Although Bayern Munich’s signing of Claudio Pizarro was hardly the most exciting transfer of the summer, it is, nonetheless, an intriguing one. With the return of the Peruvian striker, the Bavarians have signed a player they let go for free five years ago.
Pizarro started his Bundesliga career at Werder Bremen, signing in 1999 after impressing at Peruvian club Alianza Lima. During one remarkable game for the Lima outfit, the striker scored five times in a single match; it was a performance that happened to be played in front of scouts visiting from the German club.
Pizarro’s move to Germany was a big success and El Bombardero continued to build his reputation as potent goal threat, with a scoring rate of more than one goal every other game for Werder Bremen. His form earned him a move to the then-German champions Bayern Munich, where he won three Bundesliga titles, three German Cups, a German League Cup and an Intercontinental Cup.
After an ill-fated switch to the Premier League with Chelsea and a successful return to the green and white of Werder Bremen, this summer, Pizarro again made the journey from Bremen to Munich. Although this certainly gives his career in Germany a pleasing appearance of symmetry, the transfer this time is not a mirror image of his previous move.
When Pizarro first left Werder Bremen in 2001 he was being watched by some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Inter Milan and Barcelona. His switch this time, however, was completed with far less fanfare, illustrating where the forward now is in terms of his career.
The Peru international departed Bayern Munich for Chelsea in his prime in 2007, but now he returns at the age of 33, nearing the end of his career at the highest level and with an interest in horseracing that is sometimes seen as taking precedence over football.
However, Bayern Munich are generally shrewd in the transfer market and would not sign a player out of sentimentality; they clearly feel the striker still has something to offer.
One thing that Pizarro does bring with him is the experience of winning as a Bayern Munich player. He was part of a Bayern Munich team that won the league three times and boasted members of the victorious Champions League squad of 2001, including Stefan Effenberg, Mehmet Scholl and Oliver Kahn.
Conversely, last season’s squad lost in the Champions League final, a match that was played at their home ground. They also failed to win the league for the second year running, the first time that has happened since the 1989/90 season, and suffered a humiliating 5-2 hammering at the hands of league champions Borussia Dortmund in the German Cup final.
Pizarro’s winning mentality could be vital in helping to lift a young team that will be looking to bounce back from a hard season that ultimately ended in failure and huge disappointment.
However, on Pizarro’s part at least, he is determined to be more than just a vestige of the past, wheeled out to inspire the youngsters. He maintains he has arrived at the Allianz Arena to play. It is perhaps this that motivated the ageing striker to cut his trademark, and rather dated, long hair to a shorter, slightly more current style. It was a move that garnered almost as much attention in the daily sport papers of his native Peru as his return to Bayern Munich.
His smart, new look aside, Pizarro has also demonstrated a determination on the training pitch to make a success of his second stint in Bavaria. The forward pulled out of his country’s friendly match against Costa Rica through injury in August, but was fit enough to train uninhibited for his club just two days later, a move which angered Peru’s football association.
Bayern Munich’s forward line is strong and competition for the lone role up front is fierce. Pizarro will not only be vying for a start against the Bundesliga’s top scorer for two seasons running, Mario Gomez, he will have to contend with new signing Mario Mandzukic, who joint top scored at this year’s European Championship with three goals, along with Gomez and four other players. The Croatian striker, who can also operate on the wing, arrives from Wolfsburg, where he hit the back of the net 20 times in two seasons.
As well as these two accomplished forwards, Pizarro must fend off the challenge from young striker Patrick Weihrauch, who was promoted from the youth team this summer.
Ominously, for Pizarro, the last time he was reduced to the role of an impact sub, at Chelsea, he failed to shine. Although he was clearly out of favour at Stamford Bridge after the departure of Jose Mourinho, the man who had signed him, the Peruvian did not hang around and after just one season and two goals was back at Werder Bremen.
However, life on the bench may be easier to adjust to this time for the man who turns 34 this October and if he is able to accept this role, then Pizarro may have an important part to play at the Allianz Arena.
Last season the Bavarian giants were quite wasteful in front of goal, while Gomez, despite his terrific tally of 26 league strikes last season, can misfire, as he did memorable for Germany at Euro 2008. This is a deadly combination for a team that is as shaky in defence as Bayern Munich are, as was highlighted in the Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.
The club’s summer signings indicate that the Bavarians will nonetheless continue with their attacking philosophy. Along with the three aforementioned strikers, the German giants have also signed attack-minded Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri and winger Mitchell Weiser. They will be joined by defensive midfielder, Emre Can, promoted from Bayern Munich II, and just one centre back, Brazilian Dante, as well as back-up goalkeeper Tom Starke.
This could represent a real chance for Pizarro to create a niche for himself and become the reliable source of goals that his club needs to make the most of late chances to close out games. Although the Peruvian wears number 14, it is his ability as a goal poaching number 9 that sets him apart from his team-mates.
Pizarro has a career total of 268 goals, including 101 for Bayern Munich and during in his second stint at Werder Bremen, his tally of 60 successful strikes helped him to become the Bundesliga’s all-time top scoring foreign player.
The early signs, at least, are promising for Pizarro. Although the erstwhile Peru captain was not selected for the Super Cup final victory over Dortmund, or the semi-final loss to former club Werder Bremen in a pre-season tournament, the striker has already rediscovered his scoring touch, firing in three times in two friendly games. He was also on target in the Bavarian club’s recent victory over Jahn Regensburg in the opening round of the German Cup.
To continue being a success at Bayern Munich, Pizarro is going to have to keep his early focus and carry on taking his opportunities with the enthusiasm he is currently showing. He may also have to rely on injuries to others, while avoiding the type of knocks that a player of his age can be susceptible to. If the 33-year-old can handle both the physical and mental pressures then his innate goal scoring ability could see him become an important part of the squad.
However, if Pizarro fails to accept his role as a bit-part player, his temperament will be tested and he could lose interest in his football. Come the end of the season, the striker may well have already galloped off into the sunset on one of his beloved horses.