Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer is about as far from the cliché of the modern footballer as you could wish for.
A United Nations ambassador and a children’s author, he is equally comfortable talking about the political intricacies of Australia’s 2022 World Cup bid, the pattern of immigration into his home country, Fifa politics, German nationalism, the plight of Burmese refugees, the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies and, of course, cricket.
Oh, and he’s a goalkeeper, too, and a rather useful one at that. He will seek to further frustrate Manchester City this afternoon at Craven Cottage by adding another fine performance to what has been a remarkable autumn to his career.
He turned 38 last month but, perhaps because of this desire to challenge himself on so many levels, has been in the best form of his career, helping Fulham to their best Premier League finish and the final of the Europa League in consecutive seasons.
It was his consistently excellent form that prompted Arsène Wenger to try to bring him to Arsenal in the summer.
Having rejected Bayern Munich and Juventus earlier in his career because he felt he would not get playing time, this was an unexpected late chance to compete for the title and play Champions League football.
“I pushed pretty hard in the summer,” he said. “I’m not getting any younger. Any footballer would be crazy not to want to try to explore that opportunity.
“I’ve played in Europe in three different seasons, twice with Middlesbrough and once with Fulham and was pretty successful with both those clubs in those competitions.
“That gave me an appetite to play European football. And Champions League football is something I’ve never had before. You have to test yourself against the very best and they play Champions League football.”
That the move did not happen was down to Fulham being unable to find a replacement. They wanted Shay Given, who will take his disgruntled place among the opposition substitutes today but could not get the move done in time.
While he has not given up hope of transferring to Arsenal in January, he has concentrated on his form at Fulham and the club have been impressed enough to offer him a new two-year contract.
“The important thing for me was to get my head clear and get down to some training and playing close to my best again, if not better. I really believe you have to grow continuously as a footballer and not stop just because you are the tender age of 38.
“Edwin van der Sar, who’s 40, is a great example. He’s inspiring. I want to continue like Edwin’s doing. He’s a role model for me. As to January, I genuinely don’t know. What will be will be.”
You have to hope other players treat Schwarzer as a role model.
Coming from the insulated, moneyed environment of football, Schwarzer is refreshingly curious about the world, perhaps best embodied in the way he and his wife Paloma, who grew up in the Philippines, have worked as representatives for the United Nations’ refugees agency.
He has promoted the cause of Burmese refugees on the Thai border and hopes to film a documentary in Sudan this summer.
“I have had the opportunity to travel a lot and you can either turn a blind eye to the world or make the decision to try to absorb as much as you can of it along the way,” he said.
“You want to be an example to your children because I want my children to absorb as much as they possibly can about the world. I’m interested in a lot of things.”
It made him a natural ambassador for Australia’s World Cup bid. What the English World Cup bid would have given for a player with such breadth and eloquence. And enthusiasm.
There is nothing forced about Schwarzer’s efforts to bring the World Cup to his country.
“It has the potential to be the best World Cup ever,” he said. “We have a proven history of hosting big sporting events. The country is safe, there is stability and huge potential for growth. It will set foundations for generations and generations to come.”
The English stereotype of Australian sport centres around cricket and the various disciplines of rugby and Schwarzer, whose parents immigrated to Australia by boat back in 1968, wants to correct some of that misapprehension.
“Football is the most-played sport in the whole of the country and has been for some time,” he said. “And it is increasing in popularity.
If we won the World Cup it would truly become the No 1 sport in the country.
“I think the cricket and the rugby has quite an Anglo-Saxon background. The rest of Australia is very multicultural. The country is built on immigration. Australia not so long ago had the situation where football was divided along ethnic or national lines.
” There were Italian, Greek, Croatian, Serbian, Macedonian teams. The introduction of the A-League in 2004 has changed that, but the World Cup would take it to another level.
“I remember during the World Cup in Germany, I spoke to my cousin and she said it was the first time she could remember that she didn’t feel bad about putting out the national flag.
“Until then it had been associated with being right wing. Getting the World Cup would bring that positive atmosphere of unity to Australia.”
Not that he wants Australia to be particularly welcoming just yet.
With the Ashes on the horizon, Schwarzer is bristling, like any self-respecting Aussie in exile.
“Australia are supposedly in crisis right? OK, I’m a bit worried about that but when it comes to that first Test in Brisbane, Australia’s crisis will be nothing compared to the trouble England will be in.
” I just remember Steve Harmison’s first ball of the last Ashes in Australia. What happened? It was caught at second slip.”
So, Australia to win the Ashes? A relief to discover there is one subject on which he isn’t an expert.