Mumbai: Having played top class football at home and internationally for years, the lure of playing in a country which he had visited in the past as a tourist drew German footballer Manuel Friedrich to the upcoming Indian Super League.
The 34-year-old defender, who missed out on gaining selection for Germany in the 2006 World Cup and has played for top Bundesliga clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen and Mainz 05, will be representing Mumbai City FC, owned by Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, in the ISL which kicks off on October 12.
Friedrich, who started his football career in the mid 1990s, is expected to be the backbone of the Mumbai franchise's defence in ISL with his aerial skills.
In an interaction with PTI, the only footballer in ISL to have seen action in last season's UEFA Champions League talks about his past experiences and the challenges he will face in ISL. Excerpts:
Q: What brings you from the top Bundesliga to an unknown entity called Indian Super League?
Friedrich: The strong wish for an exciting professional challenge. And the right timing. My wife and I used to travel through parts of Asia for many years now as we have always been curious to experience more of the plenty different ways of living, people and the cultures. We always came back home with so many amazing memories and therefore, agreed that we have to go and live in one of the travelled countries one day. With her seeking a change in her career and my contract coming to an end, it was the perfect time. And joining the ISL Mumbai franchise in India definitely feels like the right decision.
Q: Who approached you to play in ISL and when exactly did you come to know that such a league is to be launched?
F: I have an Indian friend who told me about this plan to form a Super League in India about half a year ago. But that this is actually happening was only brought to my attention by an agent, who contacted me.
Q: Will you be the Marquee player of the franchise?
F: I am not the marquee player.
Q: What do you know about India and Indian football? Will you be happy to play in a country whose national team is 150-plus on the FIFA ranking as you are from a country that has just lifted the highest prize in football.
F: To be honest I don't know much now as we didn't even start with our pre-season yet. But I am more than happy to be part of this exciting journey of a newly set up league. I want to have a sporting challenge and exciting time, make good friends and of course be part of the first team to win this tournament. And, if the organisers and teams make sure a good tournament is being played why shouldn't it be an overall success?
Q: How tough do you think will be the transition from playing in top class German facilities to play in Indian grounds which may not measure up to that level and in temperatures which will be much hotter than at home?
F: Well, of course conditions will somehow be different from what I am used to. But it is too early to really speak about details as we didn't even kick off the pre-season yet. Overall I don't think I will have any issues with adjusting, but might need some time to get used to the slightly warmer temperature and humidity.
Q: Which has been your most memorable moment in your football career?
F: I would say that was the moment to gain promotion from 2nd to 1st Bundesliga with FSV Mainz 05 in 2004.
Q: Are you disappointed you could not make the World Cup team of Germany?
F: No, not at all as this chapter was closed years ago.
Q: Did you expect Germany to win the World Cup in Brazil? What do you think was the main reason for a European country breaking the jinx of winning the World Cup on South American soil?
F: I did expect it actually because the German team is and was the best team in the tournament. Overall the European teams were the strong ones, they are really doing an amazing job so far.