Claudio Pizarro: Farewell to the Greatest South American to Play in the Bundesliga

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Claudio Pizarro
MAINZ, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 05: Claudio Pizzaro (L) of Bremen celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the Bundesliga match between FSV Mainz 05 and SV Werder Bremen at Bruchweg Stadium on February 5, 2011 in Mainz, Germany. (Photo by Thorsten Wagner/Bongarts/Getty Images)

When Claudio Pizarro announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2019/20 season 12 months ago, relegation probably wasn’t on his radar.

His Werder Bremen side had just finished eighth in the Bundesliga, missing out on Europa League qualifying by a single point, and enjoyed a run to the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal. Entering his 20th season in German football, the Peruvian striker would have hoped for similar success for his swansong, perhaps adding a cup final appearance to put the icing on the cake.

Instead, as he prepared for his 490th – and Werder’s 1900th – Bundesliga appearance last Saturday, the stakes could not have been higher. A day earmarked for the celebration of the region’s favourite adopted son could so easily have become one of the darkest (and quietest) in the club’s history.

Farewell to Claudio Pizzaro: The Bundesliga’s Greatest South American

From Lima With Love

Facing former club Cologne, Die Werderaner had to win and hope that Fortuna Dusseldorf faltered against Union Berlin to reach the relegation play-off, survival no guarantee. Fortunately for Pizarro, when he replaced Yuya Osako in the 88th minute, the mood inside the Weserstadion was jubilant. Leading 6-1 whilst Dusseldorf trailed by three goals in the capital, Bremen had pulled off the impossible to secure 16th position and set up a two legged playoff with 1.FC Heidenheim.

A happy ending was back on the cards for the greatest South American to grace the Bundesliga and one of the continent’s most underrated exports.

Arriving in Bremen as an untested 20-year old in 1999, plucked from homeland side Alianza Lima for £1.35 million, Pizarro hit the ground running with ten goals in 25 league appearances in his debut season. Over the next 20 seasons, 19 of which were spent in Germany, the Peruvian developed a reputation as one of the Bundesliga’s most reliable forwards.

Yoyoing between Bremen and Bayern Munich for the bulk of his career, Pizarro has amassed 197 goals and 76 assists in 489 league appearances. Lying sixth in the list of all-time Bundesliga scorers, only Robert Lewandowski has more goals for a non-German player. He is the league’s oldest scorer (40 years and 227 days), the oldest hat-trick scorer (37 and 151 days) and has scored a goal in 21 successive calendar years (1999-2019). But his full Palmares is too numerous to list.

The Andean Bomber

Though primarily remembered as a Werder Bremen legend, Claudio Pizarro also has cult status at Bayern Munich. In nine seasons with Der FCB he netted 87 goals and collected 16 of his 18 career trophies, including six Bundesliga titles, five DFB-Pokal trophies and a Champions League medal. Earning the nickname the Andean Bomber (a nod to the great Gerd Muller) during his first spell (2001-2007), he established himself as a hugely popular striker, capable of scoring from anywhere and oozing style and class. Returning to the Allianz Arena in 2012 aged 34, he embraced his new role as an impact sub in a star-studded side, displaying predatorial qualities in the box whilst not losing his flair for the spectacular.

Such were his talents even past his prime that Guardiola labelled him as “one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen” whilst also comparing his style of play to Karim Benzema – unselfishly dropping back to support his fellow strikers whilst possessing an impeccable eye for goal.

Bremen Legend

One can’t document the career of Claudio Pizarro without focusing on his time in green and white. In ten seasons at the Weserstadion, spread across four spells, he has scored 153 goals in 319 appearances, becoming the club’s top goalscorer in the process.

If his first spell (1999-2001) can be characterised as the birth of a star, in his second (2008-2012) he burned bright as a supernova. Returning from an unsuccessful year at Chelsea, he scored 89 goals in all competitions and enjoyed arguably the greatest season of his life in 2008/09 (and this is a career which includes a spot in Bayern’s treble-winning squad).

Scoring 28 goals in 46 matches, he collected his only piece of silverware in Bremen green (DFB-Pokal) and was instrumental in his side’s magnificent run to the UEFA Cup final. Entering the tournament in the last 32, Pizarro contributed five goals in nine appearances – all of which came in crucial second leg matches – as Bremen knocked out AC Milan, Saint-Etienne, Udinese and Hamburg before losing 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in extra time.

Home From Home

His star continued to shine upon his return to Bremen in 2015, bagging 14 in 28 games at the age of 37, but just as a bulb burns brightest before it expires, this would be his last season as a prolific scorer.

With just one goal the following season, retirement loomed for Pizarro as Bremen refused to renew his contract. Fortunately, Cologne came calling and after a season with Die Geißböcke he was brought back to the Weserstadion for one last hurrah. Used sparingly due to his advancing age, he added five goals to his Bremen tally last season but is yet to score in 212 minutes this season.

A Fairytale Ending?

Twenty-one years after he arrived in Bremen as a fresh-faced novice, Claudio Pizarro would have expected to be a couple of months into retirement by now. Instead, thanks to his team’s final day heroics, he has two more matches in green and white. Two more chances to extend his numerous goal-scoring records. Two more chances to complete the fairy tale.

Whatever the result on July 6th, nothing can take the gloss off Pizarro’s career. One of the most decorated South Americans to play in Europe, he will be remembered as a cult hero at two of Germany’s biggest clubs, a hard-working striker and a fantastic showman. The boy from Lima who conquered the Bundesliga.

 

Main Photo

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