Former Poland international striker Ebi Smolarek is certainly not averse to pastures new, as nine clubs in the past 12 years can attest. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 32-year-old spoke of his remarkable journey and how he got his first taste of international football at the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup - something he described as "a great tournament with top-class teams and wonderful organisation".
Back in 2000, the forward came to Zurich as part of Feyenoord's youth team to take part in this world-famous tournament. The Dutch stars managed to finish only seventh of 12 competing sides, but it was certainly a great experience for Smolarek, who was just 19 at the time.
"For me it was important to play in lots of tournaments and not just in my own country, to see how well I compared with strong opposition," he explained. "It's exciting to get to know other teams and other cultures. Each country has its own mentality and that makes things interesting for young players."
Making a new home in the NetherlandsGetting to know other mentalities and cultures is something that Smolarek began at an early age. He was born in 1981 in Lodz but left Poland at the age of five with his father to live in Germany. Just 24 months later, they again upped sticks and moved, this time to the Netherlands, where they ended up settling.
"It wasn't easy to begin with," he said, "but the Netherlands has now become my second home." The red and whites from Rotterdam also took him under their wing and taught him everything he knows about the beautiful game. "I was fortunate that my first pro club was Feyenoord. It's something I'll never forget," he said.
Six countries in seven yearsWanderlust seemed to be part of his nature, however, and he left Rotterdam in 2005, journeying through six more countries in the next seven years, plying his trade for clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Racing Santander and Bolton Wanderers. "The great challenge with football is getting to see as much as you can. You only spend a short period of your life playing the game, so I'm delighted to have got to see so many countries in that time," he added.
Lots of foreign players are now coming to play in Poland. It used to be the other way round with our players heading abroad, so I'm pleased that things have changed.
The experience acquired in Germany, Spain, England, Greece, Poland and Qatar has not only made him the player that he is today, it has also brought him a UEFA Cup winners' medal, appearances at the FIFA World Cup™ and the UEFA European Championshp with Poland, and three Player of the Year awards in his homeland.
"I understand it when 14 or 15-year-old players want to go abroad to have more success," said Smolarek, who nevertheless warns against being too keen to get away from home. "Not many people make a go of it though. If you don't manage it and then end up coming back home, it can be tough."
Back in Poland with plenty more left to offerAfter a brief spell back in his homeland in 2010-11, Smolarek is now once again in Poland as his career winds down. However, anyone thinking that his travelling days are over is mistaken. "I may have returned to Poland but that doesn't mean that I'll be staying. Anything could happen," said the man who has 47 caps and 20 international goals to his name. Smolarek intends to keep his options open, even though football in Poland has certainly come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
"Lots of foreign players are now coming to play in Poland. It used to be the other way round with our players heading abroad, so I'm pleased that things have changed," he said.
Smolarek will continue to be involved in football after he hangs up his boots, but it remains to be seen in what capacity, as he explained to FIFA.com. Will he be a coach, a manager or involved in youth development in some way? "I don't know yet. I've gained plenty of experience over the years and developed my own ideas about football." Ideas and experiences that many would be envious of and which will no doubt be put to good use to help youngsters in the future.