x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Schwarzer is the key for Fulham in Germany

The goalkeeper's former mentor recalls the formative years as the Australian returns to his German roots in the Europa League semi-final against Wolfsburg.

Schwarzer, born in Australia to German parents, always wanted to play in the Premier League.
Schwarzer, born in Australia to German parents, always wanted to play in the Premier League.

Little was known about Mark Schwarzer when he stepped out 14 years ago for Manchester City in a reserve game at Valley Parade. Chris Kamara, manager of Bradford City at the time, was asked if he was putting out a strong side to test the qualities of the big Australian keeper. Schwarzer was on trial. He did not fail. "Steve Coppell was manager of Manchester City and they had liked what they saw in training, but wanted to have a look at him in a game," revealed Kamara, whose club were in the Championship back then. "We had a good side out and they had mostly kids. Mark was absolutely magnificent. One save I particularly remember was that he dived backwards to keep the ball out and I thought he was going to smash his head against the post.

"But then Coppell suddenly resigned and Phil Neal became the caretaker. I asked him about Mark and he told me they could not sign him at the time, so I tried. "He had played four games for Kaiserslautern in the Bundesliga, but their captain was also their keeper so he was never going to play more often. I had nothing to lose." Neither did Schwarzer. Despite a desire to play in the Premier League, he was persuaded to use Bradford as a stepping stone to fulfil his ambition. A clause in his contract meant he could leave if City received a bid over £1 million. "I got him for £150,000 and made a million pound profit when he left three months later for Middlesbrough," added Kamara. "We had a bid from Everton too. I didn't want to lose him, but he was always going to play in the Premier League.

"I thought he was good enough to play for Manchester United. When you work with someone day in, day out, and see the mindset of the person, you appreciate how good he is. It's not just about a few saves on a Saturday. Mark was driven and determined to play at the top." And that is where Schwarzer has stayed. An imposing, commanding figure, he has continued to defy attackers at the age of 37. Tonight, he will return to Germany with current club Fulham and be a key figure in their bid to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League. With a 2-1 advantage from the first leg, Schwarzer - born in Australia to German parents - will have to be at his best to keep Wolfsburg, the Bundesliga champions, at bay.

"This is the kind of game and situation he will thrive upon," added Kamara. "But then again, Mark has always been focused for any game. He is a great professional and looks after himself so well that I can see him going on until he is 40. "It's no coincidence he is there and Fulham are doing so well. A top keeper can make such a difference. "With his goals, Bobby Zamora is having the season of his life, but this game will be all about Mark and if he can keep Wolfsburg out." akhan@thenational.ae