Tranquillo Barnetta is one of the faces that count on the Swiss national football team as well as at his German club Bayer Leverkusen.This content was published on March 20, 2008 - 16:57
Aged 23, Barnetta has already spent four years playing in Germany's Bundesliga, facing some of the continent's biggest clubs every week. The midfielder is recognised as a player who sets the pace of the game, and who can turn on its head if necessary.
Europe's best clubs have got their eyes on him, and are prepared to throw wads of money at the player and his team to get his signature on the dotted line. Multinationals have also realised the advertising impact he could have and have been waving sponsorship contracts in his face worth millions of Swiss francs.
A major software company has even made him one of the stars of the latest release of its popular football game.
"I do receive a lot of proposals from people who want to work with me," admits Barnetta.
That doesn't mean that money is the only thing he is interested in though. The Max Havelaar Foundation, a non-profit fair-trade organisation, has also benefited from Barnetta's support.
"He's a rising star, he's successful, credible and a really nice person," sums up Regula Weber, the foundation's spokeswoman. "The fact that he doesn't want to be paid for his support commands even more respect."
Barnetta says he is happy to help the foundation. "My mother has always bought their products, that's why I agreed straight away when they contacted me. I felt that is important, for example, to know how and where bananas are produced."
St Gallen at heart
Since signing with Leverkusen, the player has lived in the centre of Cologne. At home, he does his own cleaning, washing and ironing - something he brought up to do by his parents.
But he is not entirely comfortable living in Germany despite the opportunities to play some the world's best footballers. "Whenever I can, I head back to St Gallen," he says.
"Even if I stay for five years in Cologne, I won't change. I am very close to the people I grew up with and went to school with. I only feel at home in St Gallen, in Switzerland," he adds.
So far, Barnetta hasn't really taken the time to get to know Germany or Cologne, even if he admits the city has plenty to keep someone entertained. His preferred outings are around the cathedral and along the Rhine.
He only really appreciates the city when his girlfriend, his friends, his parents or his brother come to visit. "I need this presence to help me keep a balance and maintain my sporting performance," he adds.
His older brother Alexandro is also a football player, even if it is only in the Swiss fourth division. They spend a lot of time talking about the games, and Barnetta is happy to point out that his sibling doesn't show any jealousy.
So what does the future hold for Barnetta? There is talk of a transfer to the Italian championship, although there are no guarantees that the Swiss player would adapt as fast as some might think.
Despite his family being of Italian origin, Barnetta hardly speaks the language. His great-grandfather moved to eastern Switzerland decades ago, never imagining that one of his descendents would perhaps return home to play football.
swissinfo, Peter Siegenthaler
A footballer's life
Tranquillo Barnetta signed his first contract with St Gallen aged 17.
He came to foreign recruiter's notice at the European under-17 and under-21 championships as well as in the Swiss championship. He also took part in Euro 2004 in Portugal and the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
In 2004, he signed a contract with Bayer Leverkusen, which loaned him out initially to Hannover. Since 2005, he has been a regular team member.
At the end of 2007, Barnetta had played 30 games with the Swiss national squad. His first match was against Ireland in September 2004.
A tale of two cities
St Gallen is the biggest city in eastern Switzerland with 70,000 inhabitants.
It was founded in 612, when Irish monk Gallus created a hermitage on the Steinach River.
The Reformation in the 16th century helped boost the city's economy, notably the textile industry.
Cologne is Germany's fourth biggest city with nearly one million inhabitants.
It has always been a trade crossroads, thanks in particular to its position along the Rhine. Today, it is a major railway hub, handling the most rail traffic in Germany.
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