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Hero's farewell for Germany's Lukas Podolski in Dortmund

Hero's farewell for Germany's Lukas Podolski in Dortmund
By PA Sport

21/03/2017 at 15:58Updated 21/03/2017 at 16:05

If sporting careers, like political ones, tend to end in failure then nobody told Germany's Lukas Podolski, who was afforded a hero's farewell in Dortmund on Tuesday.

Having announced his retirement after Euro 2016, the 31-year-old was ready to end his long association with the national side on a low-key note before heading to Japan to play out his autumn years.

But Joachim Low had no intention of letting the country's third-highest goalscorer - he has netted 48 times in 129 appearances - depart without a lap of honour and summoned him for one last cap against old rivals England on Wednesday.

Podolski took his place beside Low at a pre-match press conference at the German Football Museum, an adieu as respectful and good-humoured as any player could hope for, and looked on in surprise as a big screen beamed a tribute montage in his honour to a packed auditorium.

"It's been 13 wonderful and awesome years. I'm very proud," he said bashfully, after watching the compilation.

"It's hard not to get into a melancholy mood when I think about going into the dressing room for the last time, seeing my kit for the last time, warming up for the last time. But I look back with pride having come to Germany from Poland at two-and-a-half. It's a fantastic thing to happen to anyone."

There was more.

Asked by a journalist if Podolski would be honoured with the captain's armband at a sold out Westfalenstadion, Low nodded his assent before adding, "no question".

"To captain tomorrow would be sensational. It's the first I've heard of it but I would love it to be true," said the man in question.

A World Cup winner in Brazil in 2014, Podolski nevertheless looks back most fondly on the 2006 edition, where he played a key role in Germany's third-placed finish on home soil.

He scored his first major tournament goal against Ecuador, followed with a brace against Sweden and although the hosts were defeated by Italy in the semi-final, the memories live on.

"If I had to name a highlight of my Germany career, it would be the 2006 World Cup at home," he said.

"That is something very few professional footballers get to experience."

For much of Podolski's career, his club exploits never quite matched what he achieved with Die Mannschaft despite stints with big European names such as Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Galatasaray.

There was silverware along the way, a Bundesliga, a DFB Pokal, an FA Cup and three trophies from his Turkish cameo, but he will share the reputation of his long-time strike partner Miroslav Klose, as someone who grew in stature on the international stage.

It was Rudi Voller who gave Podolski his debut in 2003, but his guide for the overwhelming majority of that time has been Low, who offered heartfelt praise.

"Lukas is one of the greatest players Germany has ever produced," he said.

"It is going to be something between beautiful and sad to witness his farewell, we've come a long way together. He has left his mark on my life as a coach.

"There's been lots of hurdles and disappointments but also lots of joy. He easily wins the hearts and minds of people all over the world because he shows respect for all people, from the youngest fans to the oldest. And he always knew how to appreciate the team behind the team."

As if to prove the point, Podolski later thanked a long list of people who had assisted him along the way, starting with family but running all the way to the team chef and the translator.

He was typically self-effacing when asked for a word of advice for the next generation of German stars, not rating himself worthy of any sporting wisdom.

"This team does not aspire to be like me or emulate me in any way," he said.

"Any advice I have is to remain true to yourselves and try to develop your characters. Never forget football is, in essence, fun and never forget it should also be about what happens outside the field of play."

Low concluded: "It will definitely be difficult to replace him. He is always one for looking on the bright side of life, always on the light side of things.

"He brought that respect and human touch to the team and, of course, he's helped me out with many a one-liner over the the years."

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