Though in the twilight of his career Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is enjoying rare form for both club and country. The Socceroos No1 for several years now, Schwarzer played a major role in his country reaching successive FIFA World Cups™ for the first time. His well-documented penalty shoot-out heroics against Uruguay were key to Australia reaching Germany 2006 and the custodian conceded just four goals in their 14 matches in qualification for South Africa 2010.
After 11 years at Middlesbrough, Schwarzer has enjoyed a new lease of life since arriving at Fulham two years ago helping the club to seventh, while this term the Cottagers have enjoyed an impressive run in the UEFA Europa League. The 37-year-old’s fine form saw him collect the Premier League's Player of the Month for February.
Schwarzer’s personal achievements are numerous and include 400 Premier League appearances and nearly 700 career matches. With 73 appearances to his name, Schwarzer is Australia’s most-capped goalkeeper and with no plans for retirement is now eyeing Alex Tobin's national record of 87 caps.
In an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, Schwarzer talks about his recent club experiences, his form and his plans for the future. The shotstopper also reveals his aspirations and hopes for South Africa 2010 as Australia aim to continue a fine defensive record on the world’s greatest stage in Group D against Germany, Serbia and Ghana.
FIFA.com: It’s been a another wonderful season for you at Fulham, with good league form, a UEFA Europa League run that included defeating Juventus and being named English Premier League player of the month. How does the season compare for you?
Mark Schwarzer: From day one I have enjoyed my time at Fulham. So far, this season has been even more enjoyable than last season. I have been fortunate enough over 13-14 years to have some pretty fantastic seasons, and definitely the last two seasons at Fulham have been very special for a number of reasons. The longer my career has gone on the more I have relaxed and enjoyed things and savoured the moment. This season is turning out to be pretty special and I hope it continues into the World Cup. That would really cap off a memorable season.
Given your showings for both club and country, do you consider this the best form you have been in?
That is what everyone was telling me last season that it was the best I had ever played! All I have tried to do is get my head down and work as hard as I possibly can. If anything I have physically worked even harder than I did last season, and so far it is paying dividends.
You were also in great form for the Socceroos who proved hard to beat in qualifying. How confident is the team given the group you have drawn.
I’m quietly confident. If you look at our group it is very, very tough. The group has similarities to that we had in Germany. We are going in again as underdogs, but the difference now is that we are not the unknown quantity we were last time. I’m quietly confident we will go to the World Cup in the best possible shape and condition and hopefully give it a real shake like we did last time.
You obviously know Germany very well given your background and also having played there for a number of seasons. Will that mean something extra to you personally in South Africa?
Definitely. I was fortunate to play against Germany in the 2005 Confederations Cup which was a special moment given it is the country of my heritage and my mum and dad’s birthplace. I think this will be even more special. Nothing beats playing in a World Cup as you are representing your country, you’re playing on the biggest stage on the planet and there are hundreds of millions of people watching around the world. To have the opportunity to play against Germany, and hopefully get a good result, would be a dream come true.
Any special connections with players in the German squad, or the other teams in the group?
I am friendly with (German defender) Robert Huth. It would be nice to come up against Robert and try and get one over him! I also obviously know (Ghana and Fulham defender) John Paintsil but we have been pretty quite about it. We have though commented about finishing one/two in the group and having a laugh about it. To know two of my group opponents is pretty special.
The Australian team had an amazing defensive record in qualifying. What do you put that down to?
I think we were very organised as a team and very determined. We defended from the front and I think everyone was so determined from day one to qualify. Obviously if you are solid at the back and don’t concede then you give yourself every chance of winning matches.
The squad is very similar to the Germany 2006 squad, which obviously means the team has experience but a number of players are now over 30. Is it better to have that level of experience or younger legs?
We definitely have more experience than four years ago and statistically experience helps you more so than anything else. This time around we also have a larger pool of players to call on. Hopefully that will keep us in very good stead throughout the World Cup.
Any thoughts for your career plans in the medium term?
I have another year on my contract at Fulham. I would like to stay beyond that. Obviously at this time of your career it's a case of staying on top of your game and performing week-in, week-out. I want to keep playing at the highest level as long as possible and if I can stay at Fulham for that period of time then that would be great.
Similarly for the national team, is it a case of playing for as long as possible?
I have no aspirations to stop. My determination and enthusiasm is very much still there, and if anything has grown over the years. At my age, you know that it is all over too quickly, and that you can never go back. I want to make the most of it, stay at the top, represent my country and play at the highest level as long as possible.