His role may be deteriorating at the same rate as his aging body, but that has not stopped Claudio Pizarro from taking his younger opponents to school.
Professor Pizarro's latest lecture entailed a double pack against Hoffenheim, teaching his young students that he can still ball.
Since Pizarro signed with Bayern München before the 2012/13 season on a free transfer, his role as an attacker has faded slowly into irrelevance. The incumbency of Mario Gómez and the emergence of Mario Mandžukić kept the Bundesliga's most notable foreign import stashed in the corner of Bayern's bench during its treble campaign. Gómez's departure has not freed Pizarro either, as Pep Guardiola has put Mario Götze and Thomas Müller ahead of Pizarro as forward options.
Pizarro had made a feast out of his morsel of minutes both Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes have served him. Pizarro has scored 19 goals in the 1625 minutes he's played in his return to Bayern, an elite scoring rate that would place him among the best in Europe if extrapolated. The situations he is called into are trivial more often than not, but he has taken what he is given while acting as an elder to a relatively young and hungry Bayern squad.
"My experience helps me a lot," said Pizarro in mid-March. "Of course, all players want to play in every match but over time I’ve come to understand that every player is very important. We can only achieve our targets by working together. So I try to stay fit and take my chances when they come."
The Peruvian's timeless contributions may no longer be in Munich at season's end, for his contract runs out in the summer. While Robert Lewandowski's impending arrival could prompt the departure of Mario Mandzukic, a more plausible scenario involves Bayern not renewing Pizarro's contract. That does not mean his services are obsolete, in fact to the contrary.
Several clubs across Europe could do worse than the free transfer Pizarro could become. He has belonged to clubs in just two countries, England and Germany, but perhaps the right teams could woo him to suit up for them. Going to a side that is not playing in the Champions League might be a deterrent; that might be too big of a step down for the 35-year-old veteran. With that in mind, here are some clubs from England, Germany, and Spain – the top three domestic UEFA coefficients – that, if I were the director of football, I would want Pizarro:
Bundesliga: Bayer 04 Leverkusen
A club clinging to a Champions League spot in the Bundesliga, Bayer are still in the mix to do big things in the league and in Europe. The squad is very thin, and no position is thinner than striker – six-foot-three and 176 pounds, Stefan Kießling is literally a string bean. Pizarro is the insurance policy, his experience a guide and his ability a warranty.
Barclays Premier League: Arsenal
Depth is something that fans of English football believe the Gunners do not have. Buy another center forward, buy another center back, buy another defensive midfielder. What about getting something for free? Everybody loves free stuff. Well, there is a Peruvian international with English experience out of contract, and he does not need to press the impeding Olivier Giroud for a spot. Pizarro's link-up play would work well with the pacy wingers, and has a better finishing ability than any of the playmakers Arsene Wenger has stockpiled.
La Liga: Atlético Madrid
For a club that has now among the Spanish elite and has reached the quarterfinal of the Champions League, perhaps attacking power is not at the top of the shopping list. Should a forward – like, say, Diego Costa – be no longer available though, Madrid's attack looks very different. Pizarro would not be able to replicate the explosive poaching abilities of the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard, but would be able to facilitate play to the budding talent of Koke and the ever-lethal David Villa.
Given his age, Pizarro may be a player who would go out on top, hanging up the cleats after another trophy-filled Bayern season. He could just as easily cross hemispheres for the second time in his career, returning to his native CONMEBOL or even choosing a CONCACAF club. Nobody would blame him for leaving Germany, his 198 goals in German competition already setting a benchmark for foreign players in Fußball.
His tank is yet full though, and for that reason alone, I would want Pizarro.