Futbolita

Newly minted Gunner Lukas Podolski: I want to win trophies

131958480YAHOO! SEA EXCLUSIVE

No one can accuse Arsenal's newest recruit Lukas Podolski of being disloyal.

At the age of 26, the Polish-born Germany hotshot has just finalised a move to Arsenal next season for a reported €13 million (S$20 million).

But not before a heart-wrenching decision to finally quit Germany and play abroad in England. His talks with Arsenal took months and when finally announced, ended months of speculation.

In an exclusive phone interview with Yahoo! SEA in April before the confirmation of his switch to Arsenal, Podolski revealed that although Cologne would always be "his home", it was the right time to move.

"When I choose a club, it's not for the money, language or the weather -- those things aren't important. I want to play for a team that is challenging, can win trophies and where my family (wife, Monika and 4-year-old son, Louis) are comfortable," he said through a translator.

"Spain and England have great leagues, and it would be nice to play there when the time comes," he added.

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No disrespect intended, but it was clear from listening to Podolski talk that he was itching to add to the two Bundesliga and German Cup titles with Cologne.

"I've learnt a lot here at Cologne and the coach and fans believe in me. But there comes a time when you want to move on and try something else," he explained at the time, without revealing too much.

"I owe a lot to Cologne because I started my (youth) career as a footballer here. It's my home and will always be my club, even if I leave tomorrow."

However, he did admit during the interview that as early as March, he had already started texting his German compatriot Per Mertesacker at Arsenal to subtly ask about life in London and his interest in being part of Arsene Wenger's plans.

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After all at 26, Podolski was not getting any younger and had yet to test himself abroad.

Known for this searing left shot and powerful forays down the wing, the stocky hitman has been playing in Germany all his career since breaking into the 1. FC Köln first team in 2003.

He famously also chose to stay at boyhood club Cologne to help them stay in the first division in 2005, despite attracting attention from Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich after shining in Euro 2004.

When Cologne were eventually relegated in 2006, Podolski made his move to the Bayern Munich and stayed there for two seasons. But he quickly fell out of favour with coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, who preferred to field Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose upfront ahead of him.

He returned to Cologne in January 2009 as part of the club's "ambitious project" to rebuild itself, but endured a poor first season at the club.

After his car crashed into a family wagon in Cologne last November resulting in damages worth €18,000, he quickly became fodder for the German paparazzi, who accused him of angling his way out of the club.

But he quickly dismissed those stories.

"The stories in the German newspapers are never true. They like to make up these reports and publish them to make the fans angry," said Podolski.

But all that is behind him now as he looks forward to Euro 2012 and lining up at the Emirates alongside Mertesacker in the new season.

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EURO 2012 CHALLENGE

Poldi's accomplishments at national level are stellar and he has racked up a total of 95 caps and 43 goals for Die Mannschaft.

For a player who seems to save his best for the international stage with Germany, Podolski is now totally focussed on June's Euro Championships in Poland and Ukraine, where he expects to command a starting place in Joachim Low's young team packed with talent.

He holds the trump card, after featuring in all ten matches of Germany's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and scoring thrice to gain them entry into Group B dubbed "The Group of Death" with Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark.

"I think everyone in Germany will be watching Euro 2012 very closely because it's not enough just to play well. They want us to win it and bring the title home," Podolski said.

"I don't want to worry too much about the opponents yet because we believe we have what it takes to win the Group. The Netherlands game will be interesting because the Dutch always put on a good show, but you never know what can happen because of the (Dutch-German) rivalry we share."

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Podolski believes this year's Germany squad -- which comprises players such as Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira -- have all learnt from their past mistakes.

"We were a little bit unlucky at the World Cup (in South Africa, where they reached the semi-final before losing out to eventual champions, Spain), but now, the players have matured and we understand each other's strengths better. We communicate well too and we are friends. This tournament is the best chance to prove that Germany is back on the world stage."

This summer's competition also marks Podolski's fifth major football tournament, having played at the previous two World Cups and Euro Championships.

He was Germany's youngest player at the Euro 2004 and has fond memories of his debut as a 19-year-old teenager.

"The Euro in 2004 will always be special to me because it was my first time representing Germany at such a big tournament. I played alongside many greats such as Oliver Kahn, Bernd Schneider and Miroslav Klose and learnt a lot from them," he recalled.

REMEMBERING HIS ROOTS

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The multilingual Podolski who speaks German, Kolsch (dialect), Polish and basic English, is also known to be an an avid supporter of youth football.

He donated €160,000 of his own money into the construction of a new artificial turf in his home town of Bergheim, aptly called the Lukas Podolski Sports Park.

"Young boys and girls should be given the chance to play football. I started playing on the streets and I felt it was my responsibility to give back something to the people in my home town," he explained.

Indeed, Podolski belongs to that rare breed of players who remember their roots and still cares enough about the club of his youth, although they couldn't offer him the competitive edge he needed.

"Football makes me happy, and I want to spend as much time I can playing or contributing to it," he said.