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National Team

Commentary: Podolski, much more than a mere mascot

After 13 years, Lukas Podolski, the last representative of the 2006 ‘Summer Fairytale’ generation, is retiring from the German national team. It’s the end of an era, writes DW Sports Correspondent Olivia Gerstenberger.

For some German soccer fans, Lukas Podolski no longer deserved his place in the national team. It seemed he was only kept on as a kind of comedy mascot to keep up morale and because he was the coach's favorite.

In sporting terms, he was a shadow of the player who lit up the 2006 World Cup along with team mates Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm. Back when it was finally fun again to watch football and celebrate with the national side - when we were delighted even with third place.

Inauspicious start

Podolski made his debut together with his close friend Schweinsteiger in a 2-0 friendly defeat to Hungary in June 2004. The European Championships that year in Portugal was also less than auspicious for Germany, eliminated in the group stage.

But what followed was the rebirth of the team. Podolski and Schweinsteiger, affectionately known as 'Poldi' and 'Basti', came to represent a new generation of footballers who showed that fun could and should be part of the beautiful game.

It was as if a couple of cheeky but hugely talented kids had been transported into the national team directly from the school playground.

More than just a mascot

Gerstenberger Olivia Kommentarbild App

DW Sports Correspondent Olivia Gerstenberger

It's been exactly 4,672 days between Podolski's debut and his final game on Wednesday night in a friendly against England in Dortmund. A long career with the high point of the 2014 World Cup triumph, to which he did not contribute much in sporting terms. But coach Joachim Löw stuck with him, apparently convinced of his importance to team morale.

People seemed to relate to his obvious love for both Poland, the country of his birth, and the Rhineland where he grew up. He also wore his heart on his sleeve on the pitch: relaxed, authentic and honest. And generous to those less fortunate.

He organized a lucrative kit deal for his favorite team in Poland. He built an orphanage in Warsaw. After the air crash in 2010 that cost the Polish president his life, he wore a black armband on the pitch. He donated a pitch to his boyhood club in Bergheim and helped out with the youth team. His foundation helps socially disadvantaged children and aims to promote integration and inclusion.

Ballack slap

One small blot on Podolski's international career was an unseemly clash with captain Michael Ballack during a World Cup qualifier against Wales in 2009.

As Ballack was reprimanding him, Podolski appeared to lash out with his hand, catching his captain across the face. Both played down the incident afterwards and it came to be seen as nothing more than a demonstration of Podolski's passion and commitment to the cause. Unlike many soccer professionals, he was never implicated in anything like alcohol abuse, wild partying or other excesses.

Podolski was a breath of fresh air in a glitzy world that far too often takes itself far too seriously. It was always clear that his overriding ambition was just to play football - as often and for as long as physically possible. He is the last of the 2006 'Summer Fairytale' generation. An authentic original. His exuberance, his sunny disposition and, not least, his raw talent will be missed.