So, I am continuing to post the translation of Lahm’s book. We are still on the first chapter.
I now have a locker. Timo Hildebrand, who has already played in the National Team, sits on my left. Silvio Meißner is on my right. I should choose my number; I take the number 21.
In the locker room, communication is still a bit stiff. Someone asks me if the move went well. “Yes”, I say. I cannot remember much more.
But on the training ground, my anxiety goes away. I know that I can play football, and I want to know if I can keep up with the experienced players.
The training is grueling. The first team plays against the second. I play in the second team. It takes a bit of time for me to orient myself, but then I hear the coach calling, “Philipp!”
Felix Magath, who is already a respected person in the profession, makes me step forward and takes me apart in front of the whole team. “Move around more,” orders he in the best command tone, “take part in the game more.”
With my head down, I run back on to the pitch. A dull feeling in my head. Has a steamroller run me over? After the training, the colleagues tell me, “Don’t take it too seriously. The coach wants to help you, and he does it that way.” Okay, I’m thinking, okay. He trashes me because he treats me like every other player. He doesn’t see me as a young talent but as a true member of the team. He only wants me to put myself together. Okay. Okay.
I pull myself together and give my all during training. The coach says nothing more, so it must be that the performance I deliver is in order. The colleagues soon begin to crack jokes with me. The “jokes” are part of the lexicon of professional football players. When you roll the ball through a teammate’s legs, doing a nutmeg, there is a sort of acknowledgment through the clenched teeth, “Super tunnel!” After a couple of days on the pitch, the anxiety, that of a stranger, is gone. We now talk freely about life, mostly about football. One after another, they come up to me and want to know what it’s like at Bayern.
The 2003/2004 season begins on August 3rd, we play an away match against Hansa Rostock. I’m on the team but not in the starting lineup. At my position, that of a right-back, plays Andreas Hinkel. He plays like a boss, something that I watch from the bench with mixed feelings. Obviously I want the team to win. But I also want to contribute to the victory.
So, a pair of shin guards leads me to my debut with VfB Stuttgart in the Bundesliga. In the beginning of the second half, the coach tells a group of players, me included, to start warming up, and, towards the middle of the second half, the goal of Imre Szabics put us in the lead 1:0. Now the coach wants to secure the lead. He calls Silvio Meißner off the pitch, but the player who should be his substitute doesn’t yet have his shin guards rightly in the socks and is trotting slowly towards the coach from the bench.
Hence, Magath says, “No, not you,” and points to me instead.
I’m ready. Before the game, Silvio has already told me that a substitution might be needed really fast and that I better have my shin guards in the socks whenever I sit on the bench. Thank you for the tip, Silvio.
The announcer makes the substitution known, “The number 7, Silvio Meißner, leaves the pitch. For him, comes on the number 21, Philipp Lahm.”
That sounds good. I play left midfield, not necessarily my position, but immediately there is some good action on my side, I steal the ball from the opponent, play it forward, a fast attack, and Imre Szabics scores his second goal; now we no longer let the opponent attack, and then the match is already over. Everyone is happy, only the colleague with the shin guards mumbles about his missed opportunity of making an appearance.
In the following games, I again play as a substitute for Andreas Hinkel for a short period of time, mostly right midfield. During a game in the German League Cup (Ligapokal), Timo Wenzel, who played at left-back, gets injured, and the coach asks, “Philipp, can you also play at left-back?”
I don’t hesitate for a second and say, “No problem.”
This is risky because I have never played at this position in all the years of being a football player. But should I have said that I wasn’t going to do it? Should I have voluntarily given up the chance of making an appearance? Hence, I play at left-back for 45 minutes, not brilliantly but quite decent.
Two match days later, I am in the starting lineup as left-back in the match against Borussia Dortmund. What I still don’t know is that, from this moment on, I will play at this position for the next five years.
(translation ©unavis. It is strictly forbidden to use this translation, in parts or in its entirety, without my consent.)
Lahm, Philipp. Der feine Unterschied: Wie man heute Spitzenfußballer wird. Munich: Kunstmann, 2011.