Moritz Volz: A German blessed with balance and bonhomie
Fulham's Hoff worshipper lives in a seemingly wacky world. But, he tells Nick Townsend, he is no freak - there are plenty more like him
Sunday 18 February 2007
Within the salary-obsessed, bling-parading, ego-tistical, image-conscious, cliché-uttering, monster car-worshipping world of the Premiership, a planet whose population tends to take itself just a tiny bit seriously, it is genuinely reassuring to discover that there are still characters like Moritz Volz who enjoy drinking at the well of self-deprecation.
If you want to get the idea, just cast an eye at his website, Volzy.com. Not exactly what you would describe as a prime example of a footballing "Big I am". No Baby Bentley for him; the German writes affectionately about the folding bike he rides around the streets of Fulham, claiming it should be an Olympic sport. Then there's his affection for "The Hoff", the former Baywatch actor David Hasselhoff, a singing sensation in Germany, whom he admits "I worship".
He jests about his own goals, relates how he was "rubbish at football to begin with" and how, as a youngster, he started playing up front. "But as I progressed (or rather failed to...) I slipped further and further back, so what does that tell you? Luckily, I didn't slip as far back as to end up in goal, but I wasn't far off it!"
And he gently mocks the depiction of the stereotypical German. There is a photograph of him clad in lederhosen - yes, he wore them as a child, "until they were ruined when a Kinder egg melted in the pocket" - sporting a Bavarian hat, and clasping a beer steiner. It is gratifying that there still remains a place for the character in football.
For character, read ever so slightly wacky. For a start, we speak of a German blessed with humour. And no, that is not an oxymoron. If you ask him about the inevitable abuse he receives from opposition supporters on account of a nationality that, more than 60 years after the last war, still tends to provoke a reaction here, he roars with laughter. "My favourite expression is, 'You big German sausage'. That one makes me chuckle all the time," he says. "I don't often warm up on the sidelines, but when I do, I get that kind of banter from the fans."
He adds: "I do think that the English character is very close to the German character. I'm a big fan of the English-German love-hate relationship. I've grown to like it over the last seven-and- a-half years. But the English are much more obsessed with Germans than the other way round."
Actually, he doesn't often warm up as substitute because he is normally in the Fulham starting line-up, a defender by definition but a midfielder by command of his manager, Chris Coleman, in a season when the personnel at Craven Cottage have changed seemingly as frequently as the guards on parade in London, Volz's adopted city since initially arriving at Arsenal from the Bundesliga club Schalke 04.
"I do enjoy playing in midfield, but I was needed to play there because we hardly had any fit players in those positions," he says. "It's good to know the manager has confidence in me there. I want to improve my end product and be involved more in creating goals, and I hope playing in midfield will help me.
"But I do still consider myself a defender, and as a right-back in particular. That's still my strongest position."
When he speaks after training ahead of today's FA Cup tie at home to Tottenham Hotspur, his English is close to immaculate. You sense a remarkable metamorphosis within the 24-year-old who grew up in a small town called Bürbach. "Well, it's a village really, surrounded by forests."
Perhaps the fact that when he arrived in England he was nurtured in an archetypal English footballing environment accounts for that ready assimilation into his adopted country. He smiles at the memories. "It was the great football that encouraged me to come here. Like myself, it's very much attacking, very positive, with a lot of commitment and effort.
"I grew up at Arsenal when there were players there like Tony Adams, Ray Parlour and Martin Keown. They were very much English characters - not only because of what they did on the pitch but because of what they did away from it. I always admired them for the way that they kept a very good spirit at the club.
"English society and sense of humour are a part of me now. I wouldn't say I'm English, but I'm something in between German and English. What I love about being in London is the variety of culture. There is nothing here that you crave [he pauses]... except maybe sometimes a bit of silence, a bit of calm."
Yet, no doubt wary that there will always be some headline writer ready to depict him as that "Crazy Cottager", he stresses: "I know I do get a reputation for being different. I do share some things on my website that show a different side of me; that illustrate what I'm interested in off the pitch.
"But I don't think I'm a freak in football. I know that there is a way that the public like to see footballers, and a drawer that they put them in. But I can assure you that I have met a lot of other players who have other hobbies and other interests."
But that fascination with Hasselhoff? That is stretching the concept of a hobby somewhat, isn't it? His appreciation for the actor is such that he ordered a pair of boots with "The Hoff" embroidered inside them. He subsequently sold them for charity. "You see, the special thing about them is that they had a 100 per cent goalscoring record," he explains. "I only wore them in one game at Villa Park, where I scored my first Premiership goal [his tally is two this season, including the Premiership's 15,000th strike, against Chelsea in December].
"I didn't dare to wear them again, because I didn't want to spoil that 100 per cent record. I hope that the person who bought them at the online auction hasn't spoiled the record already. I think there's something magic about them." Hmm.
It should be stressed that there is a more sober aspect to him, too. Volz is studying for his biology A-level, having already passed maths and French at that standard, with a view to applying for a university place once his playing days are over. "The reason I'm studying biology is that it helps me to understand my own body, and I've learnt a lot," he says.
He has considered becoming a physiotherapist. "But it's too soon to make up my mind. I have lots of interests and I could even see myself training for a career in the kitchen. I don't think I'll ever be better than a hobby chef, but who knows?
"My trademark dish is a nice piece of steak, with mash and broccoli, that's not very hard. The problem is that, as much as I love making food, I eat it with a great passion as well."
It is with such devotion, too, that he contemplates today's fifth-round tie; an opportunity for the London club whose Premiership status is relatively secure to visualise themselves being one of the first finalists to grace the new Wembley's turf. "I really enjoy the FA Cup. Once it gets past third and fourth rounds, that's when it gets to be really exciting, particularly with our League position, which is not too exciting, if I'm honest."
Fulham meet a team accused of having serially underperformed in recent weeks. "Definitely," concurs Volz, who is the PFA representative at his own club. "No one at Spurs will hold it against me if I say they have underachieved so far this season, but it's still very dangerous to play them, because you've always got to fear that they'll play the football they're capable of."
Yet - you can't allow him to escape the question - could not the same accusation be directed at his own team? Surely expectancy would have been rather higher at the start of the season?
"You are comparing two completely different clubs," he retorts. "Both are in the Premier League, but we have completely different ambitions. Spurs desperately want to play in the Uefa Cup and push on to the Champions' League, whereas we said we wanted to finish in the top 10."
Volz was present at the old Wembley the last time it staged a game: England versus Germany. His countryman Dietmar Hamann scored the only goal, which preceded Kevin Keegan's resignation.
A thought occurs to him. "Maybe [as a German] it would be appropriate if I could become the first to score at Wembley, since Dietmar Hamann was the last. All we have to do is to get into the final."
That may require rather more than Volz's optimism. But in the weird and wonderful world of this gloriously enthusiastic Anglophile, who would dare deny him that opportunity?
LIFE & TIMES: From Bürbach to Baywatch
NAME: Moritz Volz.
BORN: 21 January 1983, Siegen, Germany.
VITAL STATS: 6ft, 12st 3lb.
NICKNAMES: 220 Volz, Mr Resistor, The Electrician, The Lightbulb, Volzy.
CLUB CAREER: Schalke 04 1999-2000; Arsenal '00-04 (2 games); Wimbledon '03 (10, 1 goal); Fulham '03-current (initially on loan; 124, 4).
INTERNATIONAL CAREER: Under-21s; European Championships '06.
AND ANOTHER THING: "Being German, I love David Hasselhoff. For me the Hoff is almost like some kind of higher spirit. In times of trouble I often ask myself, 'How would the Hoff deal with this?' " Has "The Hoff" engraved on boots.
AND ANOTHER: Cycles to matches on his beloved fold-up bicycle.
AND ANOTHER: Scored 15,000th Premiership goal; "15,000 Volz".
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