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Pizarro talks Kane role, Alonso memories and buying Ozil a watch

Does it make Claudio Pizarro feel old now that his former Bayern Munich team-mate Xabi Alonso is on the brink of taking Bayer Leverkusen to the title? “I have no problem with that,” he tells Sky Sports. “I have had many coaches who were younger than me!”

Pizarro, now 45, became a byword for Bundesliga longevity, finally quitting at 41. He retired as a two-club legend, having scored over 100 goals for both Bayern and Werder Bremen. Robert Lewandowski is the only foreign player to score more in the competition.

That he kept going for so long partly explains why Pizarro is now a Bayern ambassador rather than pursuing a coaching career like Alonso. “I gave so much time to football that I wanted some time for me.” But how did he manage to prolong his career at the top?

Claudio Pizarro ranks second to Robert Lewandowski on the list of top foreign goalscorers in Bundesliga history
Image: Claudio Pizarro ranks second on the list of top foreign goalscorers in Bundesliga history

“I had to take care of my body a lot.” He took that up a notch when he returned to Bayern for a second spell. “I changed my diet when I was 34 to try to continue playing.” It worked for a while. “In the head, you can continue playing until you are 60,” he laughs.

“In the end, you have to listen to your body. It is your body that says you cannot do that anymore. You are competing against young players who are at another speed and the recovery is low when you are, let’s say, experienced. It is not easy.”

Even so, the man who played under Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola was still finding a yard on defenders past 40. It brought six Bundesliga titles with Bayern and even a cup with Bremen. Does he regard scoring as a sixth sense? Not quite. He learned his craft.

“That is the other reason why you can play for a long time. You learn how to be fast in your head because you are not that fast anymore in your legs. That gives you more time. It is not instinct. You learn from watching experienced players how to move.

“If you are faster than a young player to find the positions then you can score before they come to cover you. That is so important. Young players can learn it in time but they need to see it from experienced players. It is the only way that you can improve.”

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Harry Kane is chasing down Robert Lewandowski’s Bundesliga scoring record

Lewandowski, a team-mate at Bayern, once said that a lot of what he knows about being a striker, he learned from Pizarro. “It is a big compliment. I always say to him that he is a great player and I thank him that we could play together. It was something special.”

Sometimes, they would study the traits of individual opponents. “We watched videos of the goalkeepers and the defenders.” Although, when asked about the best defender that he faced in his career, the names that trip of the tongue are team-mates not opponents.

“I was lucky,” he says. “All the difficult defenders played for my team. The difficult part was that you had to play against them every day in training. Naldo was very difficult. Lucio.” There is even a name from his brief stint at Chelsea. “John Terry,” he adds. “Hard guys.”

Farewell game of Claudio Pizarro in Wohninvest Weserstadion. Claudio Pizarro says goodbye to the fans.
Image: Claudio Pizarro says goodbye to the fans during his farewell game for Werder Bremen

Lewandowski was not his favourite strike-partner. That honour goes to Ailton at Werder Bremen. “I felt really good with him because he was a fast player,” he explains. “The partners that were important for me were the faster players. I needed the faster players.”

There are similarities with Harry Kane, then? “It is very similar. Maybe he is not fast but he is very intelligent, scores many goals and has a lot of experience now. He knows exactly what to do. What he has now is that the team is playing to help him score goals.

“He has young players in midfield who are always looking to give the ball to him. Another thing that is special about him is that you do not just see him in the box. He is defending, looking for the ball as well as scoring a lot of goals. It is amazing what he is doing.”

Bremen's Claudio Pizarro celebrates after scoring during their Europa League second leg soccer match between Werder Bremen and Twente Enschede in Bremen, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Image: Claudio Pizarro was Werder Bremen top Bundesliga scorer 15 years apart

Pizarro was more in the Kane mould than the Erling Haaland type – as shown by his own memories of working with Guardiola. While Haaland has had to be patient, waiting for the ball, Pizarro received very different instructions from the celebrated coach.

“He always liked me to come back and ask for the ball. I think he knew exactly my game. He would say to me, ‘I don’t want you to just stay there. Come and try to play.’ But then he would say different things to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

“He would say, ‘Franck, stay there, the ball will come to you.’ Of course, for Franck it was really difficult because he wanted the ball. But in some positions you have to adapt. It all depends what the manager wants from you. Maybe he needs Haaland in the box.”

Pizarro had Robben and Ribery, Kane has Leroy Sane and Jamal Musiala – “he is an incredible player” – but it is another goal provider that so impressed him when they were together in Bremen that the striker ended up buying him a watch to thank him.

Bremen's Claudio Pizarro, right, and Mesut Oezil react after Bremen's second goal during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Werder Bremen and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, northern Germany, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008.
Image: Claudio Pizarro had success at Werder Bremen alongside a young Mesut Ozil

“You have too much information,” laughs Pizarro. “He was a very important player for me because he was always giving me the ball to score. He was a very talented young player at the time and you could see he was going to become one of the best.

“I remember at some point in the season when we were playing for the German Cup and going for the Europa League final. I told some of the players I would give them a watch if we won a tournament. At the end, we won the German Cup so I just kept my word.”

Ozil later reciprocated. “I gave it to my son.”

24 September 2022, Bremen: Soccer: Farewell game of Claudio Pizarro in the Wohninvest Weserstadion. Bremen spectators hold up a banner reading "#Pizzarroliebe".
Image: Claudio Pizarro is celebrated by Werder Bremen supporters at his farewell game

It the sort of tale that might help to explain why Pizarro was a favourite of team-mates, supporters and coaches. Even Jurgen Klopp apologised for not attending his farewell game. Pizarro had the chance to play for Borussia Dortmund but felt unable to do so.

“They were interested,” he confirms. “A couple of times, actually. But it was very difficult for me because I am a player who identifies with the team that I play for. It was like when I was at Bremen and they wanted me at Hamburg. I could not do that.

“It was the same with Dortmund. It was really interesting but I just could not do it because I played for Bayern Munich. It is just the way that I am.” There are no regrets. His role as a Bayern ambassador means that he will be in Munich for Der Klassiker on Saturday.

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“I always look forward to these games,” he enthuses. “This is a game that everyone in Germany will be watching.” There is plenty to play for, he insists. “They have to keep fighting.” But this season the contest between these two clubs comes with a twist.

Thanks to his old pal Alonso.

“I think there is no race anymore,” says Pizarro of the title race, with Leverkusen already 10 points clear at the top. “I can see how they are doing, how they are playing, and it is going to be very difficult for Bayern or any other team to win the league.”

He adds: “I think it is very interesting and incredible what Xabi Alonso is doing there as a coach. To build a team from young players, playing good football, that is something special. I am really glad for him and really excited about what he is going to do in his career.”

Perhaps he was another to learn from the striker? Maybe not. “When we were playing together he was always trying to tell the other players what to do,” recalls Pizarro. “We knew already that he wanted to be a coach.” He pauses. “I think he is doing pretty well.”

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