Creative Soccer Culture

Lukas Podolski On Life, Adventures & The Experience Of Global Football

Lukas Podolski is a true explorer in the world of football. At 34 years old, the German’s 17-year career has seen him playing in his homeland, in England, Italy, Japan and Turkey. But for all the success that he’s enjoyed throughout his career, it’s clear that his actual journey – and every experience that has come along the way – is as important to him as the destination itself.

We often refer to a player’s journey in the game, but for Podolski, it is quite literal. His career to date has been littered with success everywhere he’s gone: he’s lifted the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal in his homeland with Bayern, the FA Cup with Arsenal, the Turkish Cup with Galatasary, the Emperor’s Cup with Vissel Kobe and the World Cup with Germany, amongst countless other awards and accolades. Fair to say that he enjoys a good cup competition. 

Along with finding success though, the game has also allowed him to travel, to see the world, and to take in different cultures. Winning is still the number one priority, for the fans as much as for himself, but everything else that comes along with it, such as the richness of life experience? Well, that’s just a very welcome accompaniment as we found out when we spoke with him recently.

How are you doing and how have the last couple of weeks been treating you? 

Well, I’m staying at home like the other millions of people around the world. You’ve just got to keep accepting everything that’s going on and for me, I’ll be staying at home with my wife and kids. I’ll try to train a little bit in a gym, do a bit of running. Right now though, it’s day by day, usually the same programme. 


How have you handled the whole ‘lockdown’ nature of what we’re going through right now? Do you find it a mental challenge?

Yeah like anyone but you know, in the end, you have to accept it. Of course, this is a mental battle because we’re used to being outside, training with the team, playing games, being around in the restaurants and now you have to sit at home. It’s how it is when people are working hard, being outside or travelling. We always say, “ah, I want to be at home” but now we are sitting at home, we’re all wishing we could be outside, you know? I just accept it. I am dealing with that. For me, I have my two kids so it also means I can spend time at home with the family and it also gives me time for other things. I have a lot of businesses that are there for me after the football so this gives me extra time to work on the laptop with my business.

What have you been focussing your energy on then?

I have an ice cream business, I have a kebab business. I have a restaurant and in a couple of months, I’ll be opening up an indoor soccer hall with several courts and everything like this. So I have time for that now. It means I can organise everything or to have a look at what we can do better and find out new things and try to focus on that. When you normally work, you don't have a lot of time to look at the details on things like this. So now you have a little bit more time to make some phone calls, to look after your e-mails and everything and the rest of the time you can spend it at home with the kids.

To work on that ice cream menu as well…

Yes, of course. Genuinely, we’re always trying to figure out what is new on the market, what we can do better, which flavour we can change…It also means we have time to do some work on all the shops – all those things you don’t normally have too much time to do, we can focus on them now.

Have you seen it as an opportunity to take a step back and also reflect on the last few years as well?

Not really, I don’t reflect so much. I just accept it and I hope the situation will change in a couple of weeks or a couple of months and then we can get back to normality. This is what I think. Of course, every person is different and I cannot talk for every person. But this is my head. This is what I was thinking. And this is what Lucas Podolski is thinking. I can not talk for for other people.

Generally speaking, how would you describe your mindset to people who haven’t met you? Would you say you’re someone who is always looking forward?

I’d say that to stay positive, you have to accept it. You just keep thinking “ah fucking hell, why I am I sitting at home” and keep thinking that you can’t go out then you’re fucked and you’ll fuck your head. But I must say that it’s easy for me to say that. I know how lucky I am and I know that maybe I’m in a better situation than a lot of other people because other people have other situations to deal with if they’re in an apartment or in a house, maybe normally the mum and dad are working and taking the kids to school, which is now not happening anymore.

A lot of people will have a different situation than me and my thoughts are with those people rather than with me. As well, I have a lot of friends in Germany or around the world, they have had to close their restaurants and they have to close their business. So I'm thinking more about those people and not about me. I’m not sure people want to hear what is Lucas Podolski thinking about this situation? Of course I am sitting at home, like all other people…we just have to accept it.


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I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve seen a lot of stadiums. I’ve seen a lot of people. I’m on a nice adventure. That’s what I always say, I feel that I’ve done it all well”

Just going back through your career a little bit if we can… Obviously when you look back through the years, it's insane to even begin to sum up the accolades, the achievements, everything that you've done over the course of your career. But if you could describe it, how would you?

It’s been a nice adventure because I’ve played in a lot of different countries. Of course, Germany and England. Then a couple of months in Italy, Turkey, Japan and again, Turkey and as well as the World Cups, the European Championships and the different games with the national team. So I nearly seen the whole world. I’ve travelled a lot. I’ve seen a lot of stadiums. I’ve seen a lot of people. I have a lot of contacts and been to a lot of places and made a lot of friends. I’m on a nice adventure. That’s what I always say, I feel that I done it all well.

Not only on the pitch because, you know, in sports, sometimes you win, sometimes maybe you make a bad situation or maybe something happens with the coach or you know, it is a sport. Sometimes you win, sometimes lose. But for your life, this is great.

On those moves that you have made, when you say it's an adventure as well, have you made those moves to different teams with a hunger to win things? Or is it more about gaining new experiences on the whole?

No. I'm always hungry to win. I think 90 percent of the people if not 100 percent of the people who play sports, do it to win. My mentality is always to have a challenge. You can go to or Barcelona or Real Madrid, where you have the opportunity but this is still another challenge. With moves like that there's a different kind of pressure than other teams have. On the adventure, for me, I’ve been able to go to different countries and learn a lot about culture. I learned a lot about the culture on the pitch and off the pitch and this gives you a lot for your life when you finish playing. 

I can say, I've been in different countries, I’ve learnt a lot and I have contacts and this is what I think life is giving you. Every sportsperson thinks differently, but I can only speak about me. Sometimes, some players only focus on playing for one team and have 20 trophies in an apartment but maybe they don't see different cultural football and different countries at all. That is just what I think. I love what I've done so far, because I’ve seen a lot. I come around the world this is this is something something special. If I was given the same opportunity, I would do it the same way all over again.

What are the biggest lessons that you think you've learned over the years through seeing different cultures, meeting new people and all those kind of experiences?

For me, you have to adapt to the culture. It is important, that if you go somewhere you don’t just go there and complain about the people and the football. You must adapt and learn. Of course, you know, when you come from Europe, playing for example, in Japan, it is a different culture, a different kind of football. Of course you are thinking differently and asking why they are playing in a certain way but you have to adapt to that. I always have a hunger to win to give 100 percent on the pitch and off the pitch for the fans, for the city and for the people. This is what was always important for me… not only to play for a trophy at the end of the season. So you always play as well for the fans, for the people and for the city to make the club better in every way.

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Let’s talk about Japan, what was the experience like and how would you describe it?

It is difficult to paint a picture. It was a very nice experience to learn a different culture and to see Japan. The whole country, the cities and as well the culture of the football, it’s very different to Europe but I liked it. It was nearly three years that I was there for, and I learnt a lot.

I met a lot of people. I found nice friends. I found a nice club with great fans and people and I know I can I can go back anytime I want to to meet the players, to meet the fans. And I always worked hard so I could go back. This is always something important for me when you leave the club. You always work hard to come back. You don't leave like an asshole, otherwise people remember you like and asshole. No. It’s important to work hard so that you are remembered like a nice person on and off the pitch.

You’ve been able to travel to all kinds of places that you might not have expected through football. Are there any that stand out in your memory for immersing you in a different culture?

It is difficult to pick just one trip. One trip we had with Arsenal was when we went to Nigeria, we went there for a couple of days or one week. It was just a really, really nice experience to see a different country, the people there and how they live and, you know, you can see something and that can make you reflect on your life a little bit. Having had the chance to go and see the people there was special and this is what I like about football as well.

No question, football has an amazing ability to bring people together…

Yes. This is the one thing, of course, you cannot change the whole world. But, you know, every player or every person can do a little bit of that.

Going back to Japan and the game over there, did you see a lot of change in the game as a whole while you were out there?

I think I made the club and the J-League better in many ways.  I make the club look better. I was the first big transfer there for the new generation because of course, in the 80s or 90s there was some players that went there from Europe as well but I was the first player from the new generation who joined Vissel Kobe. I guess nobody from Europe knew who the club was before I joined. I went there and I even made them an instagram page.

I changed the dressing room, I changed the stadium a bit and so I created a lot with the club. So that’s the kind of stuff that people may not see because they only see you playing on the television, on the pitch, but I think I changed a lot behind the scenes there.

I made the J-League more interesting for the people, for new players like Iniesta or Torres. I think that if they see that Podolski is there that it’d need to be good to play there so I think I opened the door for the other players but also my club Vissel Kobe, I brought them to the next level on and off the pitch.

When you say you were making changes inside the changing room, do you mean to the  visual details or the mindset and environment?

Because of my experiences I’ve seen a lot. When I first got there, I sat together with 10 people from the club and I told them about my whole experience of football in Europe. I told them about me, what I have, what I see, what we can do to make it better. I told them that we don’t have to follow the same standard of Bayern Munich or Arsenal, but make it a good standard of a good J-League team. A good environment for the players and good for us. When you have a good training facility, good stadium, good organisation and as well as good social media, you can connect to more fans and bring more people together.  This is what I created with them.

They came to visit me in Cologne in Germany. They did a photoshoot and I was telling them, “let’s post it on Instagram” and they didn’t really know what Instagram was. They were like, “why?”, they just had a couple of thousand followers or something and then I started to change that for them. 

They don't know about an Insta Story and I changed that for them, I showed them. Then that’s when we though oh what more can we do to change things, what can I teach them. So we started to look at the dressing room and everything like that.

This is what I like to do, to have experience and to bring all my energy and my power to the club on as well as off the pitch, and this is what I like to do, to change something for the club, for the people. When you one day leave there, they remember you as a good person, you know, then you are always welcome to come back.

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Some players only focus on playing for one team and have 20 trophies in an apartment but maybe they don't see different cultural football and different countries at all. I love what I've done so far, because I’ve seen a lot”

You were one of the first players to spend time on their social media and content in general. Where did that kind of motivation and creative drive come from?

I think I was one of the first players, who had Instagram and social media and made it happen. More and more these days that in itself is like a full-time business. A lot of people, like influencers or YouTubers use it as a business. I feel personally, that’s a little bit of bullshit because for me it’s not a job, it’s more me showing people who I am and what I’m doing. Similarly for clubs like Vissel Kobe, they can use it for the fans to bring content out. I like it to show fans what I do but social media is a different world now.

In Japan were you surprised about how passionate the fans were and that side of things?

Well, when people know me, they know that I always love to be part of the fans. Whether that’s Arsenal or in Turkey or in Japan, and I love it there and I was really surprised. We had fantastic fans in Kobe, one of the best in the league as well. When you play away there was always a fantastic atmosphere as well. There are a lot of new stadiums too, a lot from the 2002 World Cup and some others are new also or recently renovated and it was really a fantastic atmosphere.

Then onto Turkey and fan culture there being absolutely incredible too, what was that like?

Of course they are completely different. They are different. Like crazy passion with fireworks and especially the derbies and this is a really, really nice and fantastic atmosphere. This is what I like about football and about any club. When the club is crazy, the fans are crazy and this is what you play for. You play for your club. You play for your city and you play for your fans. You know, of course, you always want to challenge for a title and everything, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you'll never forget the passion of the fans, for the people and for the city to to to create a team, to create a philosophy for the team, for the for the club and everything. This is important.

Going back to Turkey, obviously having been there before, was it a really easy decision to make?

Yes, because I've been here before, in Istanbul, so it was definitely easier to decide to come back again. I know the league, I know the city where I'm playing now. So it was of course easier to decide here. It’s a nice city, right now it’s 25 degrees here, sunny. It’s a good club. It’s not a top, top club but I feel great here with my family. It is important when you go somewhere, that you feel good and this is what what we feel. It’s a nice city, we have a very good stadium and have got fantastic training facilities. I like the Turkish culture.

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It's an amazing gift to be able to be able to show your kids different cultures. How has it been to move around the world with you family?

I can say that now I’ve seen nearly all of the world because you get to travel with the National Team like the World Cup in South Africa or the friendly game we have, everything is an experience for me and everything is fantastic. When you travel somewhere and as well for the family, they see Turkey, to see Japan to see England and this is, I think, a very nice experience as well. This is giving you something for life.

You know, this is one of those experiences that you can only know when you’ve done it. You always feel it when when you have this experience. When someone is sitting in still for like fifty years in London or in Cologne or in Istanbul, they may not be able to feel that because they don’t know different culture or different countries.

So it’s the same for you when you travel somewhere to South Africa or Asia and you say Tokyo, and you have an experience. You always bring something back. You know, you always see something different.

Definitely. One place you’re yet to play for a team is America. Have you thought about playing out there at all? We’d love to see Podolski in Miami or L.A…

I don't know if I'm too old, but I don't feel old. I’m getting to 35 but for me, I feel great. I can play three, four more years I think…but let’s see. I don't close the door. I always loved the MLS and I’ve always loved to play somewhere in the U.S. I had some offers before Turkey, but I decided after Asia to stay in Europe. Let's see. I don't know. Let's see what happens next…

You've adapted to so many different places in such a good way and you've won awards everywhere that you've been. Do you think life would not be the same if you weren't winning?

You know, I don't really play only for trophies. Of course, when you go somewhere for a good club, you try to win the championship or the cup in the end but this is not always my full target because football is more than that. Like connecting with the fans, to give your experience back to the players, to the club, to the people, this is as well important and from that you can start. You see many people who are not playing any more who have won World Cups or Champions Leagues and people don’t remember them. There’s a lot of people like that.

You've obviously been blessed to go around the world, but Cologne will always be a special place. What makes it so important? Can you describe that? What makes it so special?

When you grow up from the youth and you’re playing in the place which is your city, this is always something special. Cologne is my city, my place, my stadium, my fans, my club. So that's why this club is something special for me and will always be something special. I think when I stop playing football then we will see. I will definitely be here to help my club to become better in every way. I don't say we will win the league but I will try to bring my power to the club and to try to bring the club in to a better position, in every way, not only on the pitch, because this club has great fans, great stadiums, a great city has a great potential but, you know I don’t think that over the last 10 to 20 years, the management and the people haven’t been able to make the best of it. This is this is my home town, my colours, white and red, and the goat on the jersey - I love this club and this is my club. Something special for me.

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You play for your city and you play for your fans. Of course you always want to challenge for a title, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you'll never forget the passion of the fans"

You have a Kebab shop and an Ice Cream Parlour there, where did those ideas come from?

It was something like three or four years ago with the Ice Cream. I know a friend who is Italian and he has an ice cream business. He visited us in France at the Camp for the European Championships for 2016. I met him there but I knew him before from Cologne. He was serving the ice cream for the players. The chef brought him down and after the dinner I met him and we had a discussion and said “hey, let’s do something, why don’t we do something. In Cologne? You’re from Cologne, I’m from Cologne”. So we connected and then one year later we opened the Ice Cream shop. Now we have three and we’re selling our ice cream in the super market. That’s the story about the ice cream.

About the doner as well, I know a Turkish friend, he makes good doner and we get on well. He had a business before, a Turkish restaurant and we sit together and discussed what we can do together. We said “let’s make a small Kebab shop”, and now we have six. As simple as it is, it was as simple as that. I’m always open for new things but I want to keep things simple. Everyone knows Kebab is simple and everywhere, everyone likes it as well. For Ice cream, even in a hundred years ice cream will exist and that's why I choose to to do that. The business is going well. I always try to push hard to create something new. Make your flavours and try to make everything good in every way and this is my passion for it and now my new project - the indoor football hall with it’s seven courts, that’s my new baby.

This is my my next project. It’s what I have to give the next generation something special. Back to the streets, one against one. A lot of duels, small courts. This is what I learned on the street and this is what you have to bring back, because now the football is going too much into tactics, too much philosophy, too much bullshit.

Do you think that the street football is disappearing a bit?

Yeah. I want to bring back more street football. I don’t say that street football is the best but I try to bring it back on the small court. How I learned it on the street, to play with older people, too, to play with a lot of different generations, to play with people from other countries and to connect people like that. This is my target. This is what I love to do.

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One final question. What's your main mission for the future? What have you got left to achieve that you're most hungry for?

I’m hungry for everything. I’m hungry to continue here in Turkey and then always see what happens next as well. I do a lot of business out of football and this is my passion. I like to create new things. I have really the passion for something new. When I love something, I will do always 100 percent for that. If I don’t like something, I leave it. This is like on and off the pitch for me. When I think something is good for me and is being done in the right way then I have a passion for it and  will give 100 percent of what I have for that.

Photography by Kazim Gunyar

Daniel Jones

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