After two and a half years of playing tennis and taking his children to school, former Switzerland midfielder Johann Vogel is preparing to come out of retirement with Grasshopper-Club.
Vogel's career, which featured 94 appearances for his country, hit its peak when he moved from PSV Eindhoven to AC Milan in the summer of 2005. However, after just one season at San Siro, he was on the move again, first joining Real Betis Balompié and then Blackburn Rovers FC. With things not going well at those two clubs, he decided to retire, at 32, at the end of the 2008/09 season, saying: "I don't have the desire to embark on anything new."
For two years, Vogel was happy to sit back; he played a bit of tennis, ate and drank a little more than he did as a player, and took pleasure from taking his daughters to and from school. "I did not do that much," he admitted. However, in the autumn he was lured back to the club where he made his professional debut at 15, Grasshoppers, and while he led the Under-15 side and had a nominal role as a "players' coach", he began to train with the first team too.
Speculation mounted that GC coach Ciriaco Sforza, Vogel's one-time international team-mate, was building him up for a return to professional football. While Sforza was at pains to deny this, it was confirmed in January that Vogel would indeed be registered as a player for the spring. "I would not have come back for any other club than Grasshoppers," said Vogel, who turns 35 in March, adding of his decision to retire: "
I was burnt out, totally empty and spent, and just wanted to have some peace."
Sforza is thrilled to have rekindled Vogel's fire, and is eager for the veteran to set an example for the young GC side, who went into the winter break seventh in the ten-team Swiss table. "Johann has to be a leader and leave his mark on a game like he used to," said Sforza. "He has to lead the young players.
With his immense experience and his undeniable class he could be worth his weight in gold for the tactical and mental development of this team. He has to be in peak condition, though."
Exactly how fit Vogel is has been the source of some conjecture. Having not played a professional game since featuring in Blackburn's 1-0 FA Cup win at Blyth Spartans FC on 5 January 2009, Vogel is a little rusty, though he came through 90 minutes of a friendly game against FC St Pauli last week with the words: "I am not as fat as I was in the autumn." GC are hoping, however, that his footballing brain will buy him a few extra metres and compensate for any lack of physical sharpness.
Vogel has tagged his comeback "a rebirth", an opportunity to bring the curtain down on his career properly, having felt despondent since his sudden and final omission from the national team in March 2007. It remains to be seen whether Sforza will field him against FC Thun in GC's first game of 2012 this weekend, and the club plan further talks on Vogel's future in the summer. "I will not be the only one to decide things then," said Vogel. However, if he can live up to past Grasshoppers performances, club officials will not need to think twice when the time comes.
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