Date Finished: August 2018
Did I Like It? 8/10
The books Amazon Page
Well, in the 2018 World Cup Mesut Ozil turned out to be one of the most controversial players for many of the reasons mentioned in the book. I’ve gotta give him credit, with Turkish parents who raised him in Germany, both countries wanted him. Interestingly, if someone has Tongan parents, but is raised in New Zealand, it would be unusual for them to represent Tonga.
What I Highlighted:
The grass doesn’t even have to be perfectly cut. I don’t need accurately marked-out chalk lines. I don’t even have to be wearing the perfect boots to feel content. I just need a ball to kick around. It’s the football field that makes me happy, not the dressing room, that cramped space, sometimes 60 square metres, occasionally 80.
Those last words of his are like a stab to the heart. Mourinho knows exactly what he’s saying. He knows how much I admire that player. He knows the Frenchman is the only footballer I truly look up to.
1 My Embarrassing Home
We foreigners –that’s how I saw myself as a child –lived pretty much amongst ourselves. It wasn’t so much a case of us foreigners living together with the Germans as living separate lives.
Make use of the opportunity to learn the language. Try to make friends with people from that country. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t live separate lives in isolation. And most of all: read!
These days I’m not able to fast. Personally, I find it’s not compatible with my job as a sportsman. This doesn’t work for me. However, I admire and respect all other sportsmen and women who fast during Ramadan.
2 Matthias rather than Mesut
It’s a hard enough lesson at that age to find out that you haven’t been selected for something because you’re not good enough. But if you are particularly good at something and yet have to face the reality that performance alone isn’t good enough, and that a career depends on your background too, then that is really painful.
The money was tempting. For the first time I understood that you can actually get rich from football. But we were convinced that my career opportunities at Schalke were substantially higher.
3 The world of football isn’t a talent show
Everyone wants to be something, but nobody wants to make the effort to get there.
What Elgert said has meant a lot to me. Elgert was absolutely the key coach in my career. He saw something in me that others hadn’t before.
When you’re young, in particular, you’re forever meeting people who are ready to offer their help and promise you the earth. But if your rise is too rapid you can get burned before things have really taken off. Life isn’t a Hollywood film, and nobody is gifted lasting success.
As a footballer you have only one career and you mustn’t ruin it with ill-considered decisions. That’s why we terminated our relationship with Dr Michael Becker fairly quickly.
4 A bone of contention between Germany and Turkey
The advice you receive isn’t always objective, not even from family members.
Just because I’d chosen to play for Germany didn’t mean that Turkey wasn’t close to my heart. I wasn’t shutting myself off from Turkey and its people.
You can definitely belong to two cultures. And you can certainly be proud of two cultures. A heart can beat Turkish and German at the same time. You can think like a German and feel Turkish. That’s how integration works. With mutual respect, like in a great football club.
5 Runner-up with Schalke
I’ve played with so many talented players in youth teams. So many I was sure were going to become great footballers. But then one’s girlfriend became more important than a potential career while another enjoyed partying long and hard, and was fed up with self-denial and discipline.
I’d invested every minute of training for this moment. Every shot at goal, every dribble had been in preparation for now.
As soon as the whistle has gone, it’s as if the mute button has been pressed on the remote control. The moment I’m on the pitch I blank out the background noise. No more voices. No cheering. No whistling from opposition fans. I’ve only got ears for my teammates.
On the one hand, footballers are dreadfully impatient, or at least I was. Not a bad quality to have, really, because anybody who sits back patiently and gives the impression of being satisfied isn’t going to get far in this bear pit. Football is a hard and highly competitive business. You can’t just be technically and tactically brilliant. You need nerve too. Occasionally you also need to make demands on your coach.
That was the feeling I wanted to experience. Sixty thousand people singing. People cheering. People bursting with joy, delighted at our performance.
I often talk to myself on the football field. Especially when I’m angry at myself and have made mistakes. But I also do it for encouragement. I didn’t realise it at first. But my friends certainly did.
6 A dirty smear campaign
Compared to the misery I saw years later in a refugee camp in Jordan, mine was a carefree life. But we never had it easy. We knew exactly what it meant to have little. Not to be able to afford anything. And I knew exactly what it was to work hard for your money.
At the age of 19 I had to realise that as a footballer you’re just a commodity and at a stroke you can become the plaything of directors and managers.
In spite of the difficult ending, my time at Schalke was a useful lesson in life. It taught me that a career doesn’t always depend on ability alone. That power struggles and political intrigues can sometimes be decisive. And so you need people within the club to support and look after you.
7 Mesut at home alone
Finally I had a fixed, defined daily schedule that I could stick to again. Finally some rhythm had returned to my life.
The valuable watches had looked beautiful. I loved seeing them on my wrist. But that evening I learnt that it’s not expensive watches that make you happy, but having friends around you who are a support and can even calm your anxiety at staying on your own in a large, lonely apartment that’s just been broken into. I’m talking about real friends, mind you.
You can’t take proper friends for granted. Nobody can. But it’s especially true for people in the public eye like me.
In theory it might sound simple to fulfill one’s dreams of the perfect friends and partner. In reality, however –especially in a situation like mine –you need very good insight into human nature.
8 Footballers aren’t politicians
You certainly can have strong opinions as a sportsperson, but you don’t have to blurt your opinion into every camera and voice recorder.
In fact, I learnt many important things during this training. But in some of the interviews that followed I couldn’t recognise myself, and I didn’t like it. Which made me realise that I’d rather go through my football career without this kind of support. That I don’t want to mince my words, or be over-cautious and permanently worried that the wrong words might spill from my lips. That I want to say what comes into my head. That I don’t want to hide.
It’s crucial to me that if I can personally change something, that’s what I’ll do. But with actions, not by talking big.
I know that my visit didn’t make the world a better place, and it would be naïve to think so. But I’m proud to have given those children a brief moment of happiness.
9 Kung fu goalie
Players must be able to disagree at times –it shows that a team still has life and passion to it. It’s important to shout sometimes, voice your dissatisfaction, argue about bad passes or stubbornness on the pitch. It can be liberating as long as such discussions don’t cross the line. It’s fine to hurl criticism at others, air your grievances, as long as you don’t say anything personal or insulting. The following day, when you next see that person, you need to be able to look them in the eye and still have mutual respect.
As a footballer you rarely have serious doubts about your body. You toil every day to turn it into a high-performance machine, to strengthen the muscles, ensure that your motor functions are working smoothly and keep the tendons and ligaments stable.
10 Victory in the German Cup
There are footballers who actually get stronger as the whistling in the stands grows louder. They draw strength from hostility.
I’m sure a lot of fans don’t realise just how important they are. The effect they have on us players. Probably because it often sounds so corny when we call for the support of the ‘twelfth man’ and urge our fans to cheer us on. But it’s really true.
That’s how I always want it to be. In every stadium. Loud, passionate, crazy fans who don’t only cheer when things go well but are also there for you when things aren’t working out.
11 My move to Real
As a footballer your career has a time limit. Your best years constitute a much shorter period than in other careers. Whereas normal workers have 20, 30 or 40 years to develop, we professional footballers have to realise our maximum potential in a time frame of 15 years at most.
On the pitch you have to think as a team, but when it comes to sorting out contracts and planning your career, it’s just about you.
I didn’t think, I just played. Which is always the best way to deliver a good performance. I prefer to play without thinking. I don’t want to ponder how I’m going to get past an opponent, but just dribble past him as my instinct tells me. I don’t want to wonder where the next pass is going, but kick it into the right space. Mulling it over isn’t good. Best of all is when your actions occur automatically and intuitively. Thinking inhibits you on the pitch. And so many of my assists are a combination of prescience and luck –for luck is part of it, as my teammates obviously have to choose the right run to receive my pass.
I didn’t care one bit about the amount they’d paid for me. The key thing was that I was finally there. My whole life changed overnight.
12 A new world
It was by watching him and Ronaldo in particular that I learned what sheer determination is. How you can really torture yourself.
Everyone at Real Madrid wants success. The players are burning to win. The brake is never on during training sessions. The club is home to the most victory-obsessed players in the world, who drive each other on.
I still think about Jonah Lomu today. About his positive attitude to life, even though he had every reason to complain and rail against his fate. Rather than do that he always looked forward in good spirits.
13 Galactic duels
Although I never regarded Barcelona as an enemy, never saw the club as bad, I was obsessed by the idea of having to beat them.
Sometimes even a confidence-inspiring point isn’t enough if the team hasn’t played beautifully enough to win it.
The criticism heaped on us by the media after the Super Cup only welded us together even more strongly as a team. We swore that, no matter what was written and said about us, we wouldn’t let it knock us off course. We wouldn’t allow ourselves to be driven apart. We’d be there for each other, protecting and driving each other on.
Although I learned a lot tactically, especially as far as defence was concerned, there was one other important insight I gained: on the pitch you have to listen to your feelings. If a coach gives me guidelines for play that are too strict, I feel cramped. If my body tells me I have to push left, that’s what I do. I can’t just stay firmly in one position. As a player you have to take decisions. As a player you have to have freedoms. If you’re a creative player your coach mustn’t shackle you. You mustn’t be a puppet. But it also stands to reason to say that you mustn’t abandon the team’s tactical plan altogether.
14 London Calling
I’ve never forgotten where I came from. My best friends who, when I was a child, helped me get my bike from the rat-infested cellar, are still by my side today.
Just like anybody else, my father isn’t perfect. And ultimately the negotiations with Pérez and Real Madrid were out of his league.
Unfortunately, however, my father did not congratulate me for having taken this, as I thought, mature decision. He was angry. And hurt. So hurt that, as the administrator for my Twitter account, he deleted it in a fit of obstinacy, which meant that the several millions of fans following me disappeared.
In the end the separation from my father didn’t go as calmly and smoothly as I’d hoped. He felt as if he’d been booted out, and even went to court to claim his commission, as he had secured the sponsor contract with Adidas.
16 Out of the golden cage
As a newcomer you have to work out what makes each individual player tick. You have to learn which players are most like you. To give me an idea I always spent a few days at the beginning observing the squad.
I don’t think many people can imagine what it means to be permanently in the limelight. It’s often nice, and of course I enjoy it too. But when the focus is on you round the clock it can be a real burden too. I have a great life, a very exclusive life that many people couldn’t afford. But my fame also has its price. Because the truth is that I live life in a golden cage.
Football has made me rich. But I’m also mighty poor at the same time. Poor in life experience.
One of those days full of ‘altered perception’ as I call it. Where you play and know that the ball belongs to you. Where you’re faster and more assured than your opponent. Where your ego is large and everything you do works. Where time doesn’t play tricks on you.
Or, to put it more simply: when you’re sure of yourself you believe you can still do a lot with the ball when the opponent is only a metre away. Then you trust yourself to dribble. You are going to determine the next move. If you’re unsure, you feel hard-pressed in the same situation.
I like this exchange with my fans. Every message is a piece of me that I consciously give away and share with my followers.
For I know that the most important thing is not to lose faith in myself and my ability. Despite the criticism coming from all quarters, I trusted the fact that my way of playing could be successful.
17 World Champions in Brazil
You have to go into a final in the knowledge that no millimetre is too far. That no tackle is unimportant. That no slide is unnecessary. That it’s important to remain positive and be there for your teammates. And of course you must be absolutely convinced that you can win the game.
This moment was worth everything. Every tough training session. Every severe dressing-room bollocking. Every harsh criticism. The hassle with the Turkish authorities over a document. Every whistle. Every critical comment.
Every player does it. We all try to influence the referee verbally, to raise his awareness if we’re worried about getting hurt. We complain so that the next time he’ll watch more carefully and spot if we’re kicked or elbowed.
Integration is a good thing. Integration is important. I wish that integration could always be like our World Cup semi-final in 2014, when we beat Brazil 7–1. We played in perfect harmony. Each pass worked. Our game wasn’t impeded by egoism, but inspired by togetherness. That’s how it needs to work in society too, no matter where your fellow-citizens come from. Together it always works.