Lukas Podolski delivers a candid assessment of his performances thus far at Arsenal. “It is too early to say ‘Podolski is a hero’,” he says.
“After only five or six games you cannot say ‘he’s the best player and Arsenal are great’. I don’t like this.
“After 20 matches and we have lost six matches everyone will be saying Arsenal is rubbish and Podolski is rubbish. We must wait. I signed for 4 years. Not for 5 or 6 matches.”
You can see why people at Arsenal seem to like this guy, and why they claim he has energized the place since arriving from Cologne in the summer.
He walks into the press room at Arsenal’s training ground and makes a beeline for three German journalists he recognises. There are hugs and high-fives; a genuine sense of warmth.
When a photographer offers to show him the digital images he has just taken of him, Podolski studies them intently with a friendly hand on the guy’s shoulder. “Oh no, not that one,” he pleads.
He suddenly breaks into an anecdote about Michael Schumacher, his close friend and someone who grew up just five minutes from Podolski’s humble family home.
Arms stretched out in front of him with hands gripping an imaginary steering wheel, Podolski starts describing how it felt to be travelling sideways at 120mph in Schumacher’s Mercedes. A devilish grin on one German’s face, a grimace on the other.
His English is excellent. “I taught myself while in hotels on away trips and with the national team,” he explains proudly.
“You get a lot of free time.” He slips in a quick apology. “If you remember I scored in Bloemfontein,” he says. “Sorry England.”
He does then add that Germany were “the better team that day” during the 2010 World Cup and it is hard to argue.
“England were strong,” he adds. “Lots of fight, lots of heart. But I think we played the better football.
“But then I thought Bayern Munich were the better team in the Champions League final and Chelsea won. That is football.”
Football was Podolski’s salvation. The son of Polish parents, they emigrated to Germany when he was two-years-old having been given Aussiedler status.
This was granted due to the fact that Podolski’s paternal grandparents were German citizens prior to the Second World War, because their home town of Gliwice - known as Gleiwitz before 1945 - was then part of Germany.
But they arrived in Bergheim virtually penniless, his father taking a job in a factory, his mother a job in a school, and made their home in a flat in a high rise block occupied predominantly by immigrant families.
“Schumacher would have been in a much bigger house,” he says, joking.
“We lived in a tower block near the football stadium. Every day I played at the stadium. It was one minute from my house.
“You see the buildings when you drive to the stadium. When you come from Poland you have nothing.
“Your mother and father are working. You have only a bed for sleep. You have a kitchen and that’s it. You must fight.
“I was lucky to have this stadium near the house; somewhere I could play football.
“It was tough for my family. My father was working, my mother was working. Sometimes I was alone at home after leaving school. My sister might cook something. Or I might go to buy something.
“But then I went straight to play football with friends, to play on the pitch.”
He was blessed with athletic ability. His father, Waldemar, was a first division player in Poland who would then secure a place in the side at Bergheim.
“I remember watching him,” says Podolski. “During half-time I would run around on the pitch.”
He says his speed and strength actually comes from his mother, Krystyna, however.
“She was a top handball player,” he says, and she was; she played for Poland.
Had it not been for football, he says, he would have ended up “on the street”.
The stadium at Bergheim was his sanctuary and it is why he now offers financial support to a club that plays in the ninth tier of German football.
At the Lukas Podolski Sportpark he has had pitches relaid, changing rooms rebuilt. He talks to the manager, Ingo Haselback, every day.
They discuss players and potential transfer targets. “I love this place,” he says.
It was while playing at Bergheim, when he was 10 or 11-years-old, that he was first spotted by a scout at nearby Cologne.
“Cologne was my big team, my favourite team,” he says. “I trained one week in Cologne and they asked me to sign for Cologne.
“At 17 or 18 the coach asked me to go the first-team training ground. I was lucky to have that coach.
“I made very quick progress. It was the guy who is the current national coach of Austria, Marcel Koller.
“He called me and I went into his office. He said: ‘You are very good, you come to the training camp for one week.’
“Then I trained for a lot of weeks in the team. In the first match against Hamburg I was in the squad and it was quick. My first game for the national team also came quick.”
It came when he was just 19, and despite having “two hearts” - one for Germany, the other for Poland - he accepted Rudi Voller’s invitation to play for Germany against Hungary on June 6, 2004.
It would be the first of the 103 international caps he has so far amassed. A remarkable achievement for a player who is only 27.
He would make one appearance as a substitute at Euro 2004, but at the World Cup in 2006 he was prominent among the stars.
As well as the three goals that helped Jurgen Klinsmann’s side progress to the semi-finals, he would be voted the young player of the tournament ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
That summer Podolski also signed for Bayern Munich, but three years there proved largely frustrating for this gifted, versatile left-footed forward.
Not least because the subsequent signing of Luca Toni would limit his opportunities in the team.
Podolski reflects with some honesty on that particular period of his career but with no great bitterness.
“I don’t really know what happened at Bayern Munich,” he says. “It was hard for me, you don’t play a lot of matches.
“The coaches don’t give me the chances to play and show how good I am for Bayern Munich.
“There is a big difference, moving from the second division to the biggest club in Germany.
“It was difficult. I was 20 or 21 at a big club. I had not played for a big club like Bayern. I knew I could play better for Bayern but I left and went back to Cologne because football for me is fun.
“When you go to a club and always sit on the bench and look at the team it is not easy. I didn’t have enough chances to show the coach how I played, so I moved on.”
He is passionate about Cologne. The tattoo on his right arm says as much. But a second spell there did not quite go to plan either.
“I had options to go to Italy, England and other clubs in Germany,” he says. “But I wanted to go back to Cologne to help change the club.
“They said they wanted to build a team around me and to play in the top five or six in the Bundesliga.
“But after three years I realised it was not a good decision because they did nothing to build a team around me.
“I went back because it is my town, my club, I love the club. I wanted to change things.
“The manager and the president said things but after three years I saw nothing. I was a little bit angry about this because you see the stadium, the people are crazy about football. I left. I had an offer from Arsenal, this great club that plays in the Champions League. I had to go.”
He dispatched a party of trusted advisers to London to check out Arsenal.
“My wife, my father and my friend Nassim came here to see the training ground and the stadium,” he says.
“I was at the Euros. I couldn’t tell the Germany coach I needed a couple of days to go to London.
“But they were very impressed. My dad said the place was fantastic, and I was happy with that. I was left with the feeling that Arsenal was a great club.”
Did the seven trophyless seasons prior to his arrival concern him?
‘It’s not important only to win the trophies,” he says. “We will fight for the Premier League. We will fight against Chelsea this weekend.
“But it was not important for me when I signed. I wasn’t saying ‘oh, they’ve won nothing for seven years. I don’t go there’. I like this club. I like the people here.
“I like the way they play football. You come to a new club and a new league and you never know how it will start. How the team plays.
“But I felt easy here from the first training session. Everyone was so helpful. The club helped me. The style of football is the kind I like. One or two touches. Quick passing. Fast at the front.
“In the offence I like to play with Cazorla. You see this in the matches. I am looking for him and he is looking for me. I like playing with him. I can’t understand why he was playing for Villarreal and Malaga and not a bigger team earlier.
“I’m looking forward to playing the next four years with him.”
He agrees that “it would have been better” had Robin Van Persie and Alex Song stayed.
“But we have Cazorla and Giroud now,” he says. “Great players have left but we have to look forward.”
Did he look forward to that first day at training? Was Arsene Wenger waiting to welcome him to London Colney?
“He doesn’t wait with flowers for me, ‘Podolski, you are here!’ No, no.” Enough said.