Just in case you have missed the first two parts of this chapter, you can find them here:
The VfB has a strong team. Felix Magath knows how he must put a team together. A compact defense: Aljaksandr Hleb as a fantastic individualist and many young players who will run their soul out for the team: like me.
At the same time with the Bundesliga, the Champions League begins. We play in the strong group with “Manchester United”, “Glasgow Rangers” and “Panathinaikos F.C. (Athens)”. I didn’t play the first match in Glasgow when we lost, but I had already played the first two games in the starting lineup by the time the home game against “Manchester United”came around.
But the Bundesliga and the Champions League are two differents things. “Machester United” comes with all the stars: Schols and Giggs in midfield, Rio Ferdinand in defense, Cristiano Rolando and Ruud van Nistelrooy as forwards. I’m not sure if the coach has the courage to let me run against the best forwards in Europe.
However, the training is going well. I’ve had a decent game against TSV 1860 in Munich and even made an assist. The feedback that I get is encouraging: a couple of jokes in the locker room, indirectly conveying the recognition, mean more to me than a good note (grade) in the media. I have quickly understood that reading sport columns costs more energy than you get in return; hence, I do not care about it. The most important thing you pick up (understand) anyway.
The colleagues know now what I’ve got [in me]. The coach has seen that I can keep up at the Bundesliga level as well. I think that my goal to become a player in the starting lineup in the Bundesliga is within my reach.
It’s the day before the match against “Manchester United”, and Felix Magath hasn’t personally told me yet whether I’ll make the team. But he lets me in on the fact that I should prepare for a press conference. Super. Only those who play the next day go to a press conference.
The journalists want to know whether I’m scared of the killer combination of Ronaldo and van Nistelrooy. I’m too nervous to respond with anything else than a cliché. “Respect – yes,” I say, “being scared – no.”
On the day of the match, Stuttgart seems to be vibrating. The air is electric. Our match against “Manchester United” is the main topic of a conversation in the city, the Gottlieb-Daimler arena is practically sold out, so that the Swabian treasurer bursts into tears, considering the number of tickets that he could have additionally sold. It has been many years since a top-level match with a thrilling class of players took place in Stuttgart, and our opponent is the main favorite for the title. United. In a moment, I will see the legendary Alex Ferguson sitting on the bench and chewing gum. Before now, I have only seen him and his team on TV.
We are warming up, and the nervousness that is shaking me to the bone transforms into a warm, exhilarating determination. I’m 19, I have played a couple of games in the Bundesliga, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by the task that awaits me. I think of my answer at the press conference and smile to myself [chuckle]. My phrase about the respect turns out to be the pure truth. I have respect; however, this respect doesn’t make me weaker but injects exhilaration into my veins; I’m awake, I’m focused, I’m looking forward to what is coming up now. In my head, I see images, the images of the won tackles, of the situations during matches, the way that I have already experienced them, but also the images of problematic moments and how I have resolved them. One image becomes more vivid: a forward who is coming in my direction at a pace; and I know instinctively how I take the ball away from him. I recall the [following] image: two attacking players are in front of me, and the immediate idea of what to do reassures me again.
As we’re running on to the pitch, the hymn of the Champions League blasts through the loud speakers. 50,000 spectators turn emotions into noise and rhythm. The joy because this celebration takes place today. The uncertainty that awaits us. The expectations of the players whose names are synonymous with magnificent football, with dynamics, technique, and entertainment.
One says that a player on the pitch doesn’t notice at all what happens around him. As to me, that’s not true. I notice everything. I see how bright the light is, streaming from the stadium flood lights onto the field. I hear the shouts and whistles of individual people. My mind is so clear that I notice much more than if I sit merely as a spectator in the stadium. Every chant, every shout, every whistle belongs to me.
Ready to go.
(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.
It is interesting that 9 years later his answer about respect and being scared is still the same :) You go, Philipp!