He is six feet tall, weighs 80 kilos and his powerful left foot has earned him the nickname 'the Hammer'. Although he is still only 26, Thomas Hitzlsperger has become a lynchpin of the German national side, scoring six goals in 43 appearances for the three-time FIFA World Cup™-winners.
Hitzlsperger was a mere seven years old when he made his first transfer, from his home town club of VfB Forstinning to record Bundesliga title-winners Bayern Munich. He worked his way through the youth ranks before moving to England as an 18-year-old, carving out a niche with Premier League outfit Aston Villa, for whom he scored eight goals in 99 appearances.
The midfielder made his international debut on 9 October 2004 and has since gone on to become a regular. Shortly after he won his first German cap, he moved to Stuttgart where he won his first and to date only silverware, the Bundesliga title no less, a year later.
Hitzlsperger, who is now captain of the club, will be back in action on Tuesday in the German Cup when he faces his former team Bayern Munich. FIFA.com caught up with the midfielder for an exclusive interview, with the spotlight very much on the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
FIFA.com: The winter break has now come to an end and it's time to get back to business. You have a DFB Cup match and then a Bundesliga weekend before getting back to international duty in two weeks time against Norway. What can we hope to see from Germany in 2009?
Thomas Hitzlsperger: We obviously want to make progress on the pitch. The aim is to keep improving, both individually and as a team. The most important goal is to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa. We're determined to get there, and to do so we'll have to improve our performances.
2008 ended with a defeat to your arch-rivals England, only the third loss of the year out of a total of 16 games. With hindsight, was 2008 a successful year?
We're obviously disappointed that we lost the last match of the year as we were definitely looking to go out on a high note. It meant that we needed to sit down and analyse what went wrong in the England match. That's something that had to be worked on and the coaching staff have no doubt done just that. We can still be satisfied with how we did last year though. We were runners-up at the EURO and put in a few very good performances, so overall it was very positive. We've definitely been moving in the right direction since 2006.
One of your priorities this year will be the World Cup qualifiers. Germany currently sit top of Group 4 ahead of Russia and Wales with 10 points from four games. Are you confident of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa?
Something can always happen, something can always go wrong. We need to stay focussed, even if we are group leaders. It's a very tough group, as we've seen already, but we just need to stick to our task. We have some very strong opponents and we can't afford any slip-ups, otherwise we'll be the ones looking up at whoever is top of the table, and that's a position we don't want to be in. We want to stay top of the group and get qualifying done nice and early.
After their strong showing at the UEFA EURO 2008 with wins over the Netherlands amongst others, are Russia your main rivals?
No, not at all. We only managed a draw with Finland but we beat Russia. They are probably the best team in terms of how they play, but there is no way that teams like Wales or obviously Finland should be underestimated. They're very good sides and deserve to be taken seriously, which is what we are doing.
Are you already looking forward to the World Cup?
The road to South Africa will be long and hard. We are looking forward to the tournament but it is by no means a sure thing, and we know that. It's getting more difficult to qualify for a World Cup. All the teams are so closely matched in terms of performance. There are no minnows any more in world football. But yes, we do have South Africa in the back of our minds.
On the domestic front, you are currently on the up again after having had a relatively tough time of things in autumn 2008. Stuttgart are tenth in the Bundesliga - what can we expect from them between now and the end of the season?
It's tough because like on the international scene, the teams in the Bundesliga are all so evenly matched. There are so many clubs fighting for a European spot, and we know that we've got some tough matches ahead of us, but we are confident that we will be able to push on in the second half of the season.