Today I am continuing with the translation of Philipp’s book. In case you have already forgotten what came before this one, you can find the previous part here: Chapter II – Part II.
While reading his book, I highlighted many things and have a considerable number of sticky notes in it too. Why? It is simply because I consider those parts important to a certain extent.
Since I do not have the option of highlighting text here, or at least I do not think I have it, I decided to put some of the text in italics so that I can draw attention to it later on. That being said, here we go…
The best young players are at Bayern. The additional challenge is that U12 competes against U13, U13 against U14, U14 against U15. Only U17 competes against opponents of the same age.
As we are turning 14, the club decides to put into the field a new U15. We must start at the bottom against the worst clubs. Everyone is upset not because of the double-digit scores with which we leave the opponents, but because of the red dusty fields on which we have to play this year.
While in the U14, I get nominated to Munich’s team: my first nomination to a selection team. Two years later, I get called up to Bayern’s selection team, and as I turn 16, Uli Stielicke calls me up to the U17 National Team. We play against Finland, I add nothing special to the game, and I won’t hear back from Uli Stielicke for a year.
In Duisburg, I win my first title with Bayern’s U16: the German Championship between the states. On our way back, we let it [the craziness] out. The bus must pull over at McDonald’s, and the team makes a toast to the title with champagne: in plastic cups, of course.
The thought of becoming a professional is a usual thing in every youth team. Every boy who trains five times a week and plays on the weekend has a dream to play in the Bundesliga or the Champions League at some point. Nothing is more attractive than the thought of your club’s jersey on which there is your name under a super number.
Of course, me too, I dream about it. But I also have a back-up plan. Perhaps, I will become a banker like my grandpa or my uncle. The numbers come easy to me. In school, math is one of my favorite subjects. Yet, thinking about decisions pertaining to the future doesn’t bother me.
The end of a season is always the most thrilling. In end of a season, the coach lets us know whom he would like to see on the team next year. That means the end of dreams for quite a few people. Three, four, five players have to leave and search for another club; some stop playing football altogether.
From one year to another, I move on to a different, higher team. Other players, for whom I had a huge respect, won’t be taken along.
In the teams, I’m always one of the youngest. My birthday is in November, and since the youth teams shall be put together according to the year of birth, I often play against those who are one year older than me. For a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old, that’s often a big difference.
Since I’m not that particularly tall, I must set up my game in a way that allows me to balance that through specific fixed ideas: to be at the right spot before the ball is played in that direction; to anticipate what an opponent wants to do next and cut him off.
At first, the coach tells me to play at the position 8, then right midfielder, and ultimately at right-back.
The training is the engine of my daily life. Driving, at first, three, then four, then five times a week across the city, training, then driving back. My friends from Gern go swimming in the afternoon, I go to training. We are getting to know girls. The friends go dancing at a club, I go to bed: we are playing the next day.
These are the years when many guys, who play football well, decide to end with it. That means they don’t end with it right away. But they miss, at first, one training session, then [do it] more often; [they] call the coach and say that they have a cold in order to go out with girls, and at some point they are so far away from the soul of the game that they don’t find their way back anymore.
I can understand this uncertainty. Me too, I would love to go swimming, but I also want to hold on to [playing] football. When I am thinking secretly about whether to skip training, I must only ask my ambition. Hold on [keep on doing it], says the ambition, at least this year, at least till the time when you find out that you are moving on from U14 to U15.
Football takes care of the rest. As soon as I’m on the pitch, as soon as the coach divides us into two teams and starts a game, 7 against 7, or 11 against 11, the fun is there again: the fun in playing, in doing tricks, in feeling how marvelous it is to play a good pass and [see] the striker outplay the goalkeeper of an opposite team. Football is such a delight.
I believe it’s not enough to have ambitions in order to become a professional football player. Discipline alone isn’t enough either. You need to enjoy playing this game and have this fulfilling feeling as soon as you are on the pitch, not thinking any longer about friends who are going swimming; the ball, you, the net, your world.
(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.
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The things Lahm emphasizes in this part are familiar, in my opinion, to many who have become successful in one way or another. But I would be lying if I said that I always considered sports a difficult profession. I think I was aware of it, but it is only when I started reading his book that I understood how big of a sacrifice he has made to get where he is right now, not to mention the fact that many others have sacrificed just as much but were not talented enough. However, I still cannot wrap my head around the amount of love that he has for this sport. I do not think I have ever loved doing anything to the same extent. It is almost fanatical, in a good way of course.
I also would like to mention a few important points that I put in italics. First, I am not at all surprised that he liked math, or I am not surprised that he is the way he is because he liked math. It is a chicken-and-egg question, no doubt. No matter how you look at it, that is why it has always been said that he has a tendency to analyze, or more specifically the ability to do so. Journalists may not be happy with how much of the analysis he shares with the rest of us, but they, themselves, have pointed out to that quality of his on more than one occasion. You are free to disagree with me, but I am convinced that people who like math, for whom it is not a problem whatsoever, have a very analytical mind, have an aptitude for finding solutions, for deconstructing matters and putting everything back together. I might be wrong, I do not know Lahm in person, but I would say that this is definitely one of the reasons why he has the captaincy.
That very same quality helped him, in my opinion, to figure out how to set up his game, as he calls it. This is another bit that I wanted to highlight. That mindset was the beginning of Lahm as we know him today. I am sure many of you have noticed how at times he just seems to know exactly what will happen next, and I mean he knows it to a ‘t’: the direction the ball will go, whether or not there will be a pass, and so on. It is almost as if he reads his opponent as an open book. There was one match – I forgot who they played – but at some point Lahm anticipated the opponent’s move with such precision that I was watching it with my mouth open. Hence, I admire the fact that even in his young age, he was able to figure things out and come up with a solution. That screams ‘intelligence’ to me.
Finally, what I think helped him later on in life is that he played against older boys. In other words, he always had to put in that extra effort, to push himself forward. And something tells me that if you do it from a very young age, it becomes a habit.