I’m playing at left-back, my direct opponent is Cristiano Ronaldo. Cristiano is even younger than me, a wunderkind from Portugal. What he can do with the ball is astonishing; in addition, his shot is strong, precise. He repeatedly switches places with van Nistelrooy, who was the top scorer in the Premier League in the previous season.
The first contact with the ball; the ball does what it should. It’s as if the exceptional atmosphere in the stadium consolidated the game and accelerated it. The opponent is faster, stands [together] better, and is more vigilant that all the teams against whom I have played up until now, which comes as no surprise to a player who was still in the Regional League a couple of months ago. But we’re keeping up. We’re inspired by an intoxicating passion. Every successful action resonates with the public. As soon as we get closer to the English goal, the electricity increases. When we put ourselves in the way of their attacking players, anticipating their ideas and prevent [them from accomplishing it], the certitude runs through each and every one of us.
The match is not particularly good but terribly intense. Neither with Ronaldo, nor with van Nistelrooy do I have any trouble; I even find time to participate in the attack. After twenty minutes, I snatch the ball in the air at the halfway line, let off an opponent, and suddenly have space, run alone in the direction of the goal, outplay another defender, but he stops me three, four meters outside of the penalty area with a slide tackle. The free kick doesn’t bring anything, but my heart is pounding like mad. It’s possible – I think to myself – we can win this, even against them.
0:0 at halftime. The coach is angry with us. “The wobbling,” he says. “Something is going on today.”
And it is going on. After a corner kick right after the break, Scholes must make a save on the line. Three minutes later, I catch the ball in the air at the halfway line; the ball jumps further to the English half, Imre Szabics starts running at full speed, passes Ferdinand, takes the ball and calmly scores a goal 1:0.
A scream, and then this incomparable relief when the ball lands in the net. Imre runs to the left corner flag to celebrate, and I run after and, by all means, must jump over the pile of players in white jerseys, rolling on the grass.
It might – once again a cliché – give you real goose bumps. Of course, neither of us has goose bumps, but the moment, when such a goal happens, has all the momentum despite something solemn, pathetic. It’s the moment in which you are aware of why you play football. Why you, already as a teenager, spend six times a week on the pitch while your friends go to a swimming pool. These are the moments when you nerve system releases endorphins and happiness hormones. We’re high. We have [are allowed] ten, twenty seconds for this collective happiness, the seconds that are spent with congratulations, hugs, squeezing shoulders; then we are trotting back to our half of the field, charged with even more energy, more excitement, ready to devour the opponent.
Two minutes later, we quickly play the ball forward from the defense, Soldo passes it to Szabics, who immediately plays it further to Kurányi, Kevin lifts the ball over the goalkeeper of “Manchester”, and from the inside of the crossbar the ball goes in.
It’s 2:0. Feels like Christmas!
Now, just not to relax.
“Manchester” cannot increase the pace. The game mainly takes place in the no man’s land of the midfield. It’s not until after the moment when Cristiano Rolando falls after a corner kick, and the referee decides to give a penalty, that it becomes close. Van Nistelrooy shoots the penalty with the complete self-confidence of a forward, who scores on a regular basis, under the crossbar. He takes the ball out of the net and brings it back to the center of the pitch in order to show his teammates ‘Hey, give some gas, we’re back in the game.’
But that was about it. We defend so determinedly, like the Swiss bank secrecy. A couple of minutes later, the coach takes me out of the game. I’m exhausted, and he noticed that. Two games in the Bundesliga and today’s game have physically pushed me to the limit.
Magath gives me a pat, says, “Super, Philipp,” and I would have certainly been happy and proud if we had already won the game, but there are still almost twenty minutes left.
(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.