The Subtle Difference: Chapter II – Part III

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.

That’s how most of it looks like :)

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.

Chapter II – Part IV

————————————–        ——————————–                ———————————-

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.



  1. The bright side of life · · Reply

    Phewwww so many things I have to tell you here. First of all, thanks for retaking the translation, because it was a long long time ago since I read the last chapter.

    Secondly, OH MY GOD. Your book is underlined with a… shit, I don’t know the name. That shiny thingy you use for class notes. Nevermind. It hurt my heart to see it but I accept it, and after all you did it for us, as we could better understand what you tell us.

    And finally, the important things. Okay. Yes, I do agree with you that Lahm maybe has the captaincy because of his analytical mind. I study Pharmacy, so science and maths is everywhere, I have to deal with them everyday. And yes, people who like/study something related to math have an analytical mind, they even tend on their daily problems to analyze everything and try to find logical solutions to everything. As a football captain I consider this character very important, because when things come out good or bad in both cases you have to get conclusions and analyze both fail and wisdom to know what you can do and what you can’t do next time. Apart from that, other quality Philipp has is that he’s calm, he has personality but he’s a calm leader that doesn’t let his feelings (like other captains) to take control of his mind during a match. Philipp is a very intelligent person after all and these kind of things are why I have so much respect for him.

    Next, the things he says on that guys ‘who play really well but can’t have the tons of discipline this sport needs’. I do understand them. Me on my daily life also sins sometimes and doesn’t do homework nor class notes to study, prefering to watch movies or being on Tumblr. I guess they hadn’t the ambition Philipp had, sadly. They didn’t have a voice inside their head that clammed ‘don’t go out with Sabrina, you have to go to training’. But now all the sacrifices Lahm had to do in his teenage years are being, in my opinion, totally paid off. Definitely as you say, if you do something since you’re a child, it becomes a habit.

    Well, I guess that’s everything, I hope you won’t get bored. As always thank you so much for translating this. I finally could sign up to my German classes, which are starting next October and I hope I’ll be able to read little texts in German soon.


    1. Well, what can I say? :D That’s how I read books at times: I highlight the important stuff :) With regard to this book, for me it’s like a study of Lahm because the book is so personal. Hence, I felt like marking the very important things that I might have to come back to later.

      And I agree with you on the question of ambition: that’s why I say that I cannot even imagine how much he or anyone else, for that matter, has to love the sport in order to sacrifice so much and be very determined.

      And good luck in learning German! I’m sure you’ll be great!

  2. […] Сhapter II – Part III Share this:DiggRedditStumbleUponTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Tags: bayern munich, book, philipp lahm, the subtle difference […]

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