Christoph Metzelder stood out as a different breed of footballer throughout his playing days, known as much for the weight of authority his voice carried in the dressing room as for his thoughtful manner and measured words.
The former Germany international, who participated at two FIFA World Cups™ and even played in the 2002 Final, was a formidable centre-back with an unshakeable will to win. While he may have hung up his boots 11 months ago after a career that took him from Preussen Munster to Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid and Schalke, football still plays an important role in his everyday life, albeit in a rather different way.
Alongside working as a pundit for Sky, the 33-year-old is also CEO of a sports marketing agency and head of the Christoph Metzelder Foundation, an institution that promotes educational projects for youngsters in Germany and has taken him back to the grassroots game in his hometown.
Metzelder took time out to chat to FIFA.com in a wide-ranging interview, encompassing his thoughts on the power of football, the emotions a World Cup stirs up, his expectations ahead of Brazil 2014, the joy at being a fan once more and the iconic beard that made him an instantly recognisable figure at past tournaments.
FIFA.com: Will you be sporting a play-off beard again from 12 June?Christoph Metzelder:[Laughs] Hipsters are back in fashion which is why I like having a full beard at the moment, rather than just stubble. Joking aside though, you only do those kind of things as a player and I think it should stay that way.
What inspired you to grow a beard back in your playing days?I always enjoyed playing in the national team and I especially liked the preparations for a major tournament. Doing things like growing a play-off beard just highlighted the fact that World Cups and European Championships were special occasions, as well as being a huge honour for me.
Could you describe the range of emotions you experience as a player during a World Cup?It was like going on an incredible journey. When you meet up at the first training camp to start preparing for the tournament you're just so excited. You're given the team clothing, suitcases and new training kits. Those might sound like insignificant details but they prove that you're part of a select group. With each passing day you realise what the upcoming tournament means to the team, your country and the footballing community as a whole. The tension gradually increases as you build towards the first group game and when you walk out on to the pitch at that first stadium you feel as though the entire world is watching you.
With each passing day you realise what the upcoming tournament means to the team, your country and the footballing community as a whole.
The tournament is now being held in Brazil, a country synonymous with the game. Would you like to have been a couple of years younger to be able to participate?
My playing days are over and a new chapter in my life is just beginning, although of course there are moments when you would love to still be playing. Still, I was at two World Cups and went a long way each time [the Final in 2002 and the third-place play-off in 2006]. That gave me some fantastic memories.
How has the Germany side changed since you were involved?I think I was part of a transitional group of players. When I look back on our squad from the 2002 World Cup there was a lot of experience there with a few young players thrown in, like Sebastian Kehl, Gerald Asamoah, Miroslav Klose and me. The turning point came in 2006. Now we have an unbelievably talented crop of players and some amazing youngsters who have great quality and astonishing self-confidence.
Could that potentially be a disadvantage too?The introduction of centres of excellence in German football has helped give Joachim Low a huge pool of players to choose from. That's quite a privilege but it could also be a big test for the team itself because he has to make a lot of difficult and unpleasant decisions. Sticking together has always been one of the most important 'German virtues’.
How far do you think Germany can go in Brazil? Can they win the title?I think Germany are always in with a chance. I’m well placed to say that because I was part of a squad that was nowhere near as talented as the one we’ve got now, and we still always managed to do well. This time we’ve got a superb group of players to benefit from the first-rate preparations and organisation. I think we’ll reach the semi-finals at the very least.
Who else do you consider to be favourites?
Brazil, without a doubt. Spain appear to be more stable again but I still think it’s impossible for a team to win four major tournaments in a row. Belgium have improved enormously and of the South American sides I can see Argentina, Colombia and Chile going a long way.
How will you be following the World Cup?
Honestly? This time I decided I wanted to watch it as a normal fan and I can’t wait for it to start. I’ll be in Germany watching every game and I’ve quite deliberately made the time to be able to watch all the group stage matches, just like I did as a boy.
You have a reputation as a person who likes to broaden his horizons. What does football mean to you?I’ve been involved with football for virtually my entire life. 28 years ago a friend from my kindergarten took me along to a training session with him and I’ve been hooked on football ever since. I owe the game everything.
What makes the game so appealing?
In its purest form you can play football anywhere in the world as long as you have something round that resembles a ball and you have someone to play with. The rules are always the same and that’s part of what makes it so special. Everyone has kicked a ball around at some point, everyone understands the rules and knows more or less what’s good and what’s not. Football is not an abstract thing, it’s part of the fabric of society. Both a bank employee and the DAX chairman celebrate and suffer in the same way. Everyone’s equal in football.
How are you involved in the game nowadays?
I go back to my hometown club TuS Haltern, a typical German amateur outfit which plays football in its purest form: as a hobby but with unbelievable passion. At the end of my career I went back to my roots. Amateur football thrives on passion and enjoyment, without the business side of things you get in the professional game. Above all though, I’m just a huge TuS Haltern fan.
Do you still play?
Last summer I played in pre-season training, the city championship and the first few league matches, but finding the time since has become a bit tricky. That’s why I’ve limited my time to being assistant coach of the youth team that plays in the regional league, as well as trying to lead a training session myself at least once a week. Sundays are off-limits for anything but football though: at 11 o’clock I’m with the youth team and at 3 o’clock with the senior Haltern side.
Professional players have to deal with huge public pressure and expectations on a daily basis. Did being a thoughtful, reflective person make that more difficult for you?
Yes, I’d say so. The fact that I’ve always been interested in other things perhaps meant that I wasn’t always 100 per cent dedicated to being a footballer, and as a result I wasn’t consistently able to play at a world-class level. However, it has served me well for the stage of life I’m at now.
Yet you still managed to play for Dortmund, Schalke and Real Madrid…
Playing for Real was certainly a very special moment in my career. Even today when I go to Madrid I think to myself: ‘you used to play for this club and it will always be your home.’ The club constantly make that clear to their players. I’m proud to have that connection to the biggest and most successful club in the world, and as a *socio *[member] I’m entitled to vote there.