Germany come up against Turkey in Cologne, a match-up that screams one name: Lukas Podolski. Coming to the end of his career, Podolski is playing for Antalyaspor in Turkey, his second time in the Turkish Süper Lig after a spell at Galatasaray between 2015 and 2017. The 35-year-old, capped 130 times with the Germany national team, spoke to DFB.de about his career, the future, and life in Turkey.
DFB.de: The season is underway in Turkey, and you’ve been playing at Antalyaspor for half a year. What are your hopes for the new season?
Lukas Podolski: We were the third best team in the league in the second half of last season, but we need to remain realistic and keep our feet on the ground. We're not in a position to challenge at the top this year, so what we want is to improve and develop, and try to pull off the odd upset here and there.
DFB.de: Where are you aiming to finish in the table this season then?
Lukas Podolski: We're definitely aiming for a top-half finish, and even eyeing up a European qualification spot. But we'll have to see how the season goes. If any of the other teams weaken, we'll be challenging them, that's for sure.
DFB.de: The facilities there are excellent, aren’t they? The training ground is considered one of the best in Turkey.
Podolski: Even better than excellent. I’ve seen a fair bit in my career and I would definitely say that it’s in the top three in Europe. The facilities are fantastic; there are only a very small number of clubs that have anything comparable. That was a big reason why I moved here.
DFB.de: Football is being played without fans at the moment due to the Coronavirus pandemic, including in Turkey. Is it still fun playing football without fans?
Podolski: We’re all missing the fans, me perhaps more than most. I’m someone who looks for that connection with the fans. My game is all about emotions and interaction with the supporters. I don’t want to, and never will, get used to games behind closed doors. Football’s better with the fans, but the situation is what it is. It’s also not a surprise, we go to the stadium knowing what to expect. That means you can mentally prepare for the situation.
DFB.de: And your heart?
Podolski: It just doesn't feel right. It hurts me to see the stands so empty - it's all very surreal. Nevertheless, I think that you have just to make the best of the situation. It’s progress that we can play football again at all.
DFB.de: You were in Japan for two years before your move to Antalyaspor. How do you look back on your time at Vissel Kobe?
Podolski: It was great. It was the right decision to go there and get to know the people, the culture and the league. It was a very worthwhile experience for us as a family and we had encounters and gained insights that are invaluable. As a footballer, I also felt very much at home in Japan. I wanted to help the club develop both on and off the pitch, and I think I did that. I know that I can always return and that I’ll be welcomed with open arms. I feel that I've put the club on the football map.
DFB.de: People have also said that you gave the side a new spirit. You made them hungrier for success, more emotional. Did you change the mentality of the club?
Podolski: Too much has been said about that and it wasn’t my intention. You can’t turn up and change everything, especially not people. Emotions belong on the pitch in my opinion, but lots of Japanese people don’t show their emotions in the same way. That’s their mentality, it’s how they’re brought up and you have to respect that. It doesn’t make any sense to try and force them to be more emotional. They are who they are, and if you want to be a part of the country, you have to accept that. It’s also the case, like in every other country, that it differs from person to person. There are some who are really emotional in Japan, just like how there are people who are more reserved here in Europe, similar to them.
DFB.de: Other than that, what were some of your other significant experiences in Japan and with the Japanese?
Podolski: People say that the Japanese are more reserved and quieter, and that’s not wrong. Respect is really important there, especially from young people towards older people. I think that we Germans can take a lot from them. It impressed me how much old people are respected. The Japanese are really friendly, really helpful, and really clean, which really impressed me. Like I said, my time at Vissel Kobe was so valuable. That’s been the case every time I’ve made the move abroad.
DFB.de: Alongside time at Köln and Bayern, you’ve also been at Arsenal, Inter Milan, Galatasaray, Vissel Kobe and Antalyaspor. Which was the least important?
Podolski: I wouldn’t go on loan like I did to Inter Milan again. Otherwise, there nothing that I’d do differently. Overall, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved as a footballer so far. I’ve travelled the world with the national side and I’ve got to know some amazing countries. I also think it’s been invaluable for us as a family to spend time in different countries; we’ve felt at home in many different corners of the world. The countries all have their good and bad aspects, but I’ve always been good at focusing on the positives.
DFB.de: Which club was your favourite? After 1. FC Köln, obviously!
Podolski: Hard to say. I’ve found our whole journey as a family exciting and beautiful. There are footballers who spend their whole career at the same club in the same place. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like. I can say that, for me, I’m glad I’ve had these experiences. It’s meant a lot to me, and I’ve got more out of it than winning one or two extra titles like I might have if I had moved less often.
DFB.de: Experiences are more important than titles – is that easy to say when you’ve won the biggest title of them all in the World Cup?
Podolski: Maybe. It’s true that there’s not a lot I’d swap the World Cup trophy for. Winning the World Cup gives you real satisfaction; it's head and shoulders above every other trophy. I guess what I really mean is that when I’m chatting with people, I don’t tell them that I’ve won a title in every country I’ve played in. I tell them what it’s like in the countries, about the people I've met, and the experiences I’ve had. Sporting success is obviously great, though. It means that I’ve fulfilled the expectations of the clubs.
DFB.de: You’ve played in Istanbul and Antalya, but which city does the best döner?
Podolski: The best döner is at my place here in Cologne! (laughs) There’s both a bit of Istanbul and a bit of Antalya in it, and that’s doesn't just apply to the döner. My many different experiences naturally flow into what I've built up alongside my sporting career. That’s not just my döner shops, but also my ice cream parlours, the brewery, and my football centre. If I see something in the world that I like, something that I think would enrich my other enterprises, then I try to include it.
DFB.de: Germany are playing Turkey in Cologne, the ‘Lukas Podolski Derby’. How highly do you rate this Turkey side?
Podolski: I’ve seen the last two games in the Nations League. They weren't great against Hungary, but they were better in the second game against Serbia. I think that Turkey struggle against the smaller sides, but they often pose a challenge for bigger countries. I’m excited for the future. Lots of players from the national team don't play in Turkey anymore; they’re key players at big clubs in Europe. It will definitely be an interesting game. It’s obviously a shame that the game has to take place without fans – that’ll be a bigger problem for Turkey as they thrive off the emotions of the game a lot more than Germany do.
DFB.de: You had connections to Turkey even before your move to Galatasaray – lots of your friends are Turkish or have Turkish roots. Thanks to your time in the Süper Lig, your connection to Turkey has grown even stronger. Would you say that you're conflicted on who to support when Germany play Turkey?
Podolski: First and foremost, I’m a German. I played for Germany for twelve years and I support Germany no matter who they play, even against Poland. I’m a Germany fan and want them to win. Everyone knows I have a special link to Poland, and everyone knows about my relationship with Turkey, but my heart belongs to Germany above all. I want Turkey to win every game except when they’re against Germany, or against Poland!
DFB.de: Do you still wish you were running out alongside the team wearing the Germany shirt when you watch the national team play? Is it something you miss?
Podolski: Not really. I had an fantastic time with the national team that concluded with a great farewell goal against England in Dortmund. Three years on, I've accepted that it's a chapter of my life that's over. My international career is over and it's the next generation's time to shine.
DFB.de: André Schürrle and Benedikt Höwedes, two of your ex-teammates with
the national team, have retired from football. They’re both slightly younger than
you, so were you surprised when you heard about their decision?
Podolski: They’ve both chosen to go down a different path. I’d prefer not to
comment on it. They have their reasons and the decision will have been the right
one for both of them. The way I see it, you have to do what makes you happy in
life, and for them that was clearly something other than football. It’s different for
me - I still love playing and it continues to make me happy, so that’s why I’m still
DFB.de: How long do you think you’ll carry on playing?
Podolski: I have no idea. My contract with Antalyaspor runs for another year and
I’m looking forward to the season ahead. We’ll have to see what comes after
that. I’m open to anything and I can’t say which way my path is going to lead, or
how long I’ll continue to play professional football.
DFB.de: You discussed ending your career at Gornik Zabrze once, your home club
in Poland. Is this still the plan?
Podolski: I can still very much see myself doing that, yes. I’m in good contact with
the people who run the club. It would be a beautiful thing for me to end my
career there, at the club where I took my first steps in the world of football and
learnt to play. But it’s also important to me that it’s not just for show. I want to
stay fit and actually be able to contribute to the team and to the club as a whole.