Jailed in Singapore, stones thrown at him by an angry mob in Albania, and cheating death in England. It all sounds like the life of an international spy rather than a footballer. Lutz Pfannenstiel however is not your everyday player. The German goalkeeper has the distinction of being the only man to have played at the professional level on every continent (excluding Antarctica of course, though there are still plans for that..read on!).
So one can imagine that a career spanning nearly two decades and 25 clubs brings with it some unique experiences. And that is exactly what Pfannenstiel relayed to us at One Game, One World when we spoke to him recently.
Now in Namibia as player coach of Ramblers FC and goalkeeper coach for the Namibian national side, Pfannenstiel has not lost any of his desire for football. At first glance it might seem that his career took a path similar to if you spun a globe around and stopped it with your finger 25 times or so. However, upon listening to Pfannenstiel, who has played in nearly 400 matches in his career, you don’t get the ravings of a madman, but rather the inspirational football musings of a true globetrotting legend.
His experiences seem unmatched. From Cristiano Ronaldo to Lionel Messi to even, dare we say, David Beckham there doesn’t seem to be any player that has seen as much of the world and have the stories to match it as Lutz Pfannenstiel.
The former Germany U-17 international was jailed in Singapore about 10 years back having been accused of fixing matches for an Asian betting syndicate. In prison for over three months, Pfannenstiel lost over 35 pounds before he was released having never been convicted of any crime.
As difficult as that situation had to have been, it paled in comparison to what happened to Pfannenstiel on Boxing Day of 2002. It was then during a match for Bradford Park Avenue against Harrowgate Town that Pfannenstiel was kicked in the chest during a collision and stopped breathing three different times before being brought to the hospital. Club Physio Ray Killick saved the player’s life that day by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in the incident which Pfannenstiel logically labeled as “the most scary thing ever.”
Still, despite the strange happenings and terrible events have been moments of pure footballing joy. Pfannenstiel, if nothing else, is an ambassador of the sport and a testament that while money may drive many players, there are still many that will literally go to the ends of the earth to play this game.
Enjoy the following One Game, One World interview with Lutz Pfannenstiel, the world’s most traveled footballer.
One Game, One World: Tell us a little bit about where your football career? Where have has the game taken you?
Lutz Pfannenstiel: I started in my hometown of Zwiesel in Germany and was dreaming about playing in the Bundesliga. I was a bit impatient and wanted to play pro football so I started to play overseas. Now I can look back on a very eventful career on 6 continents and over 20 teams worldwide.
How does it feel to be the only football player in the world to have played on 6 continents?
Definitely, it makes me a proud man. I never had it in my mind to set this record to be honest up until 2007. Then during a conversation with my manager the topic came up and then we tried to secure a deal in South America and soon after that I got options in Brazil and I got the record.
Has it been more or less difficult having been a goalkeeper trying to play on all these teams?
Surely, its always hard to change teams, coaches and systems in a short time as it takes time to get used to things. But after a few times you learn to adjust faster and overall I learned to handle it.
At which club did you spend the most amount of time?
Definitely in New Zealand. I played 5 seasons for the same club, but after 3 years they changed the league system and out of my first club Dunedin Technical became Otago United.
Did the football winds just take you from place to place or was this always a decision of yours to play in as many places as possible?
It was a pure coincidence. Clubs went bankrupt, 6 month seasons, coaches got fired and other things made the decision for me.
Do you consider Nottingham Forest the most prestigious club you have played for?
Surely the club with the biggest name, but I never really made it there. I never played any first team games, just games for the reserves.
What would you consider as the worst experience you have had in your playing days?
Definitely Singapore! I was sent to prison for something I have not done and still suffering under that story. It made me a brandmarked guy in football. Worst of course everybody who looks at the facts knows I was set up.
What would you consider as the best experience? At what club or country?
I had plenty of unforgettable experiences, but in general my whole journey was the best experience. I loved to live and play in Canada, New Zealand and mostly of course Norway.
Is there a country you have not yet played or been to that you have always wanted to?
Plenty! Libya for example or Ghana. In Europe, Turkey and Greece and of course Russia.
How was your stint in Brazil? How did the fans and everyone else react to you there?
I love it in Brazil and people are great to me. Of course I got abused at away matches but that’s when I produced my best performances.
Have you noticed big differences in how football is played in all these countries? Also, have you noticed differences in how fans treat the game in all these nations?
In North America, the football is played in 2 different ways depending on the coach.
South American style which will be technical or British which will be long balls. Most fans there have no idea about football!
In Europe, the fans know the game and everything is well organized. In Asia, fans love football and the game is not very physical.
In Africa, the football is magic as the personal abilities are superb and the fans are passionate, but it’s still a bit unorganized. In Oceania, the game is very British of course. In Brazil, the whole country lives football like a religion.
I am very happy to have had the pleasure to have all these experiences.
How long do you plan on playing?
I dream of playing till 40, but so many things are happening right now that I am not sure if I am not getting retired very soon and start coaching and being an agent.
If football were started in Antarctica…would you consider playing on a 7th continent??
I was and am still planning a big charity match in Antarctica sometime.
What has been the craziest situation you have encountered in your time as a footballer?
In Albania people were throwing bottles and stones like crazy at away games also firework were coming at me..simply crazy!
When I died in Bradford will always be the craziest fooball experience in my life. I died on the field for my club, but luckily I came back.
Have you seen your form affected by the constant change in teams?
I believe not, but it always takes a while to get used to the way of playing of new teammates and a new manager.
How does your family like the traveling?
They love it…or let’s say I made them love it! hehe
After football, will you go into management? Any goals to become the first manager in all six continents?
Great idea! I will work on that. I already was head coach on 3 continents, player-coach in New Zealand and coach in Armenia, and now in Namibia, only 3 missing.
Football plays a huge role in your life, are you a big fan even outside playing?
Football is my life and my love. I never really did it to become rich and famous. Many times I chose smaller money for the sake of playing in a special place.
It is all about heart and I can proudly say that I am very different from lots of other pros.
Finally, have you achieved all that you wish in football?
Not yet. The Antarctica project is still a goal. My last dream is to play for 5 minutes in the Bundesliga to be honest, but it might never happen.
I have plenty of goals as a manager…lots of new stories to come about Lutz Pfannenstiel, trust me.