And so I am continuing with the translation. Enjoy!
We are in Group D with the Netherlands, Latvia and the Czech Republic; that seems like a doable task. We begin the tournament by taking a beating from the Netherlands, take the lead after the free kick by Torsten Frings and concede an equalizer from Ruud van Nistelrooy shortly before the end.
I’ve got a good grip on my position. At the moment, that is all I think of. When you’re 20 years old, you can’t keep an eye on the whole team but rather must, above all, look at yourself.
One can also put it this way: I am not yet in a position of taking the responsibility for the whole team. The individual responsibility is already enough. For me, it is the highest of feelings to demonstrate a decent performance and not make any big mistakes.
In the second match, we play against Latvia 0:0. The team fails because of its own weakness. It’s not strong enough, in terms of its play, to get through the defensive opponent. The last group match against the Czech Republic becomes for us the decisive game: we either advance to the quarterfinals or go back home.
We lose against the Czech Republic 1:2, although we have taken the lead thanks to Michael Ballack. For us, the European Championship is over before it really began.
After the final whistle, Rudi Völler gets up from the bench and comes on the pitch, taps me on the shoulder and says, “Well played, Philipp.” That describes my dilemma perfectly. My performance ranged from decent to good, and I should actually be satisfied with myself. But how should I be happy when we, the big football nation, the German National Team, fail in the first round of the European Championship?
Sure, as a young player, I am not the one with whom this fiasco is going to be personally identified. Nevertheless, I’m part of the team that has been kicked out of the tournament. The team is a complex structure in which all players contribute their share to a victory or defeat. During this tournament, once again the team relied too much on the impulse of an individual, on the coach’s authority and the work of the so-called ‘leading players’, who are now openly criticized as well, but with the team’s failure there also comes a principle: individual, strong players carry the responsibility for the whole team, before the end. It becomes apparent that a new way of thinking, a commitment to collective responsibility, to flat hierarchies, will be necessary in order to be successful in modern football.
After the match against the Czechs, all of us drive back to the hotel. The same evening, Rudi Völler calls up a team meeting to tell us that he is going to resign.
I remember the fatalistic atmosphere in the hall. Many players are saying that their career in the National Team will be over. The team is on the brink of change. A new coach will come, and a new generation of players is going to have to take place on the ring.
The next morning, as everyone is waking up, Oliver Kahn, the Titan, comes up to me. He was the best player of the World Cup 2002 in Japan and South Korea, where he almost single-handedly got the team to the final, a legend. Even though I’ve already played alongside him in a couple of matches, I still don’t know him that well. Where he is, that’s the center, and my place is on the periphery. (my note: I hope it’s clear that he means it figuratively.)
I’m standing there in my summer clothes with the unpacked suitcase because I’m staying in Portugal on vacation for another week. Oliver Kahn puts his hand on my shoulder, and as I brace myself because I don’t know what he is planning on doing, he simply says, “It’s not on you.”
Then he nods in my direction one more time, grabs his suitcase and goes to the bus that takes those who are leaving to the airport.
It’s not like Oliver Kahn often gives compliments. Nevertheless, I believe I just found out how Oliver Kahn’s compliments sound like.
It probably sounds funny, but this single, brief sentence from the team’s captain is worth more to me than all the newspaper articles, in which Michael Ballack and I are presented as “hidden winners of the European Championship”. I can’t do anything with that praise: a winner of a team that just lost. So, Oliver Kahn’s statement is significantly more precise, and it’s certainly more valuable to a young player after his first tournament.
(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.