With his next appearance, Hannover team captain Steve Cherundolo will have played more games for his club than any player in team history, breaking a record set by Jurgen Bandura four decades ago. His 367th match will also be No. 299 in Germany’s top division, leaving him one shy of becoming the fourth active player to reach 300 in the Bundesliga.
It’s been a long journey for the San Diego native that left the University of Portland in his sophomore season, and one that evolved into a special relationship between the American they call the “Mayor of Hannover” and a team thousands of miles away from home.
With three World Cups and 87 caps under his belt, ussoccer.com spoke with Cherundolo about this historic achievement.
ussoccer.com: You’re about to have a very special moment for your career and to do what you’ve done and where you’ve done it is pretty significant. What are the emotions for you as you get ready to achieve this milestone?
Steve Cherundolo: “ A little bit of everything. There’s some personal pride involved, and there’s also some pride on another level. It’s not just a record for myself, but it’s one for the club as well as all of my teammates that have helped me along the way to achieve this. It’s a sign that the club is in a very good state right now, a very healthy state for the last 10 or 11 years, and I’m just the name tag that goes with it. On the personal side, for me to achieve this is a tribute to good coaches in my youth and coaches who have instilled good ways about being a professional and about playing the game. I’m really grateful to my family. My wife has been there the whole way, and you can’t do this alone. I’d just like to say thank you to everybody that’s helped me and it’s something that the club and the fans can feel proud of.”
ussoccer.com: One of the really cool aspects of it all is how much the fans and the club have embraced you. You’ve been the captain of the club for a few years now, and there’s that really special bond that’s developed between you and Hannover. How did that come about?
SC: “Specifically at Hannover, players of my style are appreciated - players who put in the daily work and aren’t flashy, and who have the values that I think the fans here appreciate, which are hardworking, simple and having a level head on your shoulders. That’s something that over the years the fans have appreciated and they’re due respect. I’m grateful that they were able to see the real me and I’m grateful that I had the platform to show that. It’s been a win-win situation. I spoke to the guy that’s currently sharing the record with me, Jürgen Bandura, and he said he’s very happy that the person breaking it is a very similar player and person, and that to me is the biggest compliment anyone can make.”
ussoccer.com: You wouldn’t imagine a match made in heaven with a guy from San Diego going to a place like Hannover. It’s been almost 14 years now, but were you surprised you were able to bridge that cultural divide?
SC: “Yeah, this record, this goal is certainly not something I set out to do when I first arrived. The path that my career’s taken here has been unimaginable, fantastic and something that I’m very proud of. Certainly looking back at it, it was a long road, a crazy road that no one could have foreseen, which makes it all the more special in my eyes.”
ussoccer.com: It’s pretty rare these days that a player sticks with his club for an entire professional career, and even more so when it’s a foreign-based player. What was it that made you continue to come back?
SC: “In every contract extension I’ve always had three questions that I was able to answer thankfully with yes, and they were very simple questions. Am I still developing as a player? Am I continuing to develop as a person? And is the club making strides as well? I was able to answer all the questions in each and every contract extension with yes and that was the basic formula to my staying here. For the most part it’s a club that I’ve learned to love and a club that has treated me right and has given me a lot back. A lot of guys search for this their whole career and I was fortunate enough to find it on my first try.”
ussoccer.com: Have you met Jürgen Bandura?
SC: “Yeah we met a few weeks ago - very nice guy. My last game was against Bayern Munich and that was the game that I tied him. I invited him to the game. We chatted before the game and it was nice for him to be there. He told me that he’s happy that somebody’s finally broken it. I think at some point you get sick of always being tagged as that person. In this case it’s something positive, but he felt it was time that it was passed on, as all records are meant to be broken.”
ussoccer.com: You’ve spent your whole career in Germany. Is it an ambition of yours to come back home and contribute to the game in the United States?
SC: “Certainly. There’s so many things here that I’ve learned about the game and the development of players that not only do I want to give back, but I feel obligated to give back. Whether it’s at the youth level or at a professional club in MLS or the National Team level with the Federation, that I don’t know. There’s a lot I have to give back, and a lot I want to.”
ussoccer.com: As part of your time in Hannover you’ve seen how the youth schemes are handled. How important is the connection between youth teams and the first teams in terms of player development?
SC: I certainly do see a connection between the youth programs and the professional teams. The pinnacle of it all is playing for your National team. Kids need goals and they need role models. I think a professional league where you play in a youth system and move through the ranks and finally play for the first team is a dream career and a dream development for any youth player. Until we have that structure well in place, I think we’ll be behind the top nations. This is something we need to strive for, and I believe some day we will get there.”