Arne Friedrich (39) has been retired from professional football for more than five years now. He has done a lot of different things that interest him since then; he has travelled and seen a lot, in a private and working capacity, and feels happier now than he ever has been before.
It’s a wet and windy afternoon in November. The trees are all bare and there are clouds covering the city of Berlin. Arne Friedrich rushes in, apologising for being slightly late. He has recommended a small café in Prenzlauer Berg, one of his favourites. He quickly greets a young woman, giving her a big hug. “I have become a real city-boy,” he explains, stating that he couldn’t go back to life in his hometown, Bad Oeynhausen. He still regularly visits his parents and both his brothers, who have remained in East Westphalia. Friedrich, the professional footballer, moved out far away. His career saw him play in Bielefeld, Berlin and Wolfsburg, before retiring while playing in the Major League Soccer for Chicago in America in 2013 after a 13-year-long professional career.
Arne Friedrich (39) is more muscular than he was during his playing days. Some former professionals put on more weight once they retire. He now has a full beard, which was slightly trimmed by his barber this morning. When asked by the photographer if he would like to tidy his hair, Friedrich brushed aside the question, stating that he isn’t that vain. He comes across as very cheerful and approachable. He keeps the black scarf on – the reason why we would find out later. It’s now five years since his old life suddenly ended and he could no longer play football. He suffered a severe slipped disc. “I could only lie flat on my back for five weeks. It was the most emotional time of my life.” He also separated from his long-term girlfriend in the same year: “On New Year’s eve it was raining, just like in a film.”
Up until his retirement, he was a model professional. But once he retired, he wanted to break free. Everything had changed in his life. He no longer had a strict daily routine or any commitments, meetings and lost that feeling of togetherness. He chose to go to Guatemala, booking just one night at a time and travelling with just a rucksack. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone”, explained Friedrich. More than half of his life had been spent playing football and he had been in a relationship with his girlfriend for 14 years. He was then on an adventure holiday in Central America, in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. An old man approached him and asked him if he would like to learn Spanish, which he did. “Come to my house, you can live with us for 200 dollars and my wife will teach you,” said the man. Friedrich agreed, but didn’t think he would ever see the man again. This didn’t prove to be the case – quite the opposite. He still learns Spanish with Anna, the old man’s wife. They Skype once, sometimes even three times a week, always speaking English or Spanish as Anna doesn’t speak any German.
“The best things in life happen when you come out of your comfort zone,” said Friedrich. He was a privileged footballer. As a professional, he spent two years at Arminia Bielefeld and eight years at Hertha BSC, where he was captain from 2004 until the club’s relegation in 2010. He won 82 caps for Germany (79 of those as a Hertha player), one more than Bernd Schneider, Wolfgang Overath or Karlzheinz Förster.
Friedrich only learnt to take his life into his own hands after his successful career ended. He didn’t have an explicit plan for his life after football. He had his high-school diploma and no other plans. A friend once advised him to go out and try things out – which is exactly what he did. He got his football coaching certificates, first the B license and then the A license. Between 2014 and 2016, he worked as the co-trainer for Germany U18s and regularly appeared as a commentator in Chinese television for Germany’s games at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. He also spent nine months working for a well-known marketing agency.
Friedrich also enjoyed the amount of free time “that you suddenly have” after retirement. Although at first he had to work hard to ensure that he was then free of pain. It took him two years to work out what he enjoyed and what he would actually like to do. Despite the fact that he had a “fantastic time as a professional”, he still feels happier than ever before now, stating “he has never felt himself more than he does at the moment.” Football was his life, whereas now “he doesn’t want to work for a specific institution or club.”
Among other things, he is a founding member of a company in America, which sets up football camps for youngsters. The company is based in Florida. Friedrich spends a lot of his time in Los Angeles, where he owns a recently bought apartment. The camps also take place in Europe, most recently in Munich. They have also been in Berlin and Rome in the past. The youngsters take part in the camps in order to test their sporting abilities as well as to meet people from other cultures. Last summer Friedrich recommended 18-year-old Jamaican Coby Atkinson to Arminia Bielefeld. Another young American currently plays for FC Bayern’s youth academy right now too.
“I love mentoring”, said Friedrich. He gladly passes on his knowledge and experiences in lectures and one-on-one chats with the youngsters and would like to follow their personal and sporting development closely. “I had so many positive experiences as a professional, but had a number of difficult times in my career time; plenty of setbacks and breaks.” There are camps for children aged between 11 and 13, while the majority are targeted at youngsters aged between 16 and 19. Their parents often also would like to go too. He doesn’t want to try and explain how people lives should be to the youngsters. “At the end of the day, it’s up to people to decide how they want to live their lives,” said Friedrich. He considers the year and a half he spent in Chicago as possibly the most important stage of his life: “America made me more open. It inspired me.” Perhaps he should moved abroad earlier in his life, as it was an “incredible experience” for him. In Germany and in the Bundesliga, he sort of retreated into his own shell. “Nowadays I don’t really care what people think.”
Looking back, he felt that the end of his career and the separation “gave him a lot”. He learnt to spend time on his own and got to know himself better. As a professional, his day-to-day life was jam-packed with training, matches, travelling and staying overnight in hotels etc. Players hardly get any time to reflect on things. “As a footballer I wasn’t very authentic. I wanted to please everyone and didn’t want to say anything wrong. I’ve now learnt to say no.” Friedrich can also appreciate how privileged he is to have the life he does now. “I can accept that I am privileged, although it’s not always great being economically independent.”
Friedrich also said: “I also try and be grateful in my life.” He runs a foundation, which is named after him. He would like to actively be involved in helping the public’s welfare. The foundation focuses on health, education and integration. “I would like to use my time productively and help as many kids have a better a future as possible, by initiating targeted projects and campaigns for them,” commented Friedrich. He tries to get to know as many people who “have been dealt worse cards than him”. “Not every situation is the same, but I will always try and help where I can.”
He has learnt how to play the piano, while also picking up the guitar in recent times, “although I don’t play both”, he said with a laugh. Sport is still his main passion in life and boxing is just one example of that. “It’s a great sport. It’s so complex, so tiring and so liberating.” If he could reinvent himself, it would be as a boxer, although he isn’t necessarily built for the sport and is also perhaps too old. He had an operation on his shoulder and has now had another slipped disc in his spine. “Really painful”, he said, while showing us a photo on his phone. The scarf keeps him heated.
Arne Friedrich isn’t the kind of guy to daydream. He doesn’t watch back games from the past – he doesn’t want to be backward-looking. “I enjoy my life and like working with young people”. He is fully aware that he cannot control everything in his life, but can control how he reacts to things. His next adventure will be in Asia, where he will visit China, Hong Kong and Macau.###more###