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EXCLUSIVE BUSINESS INTERVIEW WITH LUKAS PODOLSKI IS ALREADY LIVE!

Roger Hampel


Lukas Podolski Business Roger Hampel
Lukas Podolski Business Roger Hampel

Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal) and Lukas Podolski after the interview | Arena Zabrze 05.03.2024



On March 5, 2024, in the iconic setting of Arena Zabrze, Football Business Journal's founder, Roger Hampel, had the honor of engaging with the legendary German footballer, Lukas Podolski, for an exclusive dialogue. This rare interview not only highlights Podolski's celebrated career but also delves into his entrepreneurial spirit and deep-rooted connection with Górnik Zabrze S.A.


In a candid conversation, Podolski shares insights into his business endeavors, such as Mangal Döner x Lukas Podolski, IceCream United, Glücksgefühle Festival, Baller League, alongside his philanthropic efforts and strategic role at Górnik Zabrze. His decision to join the club, driven by a lifelong dream rather than financial incentives, adds a personal touch to this unique interview. Beyond business and football, Lukas Podolski highlighted the impactful initiatives of his foundation.


Roger Hampel: Lukas, you are now not only a footballer but now primarily a businessman. What was that first moment in your career, in your life, that made you start thinking about business, that you won't play football forever and it's time to do something more?

 

Lukas Podolski: From childhood, I was already getting a taste of business, engaging in small trades in the backyard! I'd buy something here, sell something to my mates there, essentially getting my first lessons in business - however on a very basic level, often just for fun. I distinctly remember, back in the days when I played for 1. FC Koeln, playing in the academy meant you always got 2-3 tickets for each game. So, I used to go to the stadium, sell my tickets, enjoy the game, and then head back home.

 

When you play football on the professional level, and when you are in the German national team, there are always a lot of things related to business, like sponsors, and advertisements, thanks to that you already have business experience.

 

However, the first such serious business for me was the one with kebab, I started this business 6 years ago and that's where everything started. We are continuously expanding it to make it even better.

 

Roger Hampel: How did the idea of starting your own kebab place come about?

 

Lukas Podolski: I've always loved kebabs! Moreover, having played soccer in Turkey and being from Cologne, a city where, much like Berlin, there's a large Turkish and Arab community and kebab places are everywhere, played a big part. It was also in Cologne where I met my current business partner, who was my neighbor. One day, we decided to create something together. My business partner already owned a Turkish restaurant and said, 'you're a well-known brand, you played in Turkey, we should try it.' Therefore, over six years ago, we opened our place, which quickly became a hit!

 

Of course, it's not as simple as just opening a kebab restaurant and that's it. We had to think through the concept, color scheme, logo, location, and so on. Finding suppliers for quality meat, ingredients for salads, sauces, and fresh bread - it's all lots of work! Sometimes people think that it's just Podolski's name on the wall while someone else does everything, but it's my daily job aside from soccer to bring everything together and make it work well. Without passion, hunger, and commitment, it's hard to succeed and maintain a high standard.

 

The employees who slice those kebabs often go unnoticed, but they drive the business, because without them, I wouldn't achieve anything. Teamwork always leads to better achievements, both in business and on the field!

 

Now, as we run about 40 kebab places, there are a lot of people to coordinate. It involves a lot of work, and the employees are really important, so you have to work on it every day, be committed, and keep moving forward.




Roger Hampel: As you mentioned, your restaurants are an absolute hit in Germany. A few days ago in Berlin, when you opened your first kebab shop in the capital, people were lining up from 4 am to have a taste and take a photo with you.

 

Lukas Podolski: Where else to open a kebab shop in Germany if not in Berlin!


Podolski's Mangal Döner by LP10 Kebab Restaurant Opening in Berlin, Germany | 03.03.2024


Roger Hampel: Do you also plan to expand abroad? What are your plans regarding the expansion of this business?

 

Lukas Podolski: I think it's always better to take it slow, step by step, rather than rushing into it. We've received many inquiries about expanding internationally, and if everything goes as planned, I'm confident we'll make it. However, it's crucial to do it gradually. We're now also opening at the Cologne airport, launching more outlets, and continuously growing. Our kebab is also available in German supermarkets as a frozen option.


Roger Hampel (Football Business Journal) and Lukas Podolski during the interview | Arena Zabrze 05.03.2024


Roger Hampel: What is your business model? Are you operating on a franchise basis?

 

Lukas Podolski: Yes, it is franchising now. Initially, we only had our own venues, which are still operational. But after some time, we started to franchise, as others do. When we had about 10-12 of our own venues, we decided it was a good moment to go for franchising. You can't manage everything on your own. Franchising is a good way when you have a lot of kebabs or other venues to expand the business.

 

Roger Hampel: When it comes to the food industry, you own not only kebab brand. There are also your ice cream parlors and the "Ice Cream United" brand. Where did this idea come from?

 

Lukas Podolski: Everything began at the UEFA EURO 2016 in France. A friend of mine ended up joining the team, and he was tasked with preparing desserts at our hotel, thanks to his connection with our chef.

 

So, after our meals, he was distributing ice cream. We sat down, and I thought, "Hey, you're from Cologne, let's do something together since this ice cream is great and everyone here is eating it." After the tournament, we sat down in Cologne, agreed, "okay, let's do this." He also has Italian roots; his family has been in the ice cream business for generations.

 

That's how it began. Sometimes, things just come together. You just need to find a good partner, and both parties have to want to do it. We now have three ice cream parlors, and our ice cream can also be bought in stores.




Roger Hampel: In Barcelona and across Spain, Gerard Pique's Kings League was a real hit! You and Mats Hummels are doing something similar in Germany, the Baller League.

 

Lukas Podolski: Mats Hummels, but also other people, are involved. We met several times in Poland to discuss the idea of a league we wanted to organize in Cologne. I liked the idea because I grew up playing street soccer on small 4x4, 5x5 pitches.

 

The league quickly became popular, everyone in Germany is talking about it. Now, there are only a few matches left until the end of the season, then it's time for the Final Four, where the top four teams will compete for the title in Düsseldorf.

 

The Baller League is more than just fun and show; it's a return to the roots of street soccer, and I think there's a place for it in Germany. We want to give a chance to various players, not just those from big leagues, but also those without clubs or who have retired. The matches are really exciting, and although everything was new at the start, the level of play is now high.


Lukas Podolski Business
Lukas Podolski Business

Roger Hampel: From both a business and marketing perspective, the Baller League is a real hit. Everyone's talking about it!

 

Lukas Podolski: Exactly, and everyone from our team wants it to continue developing. Everyone from the team is somehow involved in the business, working to make it all function well. But, as I mentioned, the most important things are the desire, passion, and a good team of people and business partners, because without them, nothing would have been possible!


Roger Hampel: Staying on the topic of street soccer, how did the idea for the Strassenkicker brand come about? It's not just clothing, but also a street football hall.

 

Lukas Podolski: It all started with the street. I've always wanted to create a place for both children and adults where they can play small street games like 3x3, 4x4, or 5x5. This passion for street football gave birth to the Strassenkicker brand. The brand name literally means "street footballer," which perfectly captures its spirit.

 

I was raised playing on the street, and that's where I learned the most. Playing on a small pitch teaches toughness, offers a lot of action, there are no breaks – something is always happening.

 

Today, many people are afraid of injuries, but back then, we played on concrete, among stones and glass, and no one thought twice about it. It's these kinds of street characters that are missing in football today. So, I created this hall to bring back the spirit of the street. I combined all this under the Strassenkicker brand.





Roger Hampel: Sometimes we can hear that footballers open their own restaurants, like Juventus striker Arkadiusz Milik, who has his own burger restaurant in the neighboring city Katowice. However having your own music festival, the Glücksgefühle Festival, is something totally new. You might be the first footballer with your own music festival. What was the background of this project?

 

Lukas Podolski: When I feel passionate and have an idea I see as an opportunity, I take action. I've been collaborating with my business partner, with whom I organize the Glücksgefühle Festival, for a long time. We've known each other for almost 15 years and together we've executed many events, including public viewings of the World Cup, as well as various events for my foundation.

 

One day, we said that ‘’it’s time to create something big”. The pandemic period, with people confined to their homes and sports halls left empty, provided a unique opportunity. My partner, who is also an event manager, noticed the absence of events and the emptiness of halls and stadiums.

 

We thought it was the perfect moment to create something special that people needed post-pandemic. We found a location, developed a concept, and launched the project. I always say that if you have a partner, a shared idea, and motivation, you can achieve success together. My businesses are proof of that, which I'm very proud of.


Lukas Podolski Business
Lukas Podolski Business



Roger Hampel: Do you choose the artists by yourself?

 

Lukas Podolski: Not all of them. I have direct contact with many, while others are recommended by agents. The rest is managed by my office.

 

We look for sponsors, select locations, and plan the event. Last year's event was fantastic, and this year promises an equally attractive mix of talent.

 

The Glücksgefühle Festival is not just a business, but also a way to bring joy to people. Of course, as in any business, it's important not to lose money. However, our main goal is to provide people with unforgettable experiences. It's three days of music, food, and fun. We're just doing something for the people and bringing them joy!

 

Roger Hampel: Speaking of bringing joy to people and doing something for them, it's worth mentioning that you also have your own foundation, the Lukas Podolski Stiftung. What projects does your foundation undertake?

 

Lukas Podolski: We carry out many projects, although not all of them are visible to the public. I don't aim for every initiative to be written in the media. Our priority is to help where we can, focusing primarily on supporting children. We run orphanages both in Germany and the "Arka" orphanage in Warsaw.

 

We've been involved in the construction of six sports centers in Cologne, which allow children to play football, volleyball, and other sports outdoors. Our activities also include support for the academy, where we recently renovated, refurbishing all the rooms and creating a total of 12 new places. Over the past few years, we've invested millions of euros in various projects dedicated to children.



Our foundation has been operating for over a decade. We try to help in many areas, and people come to us with their needs. 'Arka' is one of our key projects, supporting children in difficult life situations – without parents or from families struggling with financial problems. We provide them with meals, clothing, and educational support.

If there's a way to help, we should help! Of course, we can't support the whole world, but we focus on areas we can realistically improve. My goal is to be 100% involved in these projects to truly make a difference for the better.


Roger Hampel: You're still an active footballer, scoring goals, playing every weekend matches in the Polish Ekstraklasa, then you're very often in Germany like last weekend when you were opening a kebab restaurant in Berlin and you're creating and coordinating so many other projects. Surely, many people might wonder, "How does he manage all this?"

 

Lukas Podolski: You have to plan everything well and have very good time management. Sometimes planning is possible, and sometimes it's not, but passion and the desire to act are key. Everything can be organized if you really want it. Complaining doesn't make anything easier. If you assume from the start that something will be a problem, like having to fly to Berlin to open a new kebab restaurant and then come back to Poland the next day for training, it's going to be tough with that mindset. You have to approach everything with positive energy and a willingness to act.

 

I believe that if you run your own business, it's more than just a job – it's a part of you, and no one has the right to change that. You have to stand by your business, regardless of the circumstances, whether it's training, a business meeting, or opening a kebab restaurant. If you're opening a kebab shop, you want to be there for that moment because it's your project. I opened my kebab shop six years ago from scratch, investing my own money and time.

 

Therefore, I try to be present at my projects as much as I can. If it's possible to be there, I am; if not, schedules can always be adjusted. The same goes for other aspects of life and business – if something can be organized, then we do it.

 

If you're a complainer and don't want to, then don't open it, just do one thing, sit at home, and that's it. Everyone must decide for themselves what to do.

 

Roger Hampel: What were the details of your transfer to the Polish club Górnik Zabrze? People might wonder why, with such an impressive football CV, you're not playing right now in the MLS or Saudi Arabia.



Lukas Podolski: It's the love for Górnik Zabrze. I was born near the stadium, I lived just five minutes away from it. My family still lives there, and I've always dreamed of returning to Górnik, although you can never be certain how the career will unfold. Various obstacles like injuries can arise, but ultimately, I made it happen.

 

The fans also helped a lot and had a significant influence on my decision to return. I always knew that if possible, I wanted to play at Górnik Zabrze towards the end of my career. Moreover, instead of the planned year, I'm now in my third year here.

 

My connection with the club goes beyond my professional career. Playing in top European clubs, I always kept in touch with people from the club and supported Górnik Zabrze whenever I could. I remember the old stadium and the matches I watched there. My support for Górnik didn't just start suddenly two years ago – it's a club I've been connected with since childhood.

 

Choosing Górnik was always clear to me, despite other career opportunities. I wanted to return to this club, and now I enjoy every day spent in training and matches.



"Welcome Home". Lukas Podolski's Presentation at Górnik Zabrze | Arena Zabrze 08.07.2021


Roger Hampel: You've brought important sponsors from Germany to the club, such as Schüttflix (construction services), Polygon Group (building renovations), and GGM Gastro (catering supplies wholesaler). Additionally, you're heavily involved in bringing new players to the team. For example, Daisuke Yokota, after an excellent season in Latvia, was in Austria ready to sign a contract. After your call and assistance in bringing him from Austria to Zabrze, he decided to join Górnik. A year later, the club sold him to KAA Gent for 2 million euros.

 

Can you be called a playing manager or a sporting director?

 

Lukas Podolski: If that's how people see it, they're welcome to think so. I just want to help, and being able to help is a great thing.

 

Regarding Yokota, I'm glad it worked out. The club wasn't sure or didn't have the money for this player, even though the coach was interested. I got a hint that it might be tough, but I knew Yokota's agent from Germany, so I called him. He told me that Yokota was in Austria in a hotel, playing a friendly match with the team, and was supposed to sign a contract with that Austrian after the match. Ultimately, he didn't sign for some reason, maybe they didn't like something.

 

In such a situation, you need to act quickly. I called the agent again, who said we needed to pay 30,000 euros and the player's club would agree. I made the transfer, paid for his flight to come to Katowice Airport, and then to Zabrze, and the club transferred him. And now the club has made a profit!

 

For players like Szymon Włodarczyk, Soichiro Kozuki, or Lawrence Enali, my network of contacts also proved to be crucial. It shows how important it is to have contacts in football and to know people you can ask about a player's character or skills, and in that way, I can help the club!

 

I hope that if Enali continues to play well, maybe next summer he'll get some offers and the club will make money on him. That's my role in Górnik, but whether people see it as a playing president or director doesn't concern me at all. I just want the club to develop and perform as best as possible, regardless of how it's viewed from the outside.

 

Roger Hampel: How does the situation with the new investor looks like?

 

Lukas Podolski: There are three entities involved, and I've already had the chance to meet with two of them, Zarys company and Thomas Hanzla. I know these people; they are Górnik fans and come from Silesia. It seems to me they have a solid plan and want to include me in it. I'm open to proposals and would like to stay here, to do more for the region, but we'll see how everything turns out. I have no contact with the third company; I don't know this firm. We will see how the situation develops in the near future, what comes of it, and then I will have to make a decision: whether to stay here or continue my career elsewhere.

 

Roger Hampel: You have a great relationship with the fans, it's worth noting that you've also traveled with them as a fan to away games, even as a player for Górnik.

 

Lukas Podolski: I've always had a great connection with fans, whether it was my early days in Cologne or with subsequent clubs, including Górnik. For me, there's no football without fans. Players and coaches may change, but fans in 99% of cases will always remain loyal to their club. That's why I value these relationships and believe that the voice of the fan is important. Fans love their club, defend it, and it's worth listening to them.

 

Traveling with fans to games is something normal for me. People often make a big deal out of it, but I simply get on the train, often meeting familiar fans from the region. There's beer, though I don't drink alcohol, so I have a cola, there's pork schnitzel, sandwiches from the family – it creates a nice, family atmosphere. Why shouldn't I be one of them and go on an away trip with the fans?

 

I want to live a normal life, and if I feel like it and have the time, I see no reason not to go with them. I don't understand why people make a big deal out of it. For me, it's normal.



Lukas Podolski with Górnik's fans during an away game.


Roger Hampel: You scored a beautiful goal from over half the field against Pogoń Szczecin last year, which instantly went viral, shared by the world's biggest football portals. The 433 site, with over 70 million followers on Instagram, immediately posted it on their main profile. It seems like a great moment to remind fans worldwide that 'Poldi' is still playing football, scoring beautiful goals, and playing for Górnik.


How did you leverage this moment for marketing activities, when everyone was talking about you for a few days?



Lukas Podolski: I think that goal did a lot of positive things! It not only showcased me as still an active player but also promoted the club. People and the media talking about that goal naturally drew attention to my name and Górnik Zabrze.

 

Moments like spectacular goals are hugely important and can do a lot for a club's image by themselves. It would be great if such a goal happened every weekend!

 

However, what I do off the field also matters. My other ventures, like developing a kebab chain or organizing a festival, show that success can be achieved in many areas. Being a recognizable brand allows me to use this to my advantage, and it's crucial to capitalize on this now because in 10-15 years, a new generation will come, and things might be different. Now is the time to make the most of my opportunities.


Roger Hampel: I saw Górnik Zabrze X Lukas Podolski's clothes in the Górnik store, along with many gadgets related to you. What does your collaboration with the Polish Ekstraklasa look like in terms of marketing, and how do they leverage the presence of the first FIFA World Cup Champion in their league?



Lukas Podolski: The Ekstraklasa also does a lot, providing videos, photos, and so on, but it's not 'The Lukas Podolski Ekstraklasa'.


It's great that they can use it. I always try to look at it from the other perspective – if I had a player joining my league, I'd be happy about it and make the most of his presence.

 

Roger Hampel: Last question, what are your business plans for the future?

 

Lukas Podolski: I always have new plans and projects, like the festival, which shows that there's always something happening – every week or month, something new comes up. This involves a lot of work, including collaborating with sponsors. There's really a lot to do, but I've been working for years and have learned how to properly manage my commitments and develop projects.

 

When something new comes up, like the Baller League recently, I analyze whether the project suit me or not. If it does, I get involved. Otherwise, if I feel that I don't have the time right now or the project doesn't suit me, I just leave it.

 

Sometimes a day, those 24 hours, is not enough for me, but I always try to find a way to handle it all. I'm always open to new plans and projects; ready to sit down, discuss details. If something suits me, I get involved. Otherwise, I just look for other opportunities.


All of the pictures and videos come from Roger Hampel's private gallery and Lukas Podolski's Instagram (@lukaspodolski) . Shared videos come from YouTube channels of Ekstraklasa TV and Górnik TV.




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