“I want to go to the World Cup with Peru,” said Claudio Pizarro, revealing his big dream. And for those of you working out how old he will be by the time the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ kicks off, yes, he will be 39.
In order to make that dream a reality, Peru, currently 42nd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, need to pick up points at the end of this month. Pizarro and Co will play Venezuela at home on 24 March before a tough fixture away to Uruguay five days later.
Fortunately, the national team captain is in fine form: the 37-year-old frontman recently became the oldest player to score a hat-trick in Bundesliga history after hitting three past Bayer Leverkusen. The Werder Bremen No14 now has 100 league goals for the club, leaving him one behind record scorer Marco Bode and with the chance of overtaking him before the season is out.
So how does Pizarro do it? The striker has been setting goalscoring records for club and country for almost two decades. In 2008 he reached the UEFA Champions League final with Chelsea FC, won the competition with Bayern Munich in 2013 and went on to lift the FIFA Club World Cup later that same year. What is his secret? And is there any ability he lacks out on the pitch but wishes he had?
FIFA.com spoke to the amicable striker at length and discovered that he is actually unsuited to his nickname, ‘Pizza Express’.
FIFA.com: Claudio, it was recently reported that you are aiming to qualify for Russia 2018 with Peru. Is that true?
Claudio Pizarro: I feel very good at the moment. It’s my big dream to play at a World Cup with my country. There’s no doubt that 2018 is still a long way away, but I hope to be able to make it. It’ll be difficult, but the dream remains alive.
What is your secret to staying fit? Is there a certain Peruvian food that helps keep you young?
No, no, not really [laughs]! Having said that, I went to the doctor a while ago and changed my diet a bit. I now know what does my body good and what doesn’t. Unfortunately I can no longer eat certain things that normal people can, but it’s not that bad.
So the nickname ‘Pizza Express’ is not very fitting in that case. Can you give us a couple of examples of what your new diet involves?
I’ve swapped dishes with pasta for spelt noodles. I also don’t eat vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines, but I eat a lot of rice and fish and I drink soya or almond milk instead of full-fat milk.
So German sausages are no longer on the menu?
I can still eat them now and again – and enjoy doing so [laughs].
Is there part of you that has become typically German? Do you have gnomes in your front garden for example?
No, no, I don’t have any of those yet [laughs]. But punctuality and organisation have rubbed off on me.
[Pauses to consider] The horses on my stud farm [which is called 'El Catorce', after his shirt number] in Peru all have names that are to do with my time in Germany. I have a couple of horses called Allianz Arena, Karl-Heinz [after Karl-Heinz Rummenigge] and Marienplatz.
How did the shirt No14 become yours?
I got it for the first time when I moved to Bayern. Karl-Heinz [Rummenigge], who I signed my contract with back then, recommended it to me. I said straight away that I would take it. I always tried to keep the number after that.
It is rumoured that Real Madrid made you an offer in 2001, but that you decided to join Bayern instead. In terms of language and climate, surely a South American would be better suited to Spain?
Back then Bayern showed far greater interest in me than Real Madrid did. On top of that, I felt at home in Germany and for me Bayern were the biggest club in the world at the time.
You have now been in Germany for several years and have made more appearances in the Bundesliga than any other foreigner. How has the league developed over time?
The Bundesliga has constantly progressed since I’ve played here. In my opinion it’s currently the best league in the world. I think a lot of players would like to play here because it’s a high-quality league, a very nice country and a place where you can simply feel at home in every respect.
As one of the ‘old guard’, you must have a special status in the Bremen team?
Yes, I think that’s something normal. When the older players speak then the younger players need to take it on board. I’m almost twice the age of some of my team-mates. One or two of them could even be my sons [laughs]. In that sense I’m certainly a kind of father figure and I’m always ready to help or offer advice.
You have won almost every title there is in club football, but have not yet tasted success with the national team. What would qualifying for the World Cup mean for Peru?
We haven’t been able to qualify for a World Cup since 1982. The entire country is yearning for it. We’ve got very good players and I think we can really do it. And there’s no doubt that qualifying for the World Cup would be like winning a title for us.
So far South American qualifying has not gone so well for Peru, with just one win from four games. That means you need points in the upcoming fixtures against Venezuela and Uruguay. What is the objective for those matches?
For us it was very important that we won our home game against Paraguay. We need to keep picking up points at home. We really want to win our next match against Venezuela and I think we’ve got a good chance. After that we want to at least get a point in Uruguay. They’ve got a very good team and are on a good run at the moment. Their players know each other very well and the coach has been there for a long time. It’ll be very difficult for us but in our current situation we really need points, and want to get something in Uruguay.
World Cup qualifying in South America is said to be especially tough. How difficult do you find it and why?
Every team just has a lot of quality. Numerous players from every country play in Europe and therefore lots of them have excellent individual class. Every country is difficult to beat and every team, apart from maybe Brazil and Argentina, is at the same level. Having said that, even for those two, qualification is very difficult right now. And compared to the last World Cup qualifying campaign, this one’s even harder because this time Brazil don’t have an automatic berth.
You occasionally play alongside Paolo Guerrero, who was your team-mate for a time at Bayern. Do you sometimes speak German together so that your opponents are not able to understand you?
[Laughs] Yes, that actually does happen sometimes. At corners or other set-pieces in particular, when we’re planning something special we talk about our runs or plans in German so that the defenders can’t understand us. But otherwise we obviously speak in Spanish.
Are you still aiming to become Peru’s all-time top scorer? You are still six goals behind Teofilo Cubillas.
Obviously that would be wonderful and very special. But it’s more important for us to earn points and to do that it doesn’t matter who scores the goals. It’s not something I think about when I’m out on the pitch.
You score primarily with your right foot, but are almost as good with your left and with your head. Your technique is also excellent, which makes you a complete striker, but is there nevertheless a quality a team-mate or another player has that you would like to possess?
[Pauses to think] Well, I’d like to be able to dribble like Neymar or [Lionel] Messi; that would be amazing. But you can’t have everything! [laughs]