In 2014, Per Mertesacker finally achieved a lifetime’s ambition when he lifted the World Cup. Part of a golden generation of German players nurtured by Jürgen Klinsmann and honed by Joachim Löw, his appearance in the final was his 104th and last for his country, putting him eighth on the list of most appearances for Die Mannschaft.
For Mertesacker the game had not always been so plain sailing. Plagued by pains in his knees during his teenage years, the centre-back who would eventually reach 6ft 6in doubted he could even reach the professional game, overshadowed by his teammates and seemingly only a part of Hannover’s academy due to his father’s influence.
But his rise was meteoric: he made his Bundesliga debut in November 2003 aged 19, and ten months later, just a couple of weeks after his twentieth birthday, Klinsmann was giving him his international debut against Iran ahead of the 2006 World Cup on home soil.
Germany would bow out in the semi-final of that competition and would reach at least that stage in their next three major international tournaments, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he finally tasted glory. By this stage Mertesacker had already passed through Hannover and Werder Bremen – where under Thomas Schaaf he had won the 2009 DFB Pokal and reached the final of the UEFA Cup – and was a regular with Arsenal.
In a seven-year career with the Gunners the ‘Big Friendly German’ won three FA Cup crowns and played European football every season, retiring in the same summer as Arsène Wenger drew the curtain on his iconic affiliation with the club. Now in charge of the academy, Mertesacker is looking to instil values of responsibility and hard work in the next generation, the same values that allowed him a 15-year career at the top of the game.
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