Lutz Pfannenstiel's transfer deadline day do's and don'ts
Don't wear earphones if you want to impress Lutz Pfannenstiel
He worries that not all players from abroad can adjust to playing in Germany
Hoffenheim aims to develop its youngsters rather than take risks on expensive foreign transfers
It’s often said you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.
It’s an aphorism worth remembering on arguably the most hectic day in the football calendar as clubs rush to grab a deal on transfer deadline day.
And according to one football scout, a young man’s friends can also tell you if he’s going to make it big in the beautiful game.
Lutz Pfannenstiel is a former player who now works for German club Hoffenheim, scouring the globe in the hope of finding a future star.
Profiling players, and seeing how they behave off the pitch, is key to understanding whether they are right for the Bundesliga, insists Pfannenstiel – who played for 25 clubs during a rich and varied career.
“I can go to Africa, I can go to Brazil, I can find hundreds of top class players. But the question is, will they really work in Germany?” the former goalkeeper told CNN.
A fan of big cats, Pfannenstiel has some David Attenbrough-like qualities in his observation of footballers.
Whether they are in training, staying at a hotel, or even just socializing in a group, he watches them closely for signs of telltale behavior.
“It sounds very basic, but if I see a player who walks around by himself with big earphones on, and ignores everything that is around him, then I am not sure that that’s the player I would like to have,” he explained.
Musical head gear is not the only thing that detective Pfannenstiel checks up on, with players’ social lives being put under a magnifying glass too.
“Does he have bad friends? Is he going out on the weekend? Is he a really hard working professional? These are all things you can find out,” he said.
Networking is Pfannenstiel’s modus operandi, allowing him to keep track of players across the globe without clocking too many air miles.
Whether players know it or not, people close to them might be reporting back to scouts like Pfannenstiel, so it’s important players are on their best behavior – and keep the right company.
“There are guys who are basically looking at every woman in the team’s hotel Is that really what you want? It’s good to have a personal profile, it’s good to see their behavior outside the football field.”
Language can be another stumbling block for footballers hoping to make it big abroad, with Pfannenstiel setting a pass mark of being able to speak “at least the basics.”
The goal is for players to be able to gel with teammates both on and off the pitch – if they can’t then Pfannenstiel will have no qualms about waving “auf wiedersehen” to them.
He hopes that they will not just communicate with other players, “but also with the coaches, with the fans. The player needs to be liked by the fans to be 100% happy.”
In many ways, Hoffenheim epitomize the current transfer market within football.
For a provincial club with a humble history – in 1999, their stadium held less than 1,700 fans – Hoffenheim’s status has been boosted by skilled players from abroad, recruited after some hefty investments from chief financial backer Dietmar Hopp.
One foreign import who has impressed Pfannenstiel is Eugen Polanski, a Polish national player who joined Hoffenheim in 2013 and has since become an essential pillar of the team.
Wilfried Bony has a similar story, originally from the Ivory Coast he was prolific with Vitesse in the Netherlands before joining English Premier League team Swansea in 2013.
Bony was the top goal scorer in the EPL during the calendar year 2014 and has recently made a $42.5 million move to Manchester City.
But not all players settle into foreign countries as easily as Bony and Polanski seem to have done.
As Pfannenstiel argues, “Many times players from these countries fail. Not because they’re bad players – they fail because they can’t adjust. They can’t adjust to the life, to the culture and to the surroundings.”
Failure is not an option for Hoffenheim, which would rather coach their domestic players to stardom than buy brilliance from abroad.
Tightening purse strings are another reason for the club to look for talent closer to home – with some transfer fees skyrocketing during the January window.
“The clubs who give players away, they know the prices are actually sometimes out of proportion,” Pfannenstiel argues.
The huge expense of some transfer fees means that clubs are under pressure to avoid any costly mistakes, leaving clubs like Hoffenheim to nurture local talent.
“We are not that desperate anymore to bring in foreigners left, right, and center – we’d rather give youngsters a chance.”
It’s a tactic that Hoffenheim – along with many other German clubs – have used to their advantage.
“The number of players coming from the under 19’s into the premier league in Germany is higher than it ever was before.”
The search is now on for top talent in football, but Pfannenstiel won’t be looking too far afield.