town Hall in Nürnberg is the venue for this Thursday's Countdown, the relaxed VIP get-together laid on by the Organising Committee (OC). FIFAworldcup.com took the opportunity to catch up with Sergio Zárate, a Nürnberg star and crowd favourite in the Nineties.
Passion, fire and temperament are thrilling qualities associated with Latin America in general and Argentina in particular, and when Buenos Aires resident Sergio Zárate starts to reminisce on his 69 games and 22 Bundesliga goals in Nürnberg colours, you cannot miss the infectious pride and excitement in his voice. Now 35 years of age, Zárate was a lightning-quick striker for Vélez Sarsfield of Argentina, Ancona in Italy, Necaxa, América and Puebla in Mexico, where he finally hung up his boots in the year 2000. He appeared in the Bavarian city between 1990 and 1994, earning the nickname 'Magic Mouse' from the adoring Nürnberg faithful.
Zárate thinks back fondly to his time in Germany.
"I have only happy memories of Nürnberg, those were definitely the best years of my career. It was tough at the start, but the people were always warm and friendly and the team welcomed me with open arms. I'll never forget looking up and seeing Argentina flags in the city, or hearing them chant my name at the stadium. I had three wonderful years."
Nürnberg is a 2006 FIFA World Cup™ Host City. What makes it special? Nürnberg is a spectacular place with a bit of everything, you have wonderful scenery, everything's green, and it's surrounded by forests. But the shopping is pretty comprehensive too. It's definitely a city worth getting to know, you can have fun just going for a stroll or riding around on a bike. I'll never forget when they opened the modernised Frankenstadion in 1992, it reminded me of a music box created from glass, it was full of life, simply spectacular. It's the best stadium in Germany, for my money.
Did you know it is being renovated again for 2006?
Really? I had no idea. It was already wonderful in 1992, so I can hardly imagine what it will look like in a couple of years.
And what about the people of Nürnberg?
I'd been told the Germans were pretty cold folk, but once you get to know them, you quickly revise this opinion. For me personally, I always felt like a bit of an idol there and I was warmly welcomed from all sides.
You appeared for Hamburg as well. Are we talking about two very different cities?
Yes we are, Hamburg is a real metropolis, it's very nice there too, but it's almost as big as Berlin or München - and it's pretty cold in winter. I really felt at home in Nürnberg, not to mention the fact I also played my best football there.
You played in Germany, Italy, Mexico and Argentina, a fascinating mixture. Are the leagues very different from one another?
Definitely. I was always man-marked in Germany, but if I did throw off my marker, I was quick enough to take a direct route to goal. It's all a lot harder in Italy, they play a zone marking system, and every zone is covered by up to three defenders. It's much less complicated in Mexico, it's more for the individualist, just like in Argentina - although I have to say the smog in Mexico City made everything a lot harder.
Who was the best defender you met in the Bundesliga?
Lothar Matthäus was the best of the lot, I really rate him because he was a truly great player and an incredible personality. He started in midfield and ended up as libero, but he was outstanding in every position. I have amazing memories of our derby showdowns against Bayern München, I once scored a brace at the Olympic stadium [on 28 March 1992] and we ended up winning 3-1. At the time, Argentina coach 'Coco' Basile was watching from the stands and he called me up to the national side. But as we're talking about defenders, I should mention Uwe Wolf who I played with for Nexaca in Mexico.
And what about you and coaches?
I had lots of problems with Willi Entenmann, but I also learnt most from him. I didn't approve of his tactics at the start as he limited my freedom on the pitch, but I got the message after a while. By the way, I was brought to Nürnberg by Dutch coach Arie Haan, he gave me all the freedom I wanted.
Returning to the FIFA World Cup for a moment, and thinking about the tournament as a whole: what do you expect from the event?
I believe we'll see a perfect World Cup, we all know about German organisational ability, and it applies equally to football. I hope I can be there and visit my friends in Nürnberg.
Will Argentina be there?
Of course! South America will send Brazil, Argentina and three other nations, no doubt about it. I'm Argentinian after all!