Johan Vonlanthen

What’s your earliest World Cup memory? USA 1994, when I was eight years old. I was in Colombia and they played against Switzerland. Everybody thought that Colombia would win, but I also knew that my mother had moved to Switzerland so I had divided loyalties. My mother married a Swiss guy and moved there in 1990 and that’s why I relocated to Switzerland when I was 13 – to be with her.

Moving countries was very difficult for me at first, everything from the language to the weather and the mentality. I left all of my friends behind in Santa Marta, which was very laid back. There was no organisation like in Switzerland.

I never thought that I would become a Swiss international, but after three or four years in the country they asked me to represent Switzerland in a youth tournament. They also explained that if I did play, that I could never play for Colombia.

I don’t think anyone in Colombian football knew that I existed, especially with a second name like Vonlanthen. But my career went well. I started at Young Boys of Berne before moving to PSV Eindhoven when I was 17.

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Can you cook Colombian food? We have a dish made of green bananas which I love. I can make it, but my grandparents do it much better. Whenever I have free time, I return to Colombia.

How did it feel to miss out on the 2006 World Cup finals because of injury? Very difficult because I got injured in the first training session in Germany. So I went to the World Cup finals and then picked up a hamstring injury straightaway which would have taken four or five weeks to heal. Things like that happen in football, sadly.

You are in a difficult group... Spain are absolutely the favourites. When I watch them play they make football look so easy, the way they control the ball and communicate. They play beautiful football, much like Barcelona, and physically they are perfect.

With Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, Torres and Villa up front, there is not a better side. They also have players like Cesc Fabregas in reserve.

We play against Chile, whom we’ve met before in a friendly. They had a new coach at the time and were trying players out, but they qualified really strongly and I rate them. It should encourage all small countries that they can finish ahead of nations like Argentina when qualifying. 

Switzerland are expected to get through the group stage. To do that, we have to beat Chile and Honduras – both of whom will be difficult opponents.

The Swiss coach Otmar Hitzfeld has been very successful… He’s a winner, and he changed our mentality and made us winners. He won the Champions League with Bayern Munich, so he knows how to succeed at the highest level. We have absolute faith in him.

What about England? I love English football and I’d like to play in England. I like the England national team, especially with Capello. Other players have probably said it, but Wayne Rooney is among the best players in the world now. In a strange way, Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Manchester United was good for Rooney, because more was asked of him and he delivered.

Is it true that you speak seven languages? Yes, but not all perfectly. Some I can write too. I can speak English, Spanish, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian and French. My life has meant that I have had to learn these languages.

What is the best language to swear in? English or French.

Do you ever use your language skills to understand opponents? Yes. I might hear some players talking in Spanish. They may think that no Swiss players understand them, but they forget about me and I can repeat what they are saying to my team-mates. It can be a great help.

Which Swiss players should we watch out for? The young striker Eren Derdiyok who plays for Bayer Leverkusen. And Valentin Stocker, an even younger midfielder at Basle.

Also, the winger Valon Behrami at West Ham. Like me, he wasn’t born in Switzerland. There’s a few of us like that: Johan Djourou, who is at Arsenal, and Philippe Senderos, has a Spanish father and Serbian mother.

Interview: June 2010.

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