Here it is! Happy reading!
In the home game against Belgium (3:0), I’m also in the starting line-up, and I score my first international goal in the away match against Romania but under precarious circumstances: at this point, the Romanians are leading 5:0. My goal is what often described as a “dignity goal” (my note: a consolation goal). But the goal that I score three minutes before the final whistle doesn’t make humiliation any better.
We demonstrate absolutely nothing in this game, and the Romanians demonstrate everything. We have some problems in central defending due to injuries, which have devastating effects. However, the main reason for the debacle is a peculiarity that causes problems for every big football nation in friendlies. Every player has in the back of his mind (a thought) that it’s not about all or nothing in this encounter, and although he is determined to give it his all, there is a bit of reserve remaining in every duel, in every attempt to win the ball, and in the end that has fatal consequences.
Then, if our team isn’t capable or prepared to give one hundred percent, if we’re running on the pitch with 90-95 percent of our potential, we’re no longer good enough to stand against committed teams that, perhaps, have a tad less quality. We are not that good. We haven’t been that good ever before.
Perhaps 90 percent suffice against San Marino where the best play somewhere in the third division, but we can’t pass on the missing 10 percent against professionals, who earn their money in good leagues and are fully motivated to compete for their country. Otherwise, there is a major defeat as the one in Bucharest. It’s already 4:0 before the break, and Oliver Kahn lets himself to be substituted, unnerved.
The Bild magazine calls us “The Sausages from Bucharest”. Well, bravo. The third international match and already the laughingstock of the nation. It’s a strange feeling to meet people’s eyes at home in Stuttgart after a public humiliation. I can’t differentiate if they look at me because they recognize a football player in me or because they see me as a sausage from the Bild. My rise has been adventurously fast, but now I’m learning about the first downsides. The match isn’t over with the sound of the final whistle in Bucharest. The ‘after the game’ goes on and on, and you remain the headliner.
After winning against Malta and Switzerland, we lose at home against Hungary 0:2. Hungary’s coach is an old acquaintance, Lothar Matthaüs, who in this match celebrates his biggest success so far. For us, this game is the last real test before the European Championship in Portugal. I’ve been on the team for just four months, but it looks like I, as a 20-year-old, am about to play my first big tournament. The position of a left-back is a good ticket for it: in the Bundesliga, there is no other major candidate. Perhaps that’s not a certificate of quality for the Bundesliga, but it’s a big luck for me because this leads me to a career in the National Team of which I haven’t dared to dream up until now.
Still, the meetings with the National Team are the loosest days of my life as a professional. (my note: at that point in time). The relaxation at which I had been amazed before my first match against Croatia is the rule. We don’t practice anything specific, except perhaps crosses from the side to the center where someone, without being challenged, then takes the ball and shoots in the direction of the goal. Fun, yes, but completely unsystematic. The goalkeeper constantly complains how the ball is hit next to him, left and right.
We train probably one hour a day, and then everyone goes back to their rooms. I believe that at the time there were many PlayStations switched on. There are no meetings about tactics. There is no video analysis of upcoming opponents. There are no video recordings of our own matches through which one could analyze the way the team plays and improve it. The only thing we discuss is the mistakes that stood out to the head coach. Because then we agree not to make them again in the future.
From today’s point of view, that sounds like a different football epoch, and it most likely is. I don’t know of any National Team from 2004 that prepared differently, better and more professionally than we did. In any case, I will experience how professional the work with the players of the National Team can generally be only after the debacle at the European Championship 2004 in Portugal.
(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.