Why Moritz now deserves a medal

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The Independent Football

There is one incident that perfectly sums up Moritz Volz. It came at the end of last year's FA Cup final, when he was invited to join his then Arsenal team-mates to collect his winner's medal. "I said no," he recalls without emotion, "because I didn't feel I deserved something just for being part of the squad. I'm not someone who likes living off other people's laurels."

Those days are long gone. Now, Volz forms an integral part of Chris Coleman's ever-improving Fulham, having slotted in effortlessly at right-back following Steve Finnan's departure for Liverpool in the summer. He was at his instrumental best again during Wednesday's FA Cup fourth-round replay victory over Everton. "It's nice to belong," says the man who made his loan move from Arsenal permanent last month. "It makes you want to play better and helps you raise your game."

Volz certainly did that in mid-week, blocking Kevin Kilbane's goal-bound shot before later releasing Luis Boa Morte to start the move that led to Steed Malbranque's winner. "Watching Arsenal's Cup run from close up last year was good," the German says, "but this is even better. It's wonderful to feel you are actually contributing to a team's success. We're in the fifth round now, and we play a First Division side [West Ham United] at home, so we have a great chance of making it into the quarter-finals. After that, anything is possible."

Volz has never been one for taking the easy option. If he were, he would have continued to sit in the Arsenal reserves, waiting for his chance in the first team while collecting his weekly pay cheque. Instead, he left one of Europe's biggest clubs to join their much less fancy London rivals. "I could have stayed at Arsenal," he admits, "and I guess my big break might have come eventually. But what I really wanted to do was play now, even if that meant joining a mid-table club."

The 21-year-old is not the first youngster who has had to leave Arsenal in order to further his career. However, where the full-back differs from other releasees such as Stephen Hughes, Paolo Vernazza and Jermaine Pennant is that he has found success away from Highbury. "It's always going to be hard for young players at Arsenal," he says. "I loved it there, but it was very difficult for me to break into the first team because of the pressure and the quality of the players ahead of me."

There are no such troubles at Fulham. "The advantages of being here are that no one expects much of me and I can play freely," explains Volz, who made his senior debut for Arsenal in the League Cup victory over Ipswich Town during the 2000-01 season. "I'm pleased now that I'm here, playing regularly and getting a chance to prove that I'm good enough. I think that freedom is very important, especially for young people. After you have played reserve and youth-team football for a while, there comes a time when you have to be allowed to push on."

Volz, who joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old trainee when he was snapped up from Schalke 04 in 1999, got his first taste of what he describes as "grown-up football" when he spent two months on loan at Wimbledon last season. Without that spell at Selhurst Park, he doubts he would be where he is today.

"It was a brilliant experience," says the man who won two Youth Cups with Arsenal, in 2000 and 2001, "and I gained a lot from it. Going to Wimbledon was very important because it gave other clubs the chance to see me play first-team football. The Fulham move would not have happened if it wasn't for that loan."

Moving away from Highbury temporarily also allowed Volz to mature off the field. "It had maybe been a bit daunting at first for me as a German teenager to make the big move to London," he admits. "I was very excited about going to London and very impressed when I saw Arsenal's facilities. But I was just a kid and I guess it was always going to take a while for me to adapt."

Volz has found his feet now. On Wednesday, he was rightly given the Man of the Match magnum of champagne. And, in contrast to his decision last May at the Millennium Stadium, he duly accepted the award. "Well," he smiles, "I earned this prize fair and square, and that's why I was happy to take it."

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