Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Marcel Schafer will play his final game with the club on Friday at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.
In fact, it will be the last game in Schafer’s decorated career which began in Germany and will finish in Florida.
“It’s just one more game. I love to be on the pitch. I love to battle with my teammates,” Schafer said.
But this mid-season departure is not injury related, nor performance related.
Schafer recently received a call.
It was his former club, VFL Wolfsburg, of the German top league, the Bundesliga. Schafer was given a job offer too good to pass.
Beginning July 1, Schafer will serve as the club’s sporting director, the equivalent of general manager for sports teams in the United States. He will sign players, handle salaries and determine the direction of the club.
“They didn’t get relegated but they struggled a lot so they want to make a rebuild right now,” Schafer said. “They’ve given me this great opportunity right now and I think there is no doubt to take it.”
The deal for Schafer’s move was put into motion more than two years ago, when it was agreed that he would play in the United States, then return to Wolfsburg in an executive role.
The 2017-18 Bundesliga campaign was not a successful one in Wolfsburg. The club finished with just six wins in 34 league games, avoiding relegation to the German second division by winning a two-game playoff over Kiel, a second-division club attempting to move up to the top league. This was the second straight year that Wolfsburg avoided relegation.
Schafer will now run the rebuild which he feels could take two full seasons.
But his education and training has led him to this point and the time is now, in the eyes of Wolfsburg.
While playing in Tampa Bay for a season and a half, Schafer has taken to all of the local teams, enjoying the Buccaneers, Rays and Lightning.
He noted the atmosphere inside Amalie Arena during the recent Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s the energy he wants to restore with his former club.
Along the way, Schafer has soaked in advice and notes from simple conversations. Chats with people like Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman, himself a former player turned executive.
He also likes the way sports teams train in the United States.
“You cannot compare soccer to to ice hockey, soccer with baseball or football. But you can learn a lot from other sports,” Schafer said. “It was very interesting to see Victor Hedman, one of the best defense players in the NHL, how he works, how he trains and what he does.”
Schafer was also known as a “workhorse” during his career, which began in 2003, featuring more than 250 games for Wolfsburg. The club won the Bundesliga title in 2009.
But while restoring Wolfsburg’s success is a worthy challenge and transition, Schafer admits he will have a tough time leaving the field as a player.
“It’s a little bit sad, a little bit disappointing that it’s over because I’m still fit,” Schafer said. “This was a situation where I had to make a decision and yes, it’s fine.”