World Cup winner Miroslav Klose is now at the German FA working on his coaching badges. He spoke to DW about his years abroad and the role football can play in integrating newcomers.
DW: Congratulations on the honor of being named a German Football Ambassador. How did you perceive your role as an ambassador for Germany in Italy and through the national team?
Klose: It was quite simple. It was a very exciting time, these five years in Italy, as well as the many trips with the national team. I've been exposed to so many different cultures. You travel a bit through each country and learn a bit about the language and the people. It was very nice.
The award is recognizes the winner's work on and off the pitch, especially for values like fair play and honesty that you have always lived. Do you think these values are too rare in today's football?
I have lived the values because many young people are watching. For me it went without saying. I've won fair-play prizes, but that's just my nature, my character. This is who I am, and I do not feel the need to hide the real me. I grew up in Kaiserslautern and had many discussions with Fritz Walter, Ottmar Walter and Horst Eckel (Kaiserslautern legends who were members of West Germany's 1954 World Cup-winning side). They always lived that way. We spoke a lot. These were the values they lived on and off the pitch. I learned a lot from them.
You were born in Poland, but grew up in Germany. What does it mean to you to be named a German Football Ambassador?
It all happened pretty fast. I was born in Poland, and then I was six years in France, I returned to Poland and then, at the age of eight-and-a-half, we came to Germany. I tried to learn the language as quickly as possible, just like I did in the last five years in Italy. So I have learned a lot and it has been fantastic. I was not only a player abroad but also had many foreign coaches. So I learned a lot.
Many fans will remember a game in Italy when you told the referee not to award a goal that you had scored. This is quite rare. How did your teammates react?
I knew right away that the ball had hit my hand. At first, it was a bit difficult to get to the referee. First, my teammates were celebrating, then the opponents tried to protest. It took me a while until I got to the referee, but it was clear to me that I had to tell him that I had inadvertently put the ball in with my hand. That's why he disallowed the goal. It's just the way I am.
You settled very quickly in Italy, learned the language and were very popular among the fans. What was the most important factor in becoming comfortable in the country?
The language is the key. The faster you learn to speak the language, the faster you can communicate with the people around you. You also learn about values. I spent five years in Italy and the Italians have a slightly different lifestyle. Everything is a bit slower and more easy going. You can feel that when you live there, you become a little more relaxed about typically "German" things like accuracy and punctuality. I had a great time, just like when I traveled with the national team.
We've been talking about what you learned from the Italians, what did they get from you?
Here's a short anecdote: I've always been on time. Only once in the 17 years of my career, I arrived late, and that was because the autobahn was closed. So it was not my fault at all. Naturally, I tried to instill a bit of punctuality in the Italians, but this was completely futile. This Italian laid-back attitude is too deep seeded, so you just have to adapt a bit. I did learn to become more laid back and more relaxed. It was a wonderful time.
What do you think you have achieved as an ambassador abroad?
I don't know. I've talked to a lot of people, not just football fans. One notices that Germany is already well respected. A lot is made of the "German virtues." I have tried to combine this with the culture abroad.
Can football change the world?
Yes, I think football can change things. Integration is incredibly important, and football can really help. I have experienced it personally. I have traveled a lot and spent the last five years in Italy. Football truly is international and you can feel this every day and every second, especially in Italy. You can really make an impact with football.
Former striker Miroslav Klose scored 71 goals in 137 appearances for Germany. The highlight of his career was winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The 38-year-old and is currently taking part in a training program for coaches at the German football association, the DFB. He is also an assistant to Germany coach Joachim Löw. His goal is to become a head coach in a major European league.
The interview was conducted by Matthias Frickel and Roland Bischof.