“I couldn’t imagine having a cooler nickname and so I’d like to thank all of the Villa fans for that!”
Welcome to our Q&A session with former Villan Thomas Hitzlsperger…
Renown for his piledrivers from distance, the German made 109 first-team appearances for the club between 2000 until 2005, before going on to sign for VfB Stuttgart.
On a personal note I fondly recall meeting Thomas at the gates of Villa Park beside the players entrance as a teenager where he’d often take the time to have pictures and sign autographs. Thank you for the memories… you’ll forever be welcome back that’s for sure.
Q: As a boy who did you support?
A: I grew up with my entire family supporting 1860 Munich. But at the age of seven I joined Bayern Munich, which means I supported them from that moment on. For eleven years Bayern Munich was my club and I used to go to a lot of their games.
Q: You were born just a few weeks before Villa’s biggest day in the history of the club. When you signed for Villa were you aware of the prestige of such a club?
A: During my eleven years at the Bayern Academy nobody ever mentioned Aston Villa or the 1982 European Cup final but from the moment I arrived in Birmingham I was well aware of what had happened that year!
Q: How big was English football back in your motherland?
A: English football became very popular in the late nineties but you weren’t able to watch many games over in Germany. Manchester United and Liverpool were popular but, believe it or not, there were a few people who liked Aston Villa. They said it was because they liked the claret and blue shirts so much!
Q: Being a left footer is seen as somewhat specialist here in England and so many are asked to try their hand at out-and-out left-sided roles. Did any of your former coaches ever try to play you out on the left or were you always a central midfielder?
A: I had spells at left back – but not very successful ones. Playing on the wing requires pace and that was something that I was lacking. My strengths have always been passing and shooting.
Q: It’s funny you should mention shooting as a key strength as that feeds nicely into my next question. Us Villa fans fondly remember you as ‘Der Hammer’ what with those thunderbolts that you scored. Was shooting from long distance something that you practiced on the training ground or was it more a case of not being able to control those urges to let fire what with the crowd encouraging you to do so whenever you were within forty yards of goal?!
A: I practiced a lot as a kid. Kicking the ball against a wall thousands of times and that helped me to improve my passing and ball control. It was obvious from an early age that I had a lot of power in my legs and so it turned out to be a key component in helping me to have a career in football.
But I had to join the Villa in order to be discovered and nicknamed ‘Der Hammer’ which I am grateful for. I couldn’t imagine having a cooler nickname and so I’d like to thank all of the Villa fans for that!
Q: You worked alongside some top professionals whilst at Villa. Peter Schmeichel, Ian Taylor and Olof Mellberg to name a few. Adding to that you played with a couple of mavericks such as Paul Merson and Juan Pablo Angel. But who for you stood out? Who was the best player you played with at Villa?
A: It was a privilege to play with such great characters. As well as the ones that you mention there was of course Dion Dublin, Lee Hendrie and Gareth Southgate. But for me it was Gareth Barry who was the most consistent performer, hence to me the best player I played with whilst at Villa.
Q: I recently watched a highlights reel of you in action for Villa and in a couple of clips yourself and the late J Lloyd Samuel were celebrating together. What was J Lloyd like in person?
A: He was a wonderful guy and a great team mate. When I signed for the club he helped me settle in and we exchanged a lot of banter. I told him I liked RnB and hip-hop music but in me he just saw this kraut-eating, lederhosen wearing, jodelling German! He just couldn’t get his head around it at first! When I first came into the club I had to break down a few stereotypes – but it was always fun.
When I learned of his passing, I simply couldn’t believe it. It was such a sad moment. He will be missed by so many people because he was such a genuine and nice guy.
Q: Who was your best friend at Villa? Do you keep in contact with any of your former team mates at all?
A: There were plenty of guys who I spent time with but it was important to me that – away from football – I had a social life. Therefore, I made a lot of friends in the neighbourhood that I lived in in Sutton Coldfield.
I keep in touch with Dan Bardell who was one of my neighbours. You may know him as he now does his own Villa blog ‘The Villa View’ and so that way I am still well-informed with what is happening at the club. With his help – I was invited to the play-off final at Wembley by Dr Tony Xia – which I was very grateful for.
Q: Describe what it is like to represent your country on the biggest stage (Euro 2008). Just how proud are you to have over 50 senior caps to your name?
A: Playing for Germany was always special. Although I dreamt about it as a kid, I honestly never believed that I would ever achieve that goal. But it turned out to be an amazing ten years in professional football with many highs and some lows. To be honest, I was just delighted to give something back to my family who’ve supported me all of my life.
Q: Any regrets?
A: I can honestly say that there’s nothing I regret. I look back with a smile on my face and look ahead with great optimism.
Q: And lastly… what do you make of Villa’s recent appointment of Dean Smith as Head Coach along with John Terry as joint second-in-command?
A: I am hopeful that the duo can finally move the club forward. Although Villa aren’t in the best position right now there’s a positive vibe around the club and a trust that Smith, Terry and O’Kelly are the best people possible for the job. I wish them the best of luck!
I’d like to thank Thomas for giving his time to the Heart of the Holte blog and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.
Written by Ryan Pitcher