Per Mertesacker (German pronunciation: [ˈpeːɐ̯ ˈmɛʁtəsʔakɐ]; born 29 September 1984) is a German professional footballer who plays as a centre back for Premier League club Arsenal. He also played for the Germany national team but retired in August 2014 after winning the World Cup. Mertesacker is a youth product of Hannover 96 and he made his senior league debut in November 2003. He was soon dubbed "the Defence Pole" ("die Abwehrlatte") by German tabloids and gained a reputation for his good disciplinary record, going 31 Bundesliga games without being booked. Since joining Arsenal, their fans have nicknamed him "the BFG", which is short for "Big Fucking German" and an allusion to Roald Dahl's The BFG due to his height. He has been described as an imposing, reliable, dominant and an accomplished defender.
With Werder Bremen, Mertesacker has won a DFB-Pokal title and finished runner-up in the 2008–09 UEFA Cup. With his quiet-but-effective game, he established himself as Germany's first choice centre-back. Prior to playing at senior level, he played at the under-20 and under-21 levels. In September 2004, Jürgen Klinsmann, then-manager of the German senior team, called Mertesacker up to the 9 October 2004 game against Iran.
He made his debut less than two weeks after his 20th birthday when he came on as a second-half substitute for Christian Wörns. Over the course of his final two seasons at Bremen, the defender received just one yellow card in 63 league matches. He has participated in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups and the UEFA Euros in 2008 and 2012. In 2006, the defender established the "Per Mertesacker Stiftung", a charitable foundation that helps support amateur sportsmen and the poor.
Mertesacker, a native of Hanover, started out at local club Hannover 96 where he played under his father Stefan, one of the youth coaches. He concurrently spent his final three years of school at Carl-Friedrich-Gauß-Schule, a gesamtschule located in nearby Hemmingen noted for its sports program. After completing his abitur, he made his league debut in November 2003 against 1. FC Köln. Mertesacker was not seen as an exceptional player at that time and had thought about changing sports.
Mertesacker carried out his Zivildienst ("alternative civilian service", the alternative to the then-required military conscription service) at a centre for handicapped people in Hanover while completing his football apprenticeship. Despite an unfortunate start to his career at Hannover – he broke his nose and conceded an own goal soon after – he established himself as one of the most promising young defenders in the Bundesliga. The slender Mertesacker was soon dubbed "the Defence Pole" (die Abwehrlatte) by German tabloids and gained a reputation for his good disciplinary record. His first 31 Bundesliga matches ended without a single yellow card, earning him the nickname "Mr. Clean". He has only been booked twice during his entire career at Hannover. On 13 May 2006, he played his last game for Hannover 96 and fittingly scored the opening goal in a 2–2 draw against Bayer Leverkusen.
During his time at Hannover 96, he became good friends with the late Robert Enke, and along with Michael Ballack, presented the laurel during the memorial in honour of Enke's death. He later started a temporary account through his foundation (Per Mertesacker Stiftung) to collect donations for Enke's widow.
In August 2006, Mertesacker moved to Werder Bremen in a €5 million transfer deal after a highly impressive performance in the 2006 World Cup, in which Germany finished third. Despite missing the first month-and-a-half through an injury sustained at the World Cup, he quickly made the centre back position his own upon his return to the starting eleven.
In November, he scored his debut Champions League goal in a 1–0 win over Chelsea to end the Premier League winners' unbeaten streak in the season's competition. Upon his first return to the AWD-Arena for the first game of the second half of the season, he refused to celebrate after scoring against his boyhood club. The 2007–08 season was a mixed bag for Mertesacker. He started in nearly all of Bremen's league and European fixtures and received his first red card in his professional career in a 6–3 loss against VfB Stuttgart. Bremen finished runners-up in the league despite winning only two games fewer than champions Bayern Munich, but they managed to seal a place in next season's Champions League. At the end of the season, he signed a two-year extension to his original contract.
After returning from the Euro 2008, Mertesacker again missed the beginning of the new season with a knee injury and through illness. In September, he returned to the starting line-up. He scored the opening goal in the DFB-Pokal semi-final away at northern rivals Hamburger SV to break the deadlock after a goalless first half, but the home side equalised, forcing the match into extra time and Bremen eventually triumphed 4–2 on penalties. He was ever present for the rest of the season until injury forced him off in the UEFA Cup semifinal second leg against Bundesliga rivals Hamburg. It was later revealed that he had torn ligaments in his right ankle and required surgery. He was ruled out for the rest of the season, as well as the UEFA Cup final loss against Shakhtar Donetsk and DFB-Pokal final, which they won. He scored four goals in all competitions, including a crucial equalizer against VfL Wolfsburg.
Mertesacker began the 2009–10 season well with a 5–0 win over FC Union Berlin in the 2009–10 DFB-Pokal, the first game of the season. In October, he scored his first goal of the season in a 2–0 win against 1899 Hoffenheim and a last-minute equaliser in the clash against table-toppers Bayer Leverkusen in February. He played 33 Bundesliga matches in total, scoring five goals in the process.
In the 2010–11 season, Mertesacker made 30 Bundesliga appearances, scoring two goals. He averaged 46.3 passes per game, the third-highest in the Bremen squad, and the second highest pass success rate, with 82%, showing that his game is not simply about winning headers.
Over the course of his final two seasons at Bremen, the giant defender received just one yellow card in 63 league matches. Most people would expect that a central defender of Mertesacker's size would clumsily concede lots of fouls, but in fact, Mertesacker averaged less than one foul per game.
On 31 August 2011, Arsenal confirmed they had signed Mertesacker on a four-year contract, soon after the club's 8–2 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford. He was presented the number 4 shirt previously worn by former team captain Cesc Fàbregas. In his first month at the club, Mertesacker started in every one of his available league and European matches since his summer move, battling on through the month with various defensive partners as injury problems mounted. "I want to do a good job, especially in the defence," he said. "That is my role. If the coach praises me then that is a great thing but I have to go on and keep on working." In November, he enjoyed a positive month at the heart of the Arsenal defence as he developed his partnership with fellow defender Laurent Koscielny. The Germany international helped the Gunners to victories against Sunderland, Stoke City and Chelsea – and was outstanding as Arsenal kept a clean sheet in the away victory in Marseille. He remained an integral part of Arsène Wenger's first team, playing in every one of Arsenal's available Premier League fixtures over the next month. He was virtually ever-present over January, missing only the FA Cup victory over Leeds United through illness.
In February, Mertesacker suffered an ankle injury in the win over Sunderland away at the Stadium of Light and faced a long-term spell on the sidelines. Prior to his injury, he featured in the draw at Bolton Wanderers and the 7–1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Emirates Stadium. "Unfortunately he has had surgery and we have lost him for a while," said Arsène Wenger. "How long, I don’t know. He had reconstruction of his ligaments. So it will be long term." He had not featured for Arsenal for the remainder of the season, missing the club hitting their highest points tally since 2006.
Mertesacker played in Arsenal's first two matches of the season, helping the team keep clean sheets against Sunderland and Stoke. "I think we have a better situation than last year," he said. "The team is full of characters, good players and every position [has competition]." He featured four times in September, forging a fine partnership with Thomas Vermaelen (who replaced Koscielny due to injury) in the process. The German centre back was named man of the match after an excellent performance in a 1–1 draw with Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
In October, Mertesacker continued to perform well, making four appearances and helping the club to victories over Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers. Laurent Koscielny praised the German’s performances, saying, "I am happy for Per because he's a nice guy, very important in the dressing room. He's a joker so he’s good for the team. I'm happy because he’s played well this season and it's good for the team." Mertesacker was an ever-present throughout November. He scored his first goal for the club in the 5–2 win over Tottenham Hotspur and was voted man of the match for his performance in the 0–0 draw with Aston Villa. "It was amazing from the very start," he told Arsenal after the Tottenham game. "It was very good to score because we were one man up and they were dropping off. I kept standing in the box and tried to be lucky. The ball from Theo [Walcott] was very good and it was a good day to score."
Mertesacker made five appearances in December, missing only the trip to Olympiacos in the Champions League and the home win over Newcastle United. On being drawn against Bayern Munich in the Champions League round of 16, he said, "We will face a good team in Germany. They are top of their league and went through to the knockout stage in a phenomenal way. They only conceded seven goals in the first half of the season. [But] they have a little break now and can rest a bit. Maybe it's a good opportunity for us to face them in February because we will be in our rhythm. We will hopefully go through the Christmas period in a strong way. We can do that." Mertesacker captained Arsenal for the first time in the FA Cup win over Brighton & Hove Albion in January, and appeared in every game save for the draw at Southampton on New Year's Day. "We are always looking to win something and we can achieve something with this group," he told Arsenal. "We have a lively group so our thoughts are now on the next match. That's the most important thing for us, not what's going to happen in May. We have a few targets in our team that are possible this year. We won't talk about it, we'll just see what happens in the next few important weeks on the pitch." Mertesacker started four games in February, missing only the FA Cup loss to Blackburn at the Emirates. "It's always special to face a German team," the defender said ahead of the Champions League tie against Bayern. "[Me and Lukas Podolski] are looking forward to it because Bayern are a great team and are so consistent this year. It's a special game for German players to play against a team from their home country."
Mertesacker was a mainstay in March, playing every single minute of Arsenal's four games. The centre back was on target in the defeat at Tottenham and was a key component in the defence that kept clean sheets against both Bayern Munich and Swansea City. "It rained cats and dogs, especially in the second half," he said after the win in south Wales, in Swansea. "It was very slippery but it was a vital win." In April, Mertesacker was shown a red card at West Bromwich Albion for the first game of the month. The defender returned to the team after suspension and was named man of the match against Fulham after scoring the only goal away at Craven Cottage. "I think they've been terrific – not only defending very well but also creating goals for us at the other end like they did last week against Fulham," said goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny on the partnership between Mertesacker and Koscielny. "They're getting the credit they deserve because they work very hard and they're very honest lads. I'm very happy for them and it's much easier to play behind them when they are in that kind of form."
Mertesacker impressed at the back alongside Koscielny in May. The German defender was given the captain's armband in Arsenal's last game of the season when Mikel Arteta went off injured. "I think it is good for us to play against teams who are under pressure," he said after the win against Queens Park Rangers [who were on the brink of relegation]. "It helps us keep our focus on a high level."
Mertesacker was named as the temporary captain of the side after injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta. He scored his first goal of the season against Stoke following a free-kick from compatriot Mesut Özil. After his man of the match performance away to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League helped Arsenal to a 1–0 win, Mertesacker's influence was cited as a significant factor in Arsenal's excellent start to the 2013–14 season, which saw the team leading the Premier League at the end of November. As Mertesacker's great run continued, he was voted as a part of the Premier League Team of the Year, along with teammate Aaron Ramsey. On 13 January 2014, Mertesacker made his 100th official appearance for the Gunners in a 1–2 away win over Aston Villa. On 4 March 2014, Mertesacker signed a new contract with Arsenal.
On 12 April 2014, Mertesacker scored an 82nd-minute equalising goal for Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic. The match finished 1–1 after extra time, with Arsenal winning 4–2 in a penalty shootout. He had earlier conceded the penalty that had put Wigan 1–0 up. On 17 May 2014, Mertesacker started in the 2014 FA Cup Final as Arsenal beat Hull City 3–2 at Wembley Stadium.
On 30 May 2015, Mertesacker captained Arsenal in the 2015 FA Cup Final, scoring the third goal, a header in a 4–0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley.
Mertesacker remained a mainstay in the Arsenal backline, playing alongside Laurent Koscielny. With Arsenal making a charge towards the title, Arsène Wenger singled out Mertesacker for praise, calling him an "important leader in the dressing room and a respected one". On 24 January 2016, in a match against London rivals Chelsea, Mertesacker was sent off after 18 minutes for a late tackle on Diego Costa, who later scored the only goal of the game at Emirates.
After sustaining an injury against Lens in pre-season, Mertesacker underwent knee surgery in his native Germany. Following a clash between Arsenal and Viking, Arsène Wenger confirmed that Mertesacker would be absent until December. He was a second-half substitute on the last day against Everton. On 27 May 2017, Mertesacker made his only start of the season, in the FA Cup final against Chelsea, which Arsenal won 2–1. He made a number of important tackles during the match and his performance was praised by opposition manager Antonio Conte, who stated that Mertesacker was a "perfect example for any young professional football player," adding that "what he did today was just a consequence of an unbelievable attitude every day."
On 7 July 2017, Arsenal confirmed the forthcoming season would be Mertesacker's last before becoming the head of the club's academy the following year.
In September 2004, Jürgen Klinsmann, then-manager of Germany, called Mertesacker up for the 9 October 2004 game against Iran. He made his debut less than two weeks after his 20th birthday when he came on as a second-half substitute for Christian Wörns.
With his quiet but effective game, he established himself as Germany's first choice centre-back, pairing up with Robert Huth, Christoph Metzelder and later Heiko Westermann. At the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup hosted on home soil, he played the full 90 minutes in all five games and scored his first international goal in a group stage match against Australia as Germany finished in third place.
At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Mertesacker paired with Christoph Metzelder in central defence. After Germany won the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against Argentina, Mertesacker suffered minor injuries to his thigh and a kick to the groin when he was attacked after the final whistle by Argentine unused substitute Leandro Cufré; Cufré was later fined and suspended four matches. After Germany's loss to Italy in the semi-finals, Mertesacker had surgery on one of his legs and left testicle (not related to the attack above, but an injury he had been dealing with during previous matches) and missed the third place play-off. Nevertheless, his impressive showing did earn him a transfer to Bundesliga giants Werder Bremen after the tournament.
Mertesacker was first-choice when fit during Euro 2008 qualification and was ever present in the final tournament itself. Due to injury problems at the beginning of the 2009–10 season, he missed several 2010 World Cup qualifiers but later retained his place as first choice. Mertesacker regularly wears the number 17 jersey.
Mertesacker broke his seven-year goal drought for the national team when he scored his second international goal for Germany on 17 October 2012, in a 2014 World Cup qualifier against Sweden. On 13 September 2013, he scored his third goal for Germany against the Faroe Islands. On 19 November 2013, Mertesacker scored the winning goal as Germany beat England 1–0 at Wembley Stadium in a friendly match to mark the 150th anniversary of The Football Association.
On 15 August 2014, Mertesacker announced his retirement from international football at the age of 29 after winning the FIFA World Cup with Germany a month before.
Style of play
At 1.98 m (6 ft 6 in), Mertesacker is commanding in the air but he is also sound in defending on the ground. He often uses his strength to shrug opponents off the ball and his standing tackling ability to win balls. Question marks have been raised about his speed, but he compensates for his lack of pace by his excellent positional play and anticipation. Despite his strength and power, he is regarded as a clean player, as he is rarely booked.
Mertesacker is a good defensive organizer and a neat distributor of the ball. He averaged 46.3 passes per game in 2010–11 season, the third highest in the Werder Bremen squad, and the second-highest pass success rate, at 82%. In the 2012–13 season with Arsenal, he averaged 50.1 passes per game with a 91.5% success rate, fourth-highest in the league. Often, Mertesacker is paired with a more mobile and faster defender who can track-back in a counterattack situation, such as Mats Hummels and Arne Friedrich with Germany or Laurent Koscielny at Arsenal.
Mertesacker married German international handballer Ulrike Stange in June 2013 and they have two children (born April 2011 and May 2014). Mertesacker is a Protestant Christian.
In November 2006, Mertesacker created the "Per Mertesacker Foundation", initially to support the family of his former Hannover and Germany late teammate Robert Enke, which is targeted at those suffering from depression. Since 2007, the foundation has organised yearly charity football matches which have featured Mertesacker's national and club teammates Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski and Tomáš Rosický, as well as comedian Oliver Pocher, Fury in the Slaughterhouse member Rainer Schumann and German ice hockey legend Uwe Krupp. T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the words "Big Fucking German" – the Arsenal fans' chant for him – are among items sold to raise money for the foundation.
- As of match played 6 August 2017
|1.||15 June 2005||Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt, Germany||Australia||2–1||4–3||2005 FIFA Confederations Cup|
|2.||16 October 2012||Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany||Sweden||3–0||4–4||2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier|
|3.||10 September 2013||Tórsvøllur, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands||Faroe Islands||1–0||3–0||2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier|
|4.||19 November 2013||Wembley Stadium, London, England||England||1–0||1–0||Friendly|
- Werder Bremen
- DFB-Pokal: 2008–09
- FA Cup: 2013–14, 2014–15, 2016–17
- FA Community Shield: 2015, 2017
- FIFA World Cup: 2014