In a fashion that has become all too common for FC Köln this season, Sunday night they were once again “The Little Engine That Almost Could”. Coming off the back of a huge win in Leipzig, Stefan Ruthenbeck’s men had the chance to finally unstick themselves from the bottom of the table for the first time since matchday three.
An early Claudio Pizarro strike was cancelled out by Mario Gómez’s double just before half time, which left Timo Horn’s head buried in the sand. The Köln goalkeeper firmly stayed there after Andreas Beck made it three for Stuttgart. A superb late free kick from Miloš Jojić halved the deficit, but it wasn’t enough and Effzeh came away from the RheinEnergie, for the eighth time this season, empty-handed.
However, amongst the suffering of Köln, there was a small glimmer of achievement, albeit an individual case. Upon opening his account for Die Geißböcke on Sunday, Claudio Pizarro has now scored a Bundesliga goal in every calendar year since 1999. That’s twenty consecutive years, an incredible accomplishment.
Let’s look at this in perspective. The all-time Bundesliga top scorer, Gerd Müller, only managed to score in fourteen consecutive years (1965-1978). Klaus Fischer, the striker with the most appearances in the Bundesliga, equals the twenty years mark (1968-1987). Please berate me if I’m wrong, but the only player, in recent memory at least, to better this record in European top-flight football is Ryan Giggs. The Welshman’s sensational career at Manchester United saw him score in twenty-two consecutive years in the Premier League.
It may not be testament to the volume of his goals, but it’s a real reflection of Pizarro’s longevity in the league and the success he’s had over the past two decades. Sunday’s strike takes his Bundesliga tally to 192 goals. He remains the all-time leading foreign goal scorer in the Bundesliga and became the fourth-oldest player in the league’s history to find the back of the net.
After being released by Bremen at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, Pizzaro was adamant that he had one more season in him. Many doubted that he would play in the German first tier again, but at the end of September, bottom of the table Köln took a punt on the thirty-nine-year-old.
“I always said I wanted to play for one more year, and if that comes this year, then so be it. I say that now, but who knows what’ll happen when this season is over (laughs). We’ll see how the campaign pans out and how I feel.”
If Effzeh’s worst fears are realised and they find themselves relegated come May, you must think this will edge Pizzaro towards a terminal retirement. The cogs really seem to be slowing down. His game time this season has been blighted by a thigh injury. Pizzaro has only made two starts and a further six as a substitute, only once playing the full 90-minutes.
He’s a long time departed from the fresh-faced Peruvian teenager who started his first of three spells at Werder Bremen in August 1999. Pizzaro went onto become Bremen’s all-time leading goal scorer, domestically notching up 104 goals in 206 games for Die Grün-Weißen (take a moment to appreciate that insane ratio). During his two stints in Bavaria (2001-2007 & 2012-2015), Pizzaro landed, among others, six Bundesliga titles, five Pokals and a Champions League winners medal. Even after a woeful excursion to Chelsea in 2007/08, Pizzaro returned to the Bundesliga the following season and hit the ground running, scoring seventeen goals for Bremen.
If this is to be Pizzaro’s swansong, let’s not forget the small matter of a tournament coming up soon over in Russia. What a way to sign off your career, representing your country at their first World Cup finals in almost four decades. Pizzaro hasn’t represented Peru since March 2016, but current national manager Ricardo Gareca has hinted at the possibility of Pizzaro’s involvement in various interviews:
“Claudio Pizarro has every chance [of featuring at the World Cup]. It all depends on him…The doors certainly aren’t closed for him.”
“I understand that a player of 38 years is not the same as a player of 22. The requirement is different…Claudio Pizarro has enough experience, at least we want to evaluate it and see a performance…”
Now one goal in eight games isn’t the kind of form you’d expect from a striker looking to be at the World Cup. But, having a player with the experience of Pizarro at your disposal will only benefit Peru when they attempt to have a right good crack at France, Denmark and Australia come summer.
Pizarro genuinely has the chance to return to the national team, over twenty years after his first cap. To do this he must add to his first goal in 2018 and hope that his performances will go far to help Köln in their seemingly impossible mission to stay in the top flight.
Aside from München’s sixth successive title, this season’s narrative will be remembered for the thrilling battle for the European spots. But, let us not forget plucky Köln, their dramatic roller coaster for survival (which I am sure is far from over) and Claudio Pizarro’s two decades of Bundesliga service.