Paul Scharner, it is utterly safe to say, is not your average footballer. Your average footballer does not indulge in sky diving or bungee jumping, nominate Mozart as his favourite listening or retire from the international game at the peak of his career, dismissing his home federation as "shambolic".
Scharner, the 26-year-old Austrian who joined Wigan 11 months ago, is rightly described by his manager, Paul Jewell, as "a bit of a maverick", and at White Hart Lane this afternoon Tottenham may learn how well this defender-turned-midfielder has fitted into Jewell's plans.
Like most things in his life, Scharner's arrival at Wigan three days before Christmas 2005 was methodically plotted. Four years ago he laid out what he calls "my target tower", with the ultimate aim a place in the Premiership, which he calls "the best league in the world".
The reason so few of his countrymen are playing in England's top division is, he says, because of the gulf between Austrian football and the Premiership. So, as part of that target tower, Scharner moved to Norway, using the Bergen club SK Brann as a staging post. "It was a big help to come here via Norway because their football is quite similar," he said after a training session on Friday. "So I am here at 26, happy now."
Ever alert for a bargain, Jewell spotted Scharner on a trip to Norway. "He caught the eye because of his great enthusiasm and athleticism," said the Wigan manager, who laid out £2.5 million to sign someone who was starring at centre-half for Brann. But the fact that those maverick qualities had brought him seven goals from 33 games in the Norwegian league convinced Jewell that Scharner's future lay elsewhere.
"The gaffer and I had a discussion last season and we both agreed my best position is midfield," is how Scharner tells it. This is Jewell's version of that chat: "I felt he lacked discipline to play centre-half, I saw him as a big, strong midfielder. Now he has a lot more licence to be less disciplined in midfield and I think he has done tremendously well. But I had to convince him, because he thought he was a centre-half when he arrived.
"It's a big step from Norwegian football to the Premiership. Maybe as he gets more streetwise as far as the game is concerned he might find himself as a centre-back, but he is more effective for us in the middle of the park as a good athlete and a good professional."
Scharner promptly proved the wisdom of Jewell's judgement by scoring against Arsenal in his first game and has settled in, missing only one game since last December because of a hamstring pull. That this injury is the only one he has suffered in six years is also testimony to his methodical approach to his profession. "One of my targets is to be match-fit the whole time, so I also train at home," said Scharner, whose off-duty preparations include meditation. "I have some back problems, so I do meditation to help my body make it better."
Leaping out of an aircraft and bungee plunging off a bridge in the Austrian province of Carinthia during the summer were also part of the Scharner development theory. "It is a difficult thing to do, looking down 100 metres from a bridge and then diving off. But those things helped me a lot to change my attitude. I know now that I can set targets and achieve them."
The music of the most famous Austrian of all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ("he was a really great guy," smiles Scharner, who played one season for Salzburg, Mozart's home town) is also part of the progress plan. "I listen in my living room for an hour, hour and a half, relaxing to bring something into my life other than football."
Scharner is no mean musician himself, possessing skills with flute, keyboard and drums. "But now I have no more time to do that," he says. Skiing, the sport he has enjoyed above all since childhood, has, like the drums, been set aside as not compatible with the life of a professional footballer: "I am a bit sad about that, but it is not allowed."
Scharner also has his own website www.paulscharner.at which he has titled "The Way of the Cheetah" and where he has detailed his fall-out with the Austrian Football Federation, something he is reluctant to expand on beyond stressing: "It was a difficult decision because we have Euro 2008 in Austria, but I thought a lot about it and still feel it was the right thing to do.
"I am a big patriot. I love my country [he played 14 times for Austria] but it was not a good feeling when I went back home and the officials there looked at me like this" - he pulls a sour face - "because I chose to play abroad." His website adds: "The standard of coaching is poor, the whole organisation is poor, from top to bottom."
This private man, who has chosen to live in nearby Warrington with his wife, Marlene, and sons Constantin and Benedict to avoid over-exposure in his leisure time to Wigan fans, knows well enough how popular his skills have made him. In Norway, the SK Brann supporters delighted him by hanging out a banner proclaiming Scharner "Fussballgott".
Now the Football God, who has not scored since he claimed two against Everton earlier this season, feels another goal is due. Spurs are hereby warned.Reuse content