On September 2nd 2013, a day after the closure of a hectic transfer window in European football, Thomas Hitzlsperger announced his retirement from football at the early age of 31. After a career that spun 12 years in England, Germany and Italy, the man known as Der Hammer has finally hung up his boots because of his persistent injuries.
In an interview due to be published in tomorrow’s (September 4th, 2013) Süddeutsche Zeitung, Hitzlsperger states that “I have been sure for a few days; I cannot play any longer.” The truth is that Hitzlsperger has been plagued with injuries throughout his career which have prevented him from establishing a place at any club he has been to. Still, he managed to rack up a total of 316 appearances and 46 goals throughout his 12-year career and an impressive 52 caps (and 8 goals) for his country, capped also at U21 and U19 level.
I cannot play any longer – Thomas Hitzlsperger
München-born Hitzlsperger joined Bayern München’s academy in 1989 at the age of seven, spending a full 11 years there rising through the ranks. In the summer of 2000, his contract wasn’t renewed and he was snapped up by Aston Villa on a free transfer, making his first-team debut in January 2001 during a 0-3 loss to Liverpool, coming on for the final six minutes. After a short loan at Chesterfield in the English lower leagues, he slowly established himself in the Aston Villa first team during the following four years, becoming a fan favourite, especially for his famous thunderbolts that earned him his nickname. Hitzlsperger scored 12 goals and totalled 110 appearances for the Villains before moving to Stuttgart on a free transfer in the summer of 2005.
Months earlier, in October 2004, he was called up by new Germany coach Jürgen Klinsmann and made his debut for the National Team in a friendly match against Iran, coming on in the second half in a 2-0 victory in Tehran. Back in his homeland, Stuttgart was the club where he spent the most time in his career – a total of five seasons. He made a single appearance in the 2006 World Cup during the Third-Place Playoff match against Portugal and it only got better for him the following season, as he won the Bundesliga and was runner-up in the DFB Pokal in the same season. He was an integral part of the title-winning team, playing in 30 out of the 34 matches and scoring a crucial goal in the season finale match against Energie Cottbus, which effectively paved the way for Stuttgart to win the title. Armin Veh appointed him club captain in 2008, but the arrival of Markus Babbel saw him lose the armband to Mathieu Delpierre, as Babbel stated that the captaincy was affecting Hitzlsperger’s performances on the pitch. However, Hitzlsperger was an important part of Joachim Löw’s plans in the 2008 European Championships, playing in all but one match and starting in the final that was lost to Spain (1-0).
Niggling injuries had starting affecting his performances, however, and Hitzlsperger only took part in 12 Bundesliga matches during the 2009/2010 season before he moved to SS Lazio during the Winterpause for 550,000€, the only transfer fee that any club paid for him throughout his career. His time in Rome was a tricky one and he only played in 6 matches from February to May, scoring a goal in his final appearance against Udinese. With his contract not renewed at the end of the 2010 season, he decided to return to England and sign for West Ham United on a free transfer. Before he made his first appearance for the club, he ruptured his achilles tendon and was out until the February, making only 13 appearances all season long. As West Ham were relegated, Hitzlsperger was once again left without a club.
Surprisingly due to his injury proneness, Felix Magath gave him a three-year contract at VfL Wolfsburg, so he returned to Germany. However, he endured three serious injuries during his first season at the Volkswagen Arena, which kept him out for most matches, as he managed only six appearances. At the end of the season, Hitzlsperger’s contract was terminated. Felix Magath stated “it is regrettable that Thomas stumbled from one injury to the next here and as a result could not help us last season. I have experienced and grown to admire him both on and off the pitch as a model professional and person.”
I have grown to admire him, both on and off the pitch – Felix Magath
In October 2012, David Moyes gave Hitzlsperger a trial at Everton and he signed on a short-term contract until January. In January, he signed another six-month contract but wasn’t able to earn another more permanent one and was, once again, released at the end of the season. One too many releases that ended up with him calling it a day on a stop-start career just a few months later, a career which saw him play in some prestigious tournaments and win some important trophies. However, Hitzlsperger will be remembered for his tremendous shot – a shot that, sadly, nobody got to see regularly as his body couldn’t cope with the physical demands of being a professional footballer.